A KISS for the Community Path: Keep It Simple, Selectmen

The Selectmen should respect the work of their own committees when choosing prospective routes for the Community Path - not give in to unreasoned objections from abutters.

The Selectmen should respect the work of their own committees when choosing prospective routes for the Community Path – not give in to unreasoned objections from abutters.

On the matter of Belmont’s planned Community Path, I have one piece of advice for our town leadership, which is KISS – Keep It Simple Selectmen.*

If you don’t already know, the Community Path is a critical piece of 21st century infrastructure that will replace an abandoned, unsightly right of way along the Commuter Rail tracks with a landscaped bicycle and pedestrian route running from the Waltham border through Waverley Center and Belmont Center, then out to connect with an existing path at Brighton Road that runs all the way to Alewife Station and the Minuteman Trail. The Path will be a boon to Belmont: taking cut-through car traffic from Waltham to Alewife off the road in the morning and serving as a lifeline for walkers and bikers, replacing dangerous and car-bound routes along Pleasant Street and Concord Ave. It will also open Belmont Center and Waverley Square to bike and pedestrian traffic from Waltham on one side and Cambridge on the other: a vital new source of business. As the saying goes: build it, and they will come.

What stands in the way? As is often the case in Belmont, it is stout opposition by a small handful of homeowners saying “not in my back yard!” In this case, these are residents mostly of Channing Road who own properties that back up to the railroad tracks along which the Community Path will run, though there is opposition from residents in other neighborhoods directly impacted by the path as well such as on Clark Lane.

Don’t get me wrong: these residents have every right to a say in the design of the Path. And they’re absolutely right to pay close attention to details of plans for the Community Path, which will abut their property. My concern is that their opposition to the Path – based on fears it will bring crime, invade their privacy or lower property values – is unreasoned. Data gathered by the Selectmen’s own Community Path Advisory Committee (CPAC) showed that, for each of these objections to pedestrian paths, the opposite is true. In the Baystate and elsewhere, realtors already use proximity to bike and pedestrian paths as a way to market homes to prospective buyers. In the case of Belmont’s Community Path, landscaping of the finished route, including earthen berms and attractive fencing, will leave Channing Road residents whose properties abut the Path with more yard, more quiet and more privacy than they currently enjoy. (You can read the report here.)

The problem now is that Path opponents are pushing for taxpayers in town to pay to research a route along Concord Avenue route that was not among the CPAC recommended routes. This alternate route would run along a major road (Concord Ave.) that is already choked with traffic during the morning and afternoon rush hours. It would take off the table the most highly valued characteristic that Belmont residents identified in a town-wide survey conducted by CPAC: an off road path. Is there any benefit to doing things this way? No.

Faced with resistance from abutters, obstruction within the Committee itself and mixed signals from the Board of Selectmen, the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) this month went to the Board of Selectmen looking for a mandate to finally move forward: issuing a request for proposals for engineering firms to study the feasibility and cost of the routes CPAC recommended in their June 2014 report. Committee members were asking: should we continue with our current charge to have engineers study just the track-side routes recommended by CPAC, or should we throw open the door to studied, but previously rejected routes like Concord Ave as a way to appease abutters? What they got, alas, was a muddled message. BOS Chairman Baghdady, acceding to the wishes of abutters, demanded that a previously unstudied route diverging from the path terminus at Brighton Street, then along Hittinger Street and out to Concord Avenue be added to a list of proposed routes. This, despite CPAC’s earlier conclusion that such a route presented numerous obstacles including driveways, street level traffic and frontage along a private, commercial strip of Concord Ave. The proposed Concord Ave. route also threatens the inclusion of a much-needed feature: a pedestrian underpass between the Winn Brook neighborhood and Belmont High School at Alexander Avenue.

Here are my thoughts: resistance to change is to be expected with any proposed infrastructure project. Let the record show that there was strong opposition to the Minuteman Bikeway in Arlington, Lexington and Bedford – though that very route is now heavily used and beloved, by abutters and everyone else. If resistance from neighbors is a given, what’s different in Belmont is that entirely predictable objections are often all that is needed to grind progress to a halt on important projects, or to alter them in ways that hurt the many to serve the interests and priorities of the few.

If this all sounds like a replay of what happened with the Town Lawn over the summer, you’re not hearing things. In that case, it took a series of petitions and a vote by Town Meeting, in special session, to force the Selectmen back to the negotiating table to work out a compromise design. What is needed with the Community Path – as with the Town Center – is strong and resolute leadership from our Selectmen: Mr. Paolillo, Mr. Baghdady and Mr. Williams. Our Selectmen need to make a study of the work of the committees they created to delve into this complicated project: CPAC and CPIAC. Each is made up of stakeholders from across the town and consider the interests of the entire community in reaching their conclusions. The Selectmen should do the same.

(*) Note: this article originally ran as a Hot House column on the Belmont Citizen Herald web site. You can read the original somewhere on the BCH web site. Good luck finding it!

Call To Action: Show Support For Belmont Community Path Monday Evening!

Belmont's Board of Selectmen will hear from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) on Monday evening. We need you to show your support for a Community Path in Belmont.

Belmont’s Board of Selectmen will hear from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) on Monday evening. We need you to show your support for a Community Path in Belmont.

In-brief: Supporters of an off road Community Path linking Belmont Center and Waverley Square to Alewife and the Minuteman Trail need to come to the Board of Selectmen’s Monday Evening (Dec. 14) meeting to hear a report from the Community Path Implementation Advisory Committee (CPIAC) and to show their support for 21st Century Infrastructure in the Town of Homes. I have created a Facebook Event where you can RSVP and let your friends know you’re attending. Visit it here.

Updated: Important Meetings This Week with Commuter Rail Access, Library on the Agenda

 

The fate of Belmont's Waverley MBTA Purple Line station hangs in the balance. MBTA and Mass DoT officials will discuss it Monday evening at a meeting at Beech Street Center. (Image courtesy of Will Brownsberger.)

The fate of Belmont’s Waverley MBTA Purple Line station hangs in the balance. MBTA and Mass DoT officials will discuss it Monday evening at a meeting at Beech Street Center. (Image courtesy of Will Brownsberger.)

This article has been updated to clarify that the Library Long Range Planning meeting Tuesday is focused on Library programming that the Library will offer, not issues concerning the library building itself. PFR Nov 16 2015.

Much of the work of governing Belmont happens in open, but mostly unobserved meetings. Appointed committees and elected boards sit in rooms at the Town Hall, or a community room at The Chenery or The Wellington and talk – mostly to each other. The public is always invited to attend, observe and comment, but we rarely do. That isn’t great for democracy, but its the way it is.

Every so often, however, our elected leaders make clear that they really need public input on an important matter, or wish to inform the public about a critical development that affects the community. In those cases, its important for everyone to shake off our torpor and make the extra effort to engage. There are a number of such meetings this week.

To T or Not to T? That is the Question.

First, this evening (Monday), leadership from the MBTA and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will be visiting Belmont this evening for a discussion of changes to Belmont’s two MBTA Commuter Rail stations. As you may know, one of those – the Waverley Station – has been declared in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the MBTA is floating the idea of closing the station. The Belmont Center station is also not ADA compliant. Unlike Waverley, though, it continues to be grandfathered in to the ADA law – a status that could change suddenly following even modest improvements to the station.

The question is: what to do? Improvements to make Waverley ADA compliant will be expensive, as the station sits some 20 feet below street level. The cash-strapped MBTA is reluctant to make them and is proposing closing the station altogether, and locating a new station on Pleasant Street. Tonight at the Beech Street Center (starting at 7:00 PM), officials from the MBTA and Mass DoT will provide new information about what the agencies would like to do to resolve the situation (or, as they say “Americans with Disabilities (ADA) compliance alternatives”). Those range from fixing the existing station, to closing Waverley and Belmont Center and building a new station along Pleasant Street – or at some other location (Brighton Street has been floated as an alternative location, as well.) The Belmontonian has an excellent write up, courtesy of Sue Bass of the Belmont Citizens’ Forum here. It’s required reading before tonight’s meeting.

The Long View on the Library

The second issue that deserves your attention is the fate of Belmont’s much loved and much used Public Library. The most-used public facility in town, our town’s main branch library is in desperate need of updating – or outright replacement. But how and even where to do that is a topic of much dispute within town. Plans to renovate the existing facility and an alternative plan to locate it across Concord Ave both failed to win approval of key constituencies. All the while, the existing facility continues to deteriorate, raising the specter of costly repairs in the not distant future.

Recently, the Trustees of the Belmont Library commissioned a special committee to develop a Long Range Plan for the library. This week, on Tuesday, the Library is inviting the public to provide its input and ideas to that long range plan. According to a message from Kathy Keohane of the Library Board of Trustees, the meeting on Tuesday will be a forum for “public input to the Long Range Plan that outlines the programs and services that the library offers,” but “is not a meeting to discuss the building, renovations and or a grant.” 

The Long Range Planning Committee was convened by the Library Board of Trustees and is populated by members of the community.The meeting on Tuesday evening will include “a short presentation explaining our long range planning process.” Attendees will then break into groups to “review and solicit ideas for programs and services.” The meeting is scheduled on Tuesday, November 17th from 7:00 to 8:30 PM in the Library Assembly Room at 336 Concord Avenue. I encourage everyone to attend this meeting, as well!

Sign Up Now for Belmont’s Fall Classic: The 3rd Dan Scharfman 5K

Scenes from last year's FBE Dan Scharfman 5k - a wicked fun race. (Photo courtesy of Belmont Patch.)

Scenes from last year’s FBE Dan Scharfman 5k – a wicked fun race. (Photo courtesy of Belmont Patch.)

October is almost upon us and that means that Belmont’s new fall classic, the Dan Scharfman Memorial Run is just around the corner. Sponsored by the Foundation for Belmont Education, with support from a wide range of local businesses. More than 500 runners signed up to do last year’s race and this year is shaping up to be even bigger.

Register now for the run if you haven’t already done so, by visiting the official web site for the race over at the Foundation for Belmont Education, if you want to learn more.  If you’re ready to sign up, you can do so at Racewire.

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Dan was a dear friend of mine – a School Committee member, father, husband, running buddy. He was a Renaissance man in the truest sense of the word: a talented choir singer, a passionate outdoorsman, a marathoner and ultra marathoner – and a volunteer for all manner of causes. This race last year raised more than $20,000 to fund investments in technology and professional development for teachers – two of Dan’s passions as a member of Belmont’s School Committee.

Running the race is a great way to remember Dan and help carry forth his legacy. It’s also a lot of fun. This year’s event includes both a 5K race and a companion 2K (1.24 miles) run that’s perfect for the whole family. The proceeds from the races fund the Dan Scharfman Education Innovative Fund for the Foundation for Belmont Education’s Innovative Teaching Initiative which you can read about here.

The race this year will be held on Sunday, October 4th at 9:00 at the BHS track. People who register early will receive special gifts, including a race shirt and a great Polar water bottle – but sign up early to save yourself some money, and to make sure you get your hands on the cool race swag! Day of registration is available (of course) starting at 8am at the Belmont High School track.

Finally: if you want to support the cause, but can’t run this year, The Foundation for Belmont Education is looking for volunteers that help make the race a success each year by setting up the event, helping monitor the course during the race and doing clean up. We have an online sign-up form where you can register by following this link.

Finally, if you’re not going to be around, you can make a personal donation to the race fund. This link will take you to a web page that lets you donate directly.

I look forward to seeing you all there!

— Paul

Run the Dan on October 4th!

Run the Dan on October 4th!