Town Meeting Live Blog – Night 2

We’re back at Belmont Town meeting and waiting to get going here. This should be an abbreviated meeting, with just three articles to consider: the vote on the Community Preservation Act (Article 21) that the Town approved in November. The other articles, #24 and 25 consider a request from Angelo the Board of Selectmen for Town Meeting’s permission to sell some small parcels of town owned land near the White Street extension in Waverly Square.

Paul Solomon is telling us about what the Community Preservation Committee (CPC) would do. This is a requirement of the Community Preservation Act (CPA), so we’ve got to vote for this in order to be compliant with CPA (and get State funds). Dr. Solomon is telling us about the purview of the CPC, which makes it a good time to talk about Articles 24 and 25 and why its really puzzling that this has been resubmitted to Town Meeting. First of all, its rare for articles that get voted down to be resubmitted so quickly. Second: these articles, which were the last to be considered on Monday evening, failed because 1) they needed a 2/3 majority of TM to pass – a high bar, 2) the BOS and Angelo did a really, really bad job explaining the need for a sale now while raising significant questions about the wisdom of a sale with development happening in that area, which connects Trapelo Road to Pleasant Street. The BOS was, in fact, not 100% sure that the town owned the land in question, while Sammy Baghdady of the Planning Board suggested that his Board was looking at development in the area in which the parcels might potentially play a part. There were no pictures of the parcels in question, while the map provided was not clear about which parcels TM was even considering for sale. The consensus was “try again,” and that appears to be what Angelo the Board of Selectmen are doing. I’m game, but the decision by the BOS to distribute a circa 1875 town map to make their point (and what point is that?) is puzzling. The real question is why now? why all the heat and light to get this done so speedily?

OK – we’re now considering an amendment to Article 21 proposed by the Warrant Committee. Basically, the WC wants to add a phrase that will require the CPC to provide an estimate of “initial and ongoing capital costs, a five year projection of operating costs, and estimate of administrative costs and an estimate of foregone Town tax revenue along with a description of additional costs required of any Town department” to a section of Article 21 requiring the CPC to present to Town Meeting an estimate of the “anticipated costs” of any project under the CPA. Paul Solomon, Angelo and now Fred Paulson are speaking in opposition to the amendment saying that, in essence, that no other town requires this and that its not necessary – all those items would be in any cost estimate, without tying the hands of the CPC.

We’re debating this Warrant Committee cost amendment now. We’re hearing pros and cons. Folks like the idea of having clear and ongoing cost estimates to capital projects. I like that idea too, but attaching that kind of rider to CPA projects and no others seems more about ideology than policy. I just got up and spoke and said this – and that I felt like the Warrant Committee was abdicating its responsibility and that, after all, scores of towns across the State had passed and implemented the CPA without driving their fiscal car into the ditch. Ralph Jones gets up and says, in some ways, the same thing: that its the Warrant Committee’s job to look into these issues, so we don’t need to require that type of work of the CPC.

Don Mercier is now speaking. If you’re in Town Meeting, you know what that means. 😉 He raises the (totally valid) point that the Senior Center was built without adequate consideration of the (considerable) capital costs. However, the BOS adopted a rule after that debacle requiring said estimates for any future capital project, making this amendment mostly redundant.

Liz Allison – chair of WC – is clarifying that the CPC will do the ground work on cost estimates.

Adam Dash of WC – and former CPA Study Committee member – is speaking against the amendment. Too much micromanaging of an independent committee and too much detail. Besides there’s no enforcement mechanism if the CPC blows off the requirement. And why not consider global warming impact, parking, etc. He gets a big round of applause.

More TM members speaking against – WC, Capital Budget Committee are the proper bodies to consider these questions. CPC is, in the end, not a financial committee.

We vote – and the amendment fails. Woot!!

We’re now considering an amendment to Article 21 to add a member of the Recreation Committee to the CPC. This will not be a controversial amendment, I expect…

It passes, as does Article 21 in short order. Congratulations, Paul Solomon! Can’t wait for the CPA projects to get rolling in town.

UPDATE: Now for Articles 24 and 25 – Joe White explains that he submitted Articles 24 and 25 for reconsideration. Joe feels like a call for a standing vote on both articles was ignored by Moderator Widmer. Steve Rosales is now speaking in support of Joe – saying that we need to reconsider for “the integrity of the process.”

David Palmer (Precinct 7) asking about the vote tonight – given that its a different (and smaller) group of TM members. Good question.

“The mind can only absorb what the butt can endure.” – Steve Rosales – classic.

We approve the motion to reconsider.

On to Articles 24 and 25 – Angelo is addressing TM. He apologizes for a lack of information on the plots in question, the amount of tax revenue in question, etc. etc. He has good imagery now – showing the patchwork of town and private land around this extension on either side of the train tracks. Says he started looking at this almost four years ago. Angelo is reading a legal document saying its not clear how Belmont obtained title to the parcels on either side of the track. “Essentially, the title search has thrown the ownership of the property into question.” We have an easement put there in 1874, not used since. Northern portion discontinued as a public way.

As to value: Belmont Assessors: North piece is valued at $46,000. The tax rate would be around $2,000 on the North and on the South would be around $1,500 if we sold them. He asks us to reconsider our vote from Monday night.

OK – we’re not debating the proposal. Two speakers against the proposal. Folks are concerned about the impact on planning and development within Waverly Square. There’s a bigger picture…