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Focus on O'Neill Properties
Complaint about Belmont Uplands Zoning Board of Appeals November 1 meeting
by Ellen Mass
(Belmont Citizen Herald, November 22, 2006)

Focus on O'Neill

Cassie Norton's article, "Angry residents question ZBA" [Nov. 9, Page 1] minimizes the concerns of unhappy attendees at the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Nov. 1. While journalists have a right to play up a disagreement on the floor, this article does not match the professionalism exhibited by the paper to date. The article points out the two loud voices rather than focusing on O'Neill Properties' unquestionably vague and inconsistent presentations that leave us guessing while the developer assures us that all will be well.

For instance, we still have no idea about the viability of a wastewater holding tank, grading at wetlands, numbers of trees to be felled, and so much more. Ms. Norton knows the extent of dissatisfaction throughout the town, among town officials, residents and regional parties, of which I am one. Even Jay Szklut, manager of the proceedings, noted to the Belmont Uplands Advisory Committee that citizens in the town do not want the development.

Changes are proposed by developers without follow-up to public concerns. We are justifiably confused. One member of the public described the problems of inadequate studies of flooding and evidence of unstable peat soils underneath the Uplands site. She outlined the watershed's limited capacity to handle additional degraded water and the high pollution levels already assessed by the Mystic River Watershed Association. Even with a sizable holding tank, sewage would be discharged into Little River or Little Pond, she noted. Barbara Passero spoke of the new broad neighborhood initiatives to stop the development and requested the board pay attention to the concerns of the Winn Brook neighbors.

The Winn Brook Neighborhood Coalition held a very successful public meeting on Oct. 24 with 60 people attending. The meeting was videotaped and is being broadcast on Belmont Media Center Channels 8 and 9.

Furthermore, a single ZBA member (Chairman Bill Chin) met three times with four representatives of the developer, Jay Szklut, and the state's well-known 40B economic advisor, Mike Jacobs. It appears that the three private sessions were conducted by taking advantage of a loophole in the attorney general's open meeting guidelines. After private sessions were proposed, town counsel approved. Since only one board member was present, a ZBA quorum was not constituted and thus open meeting laws were not violated, according to the board. It does not take rocket science to question whether the board purposely circumvented the rules, however, only the DA could determine this.

Let's stop playing around with our natural heritage and climate protections. This is the third Brian O'Neill proposal to build on the Uplands site and to destroy the silver maple forest, thus degrading the wildlife habitat and watershed. Any development on the Uplands will cause increased flooding, sewerage over or back flow, and traffic congestion. Pragmatic town considerations are an evident strain on Belmont's social and environmental infrastructure which will result in higher taxes and undermine the sustainability and marketability of the Winn Brook area homes.

Ellen Mass
Friends of Alewife Reservation