March 26, 2005

Revitalizing Belmont’s Trapelo Road Corridor

What today's Boston Globe real estate section describes as "a strip of Trapelo Road long a tattered edge ... once a center of automobile dealers, mechanic shops and parking garages" is in the process of rejuvenation.

Yes, here in Framingham people gnash their teeth and rip their hair out at the thought of spending less than $5 million in public funds for what would have been a fabulous new library. The building would have provided desperately needed and wanted community services as well as revitalizing a key neighborhood business district. However, leaders other communities are forward-thinking enough to make much larger investments in business areas outside their main downtowns.

Belmont recently spent about $15 million sprucing up that Trapelo Road corridor, not only on roadwork, but installing new sidewalks and benches. It also rezoned to allow restaurants to serve beer and wine. Results: a new 20,000-square-foot retail building has already been constructed, and more development is likely.

"This area has been the poor stepsister that we're going to rebuild for cars, pedestrians, and reidentify as a commercial square," town planner Jeffrey Wheeler told the Globe. "The new housing [on former hospital land] will drastically impact the whole road, now traveled by 40,000 cars a day." The town is also building a new fire station in the area and hopes to sell the old building to private developers.

Is everyone paying attention here? An area of Belmont outside the town center is bracing for many new units of housing. How does Belmont respond? By making a multi-million-dollar investment in the neighborhood, including rebuilding sidewalks and building a new fire station with plans to sell the old one. And it's already paying off, with new commercial development coming onto the tax rolls (a CVS has moved into the new building).

Here in Saxonville, also away from the main town center, we're bracing for hundreds of new units of housing at the Danforth Farms project. How does our town respond? Despite unanimous support from selectmen and approval from the Finance Committee and Capital Budget Committee, a Town Meeting minority successfully blocks the two-thirds vote needed to invest less than $5 million in a new library, which would have allowed selling the old library building for development and also sparked more activity in the business district. Nice work, people.

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