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Moving historic Belmont house may threaten bike plan

Posted by Your Town  January 17, 2012 02:27 PM

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With a Special Town Meeting vote scheduled tomorrow to determine whether the historic Thomas Clark house in Belmont can move to a town-owned spot on Royal Road, residents are raising concerns that a ‘yes’ vote will dash plans for a bike path set to run through the woods there.

“This land was given to the town of Belmont in 1932 as park land, and finally with this bike path we’ve identified a use that will allow it to really fulfill that role,” said Royal Road resident Vincent Stanton, Jr., who is spearheading opposition to the plan.

If the Clark House, which currently sits at 59 Common St., moves to Royal Road, residents worry that the bike path will be squeezed out. They are also worried that the plan to move the house is not economically viable, and that if the house does move, it will look out-of-scale with the other, smaller homes on the street.

The Clark House, built circa 1760, has been a hot button issue in Belmont since its sale last year to developer Mark Barons, who plans to build two new homes on the lot the Clark House currently occupies.

Barons has agreed to hold off razing the house so it can be moved, demolishing only an addition added to the house recently.

Michael Smith, cochair of Belmont’s Historic District Commission, has been working with local architect Erik Rhodin to try to save the house, which is one of Belmont’s best-preserved examples of 18th-century Georgian architecture.

Smith said that on Friday, they secured a definite temporary location for the Clark house to move to on Concord Ave by the High School. They have raised about $80,000 from private donors to finance the relocation.

If two-thirds of the Town Meeting members vote tomorrow to pass article four, which allows “the sale, and conversion to residential use, of a portion of park land on Royal Road… on the condition that the property become the site of the relocated Thomas Clark House,” then the house will ultimately move from the temporary location on Concord Ave to Royal Road.

Stanton Jr. said that if the house is moved to Royal Road, then plans to hook Belmont into the Mass Central Rail Trail, a 104-mile bike path stretching from Boston to Northampton, would be squashed.

“The proponents would dispute that, and a map has been distributed to town meeting members reporting to show how you can squeeze the route in behind the Clark house,” he said. “The map handed out has some fairly serious flaws.”

David Loutzenheiser, a Metropolitan Area Planning Council Transportation Planner who has studied the Belmont section of the trail, declined to say whether moving the Clark house to Royal Road would block the bike path.

“We don’t have enough information on the site, and won’t take a position on the site either way,” he said.

Stanton Jr. and other residents maintain that the trail would be squeezed out by the house.

Smith said that if Stanton Jr. is correct, then they’ll have to deal with that issue, but a survey will have to settle that question. The survey, he said, won’t be conducted until after he obtains approval from Town Meeting to move forward.

Residents are also concerned that the Clark House plan is not economically viable, and that Smith and Rhodin will find themselves in need of more land in the Royal Road area on which to build condos or houses in order to finance the Clark house project.

An earlier version of the Royal Road plan included the construction of several homes in conjunction with the relocation of the Clark house that would help underwrite the cost of the project. That plan has been scrapped, but Stanton Jr. said he is worried about its re-emergence.

“My concern is that if town meeting is to support something that doesn’t make sense economically, that what would happen is the proponents would come back with another article that they need another house lot, or two, or three, on Royal, and then they’ll be able to do this,” he said. “We’ll get a kind of incrementalism.”

Smith said that Stanton Jr.’s concerns about economic viability will be answered by the market.

“If it is not economically viable, then it won’t proceed,” he said.

Stanton Jr. also said that if the home does make it to Royal Road, then a developer may build large additions that would be much too large for the area, and would look out-of-scale next to the comparatively moderate homes nearby.

But Smith said neighbors will be closely consulted in regards to the scale of additions to the Clark House.

Twenty-eight Belmont residents signed a Dec. 13 letter to the Belmont Selectmen protesting the Royal Road plan. On Jan. 9, the selectmen voted unanimously to let article four go before Town Meeting, saying that the voters should decide the issue.

Stanton Jr., a Town Meeting member, said he is planning on giving a presentation at the Special Town Meeting tomorrow about why the Royal Road plan should not pass.

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