The Town of Belmont has been working hard on plans to reconstruct Belmont Center. The town recently applied unsuccessfully for a $1.5 million grant to move the plans forward.
A reallocation of space within the existing roadway right of way is proposed to offer adequate space for all modes of transportation. This includes narrowing the travel lane widths for slower and safer travel speeds while providing additional space for bicycle and pedestrian accommodations including improved accessibility to meet the requirements of the American Disabilities Act and Massachusetts Architectural Access Board. There will also be additional parking spaces created throughout . . . . In total, this project proposes to reconstruct approximately 3,300 linear feet of roadway surface and 5,200 feet of sidewalk.
The Project includes improvements to the unsignalized intersection at Concord Avenue and Leonard Street. Pavement narrowing, traffic islands and bumpouts will introduce a new, safe crossing for pedestrians and improve access to the nearby MBTA Station. A new bus shelter will be added to protect those waiting at a bus stop on Leonard Street. The project has been designed to incorporate a future connection to Mass. Central Rail Trail, which connects 24 communities between Boston and Northampton. A public park and green space is proposed to provide space for public events and community activities.
It’s a great project and one that many have long awaited. The town has done a nice job assembling relevant documents on its website.
Representative Rogers and I have been concerned to support the town’s application and recently arranged a meeting with the Department of Housing and Community Development to understand why the first attempt was unsuccessful. DHCD was encouraging, and the town should give the program one more shot in the fall. However, my own take away from the meeting was that the project does not fit as well as some other projects with DHCD’s priorities, so the town should be developing contingency plans to move forward with this very necessary project using its own funds.
The stated priority for DHCD’s MassWorks program is to encourage
mixed-use multi-family housing in support of Governor Patrick’s 10,000 housing unit per year production goal.
While DHCD acknowledges that Belmont deserves credit for moving forward with the Cushing Square redevelopment and for earlier affordable housing developments, the Belmont Center project does not tie directly to any particular housing development. DHCD’s major investments in the Massworks program have occurred in situations where their money could leverage private money — for example, projects where by picking up the costs of a roadway reconstruction, the state could make the difference in whether a housing development would move forward. Under one third of the applications for the program were accepted, despite that 80% of the applications had a housing development component.
Belmont does a nice job in its project planning and so has an advantage in any competitive process — for example Belmont’s design work on the Belmont/Trapelo Road project (together with a crying need) helped launch the project to the very top of the regional road funding competition. But to put us on top in the MassWorks’ competition, the Town would need to do something more radical in Belmont Center — like upzoning it to allow some apartment buildings. Over the past few years, serving at the state level, I have developed an ever stronger sense of the economic importance of housing development, especially development of housing that middle class people can afford. But I have not forgotten the lessons I learned while serving as a Selectman and I fully appreciate that many neighborhoods are not prepared to accept greater density.
I understand that the Town is developing plans to move forward using a medium term borrowing to get the project done if a MassWorks grant does not come through. That would be a sound approach.