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Petitioned ordinance in Belmont intended to save historic structures

In Belmont, a mill built in 1833 has been born again as a doctor’s office, with space for the town senior center and for child care. The town has hired a carpenter to restore the nearby bandstand, built in 1908, a longtime music venue for Belmont residents.

And Linda Frawley, who heads the town’s Heritage Commission, wants to encourage property owners to preserve and reimagine historic buildings in the same way. She’s written an ordinance that will go before voters at Town Meeting that, if approved, would create a committee to review plans for any older buildings before a property owner could knock them down.

“Once something is demolished, there aren’t any options except archeological ruins,” Frawley said.

But the planning board doesn’t recommend voters approve this change just yet. Peter Harris, chairman of the planning board, said Frawley didn’t meet the deadlines needed for the board to review her idea, so she added the proposed ordinance to the town’s warrant with a petition. Next Tuesday, Belmont residents will decide whether they need a committee to review the demolition of historic buildings now – or whether the town can wait until 2015 for that oversight, as the planning board suggests.

“It’s not political in nature at all,” Harris said. “It’s technical, more or less. . . . It was one of those things where you want to get something to eat, and the guy’s closing the door saying, ‘Come back tomorrow. We’re open tomorrow. We’ll see you get what you want.’ ”

If approved, the committee would be made up of three members of the Heritage Commission, and they would have up to 45 days to recommend options other than demolition for any buildings in the town built more than 50 years ago.

The committee’s recommendations would be just that; the ordinance doesn’t give its members any power to stop an incoming wrecking ball. But Frawley said she wants to use that extra time to teach a building owner the history of his or her property and to prompt ideas on how to salvage some of Belmont’s past.

“We’re a rural community,” she said. “We don’t have the (same) numbers of historic assets as a place like Strawbery Banke or Portsmouth or Concord. . . . It makes the handful of historic places and features we have very special. There have been some losses over the years.”

There’s no particular building that needs to be saved immediately, Frawley said, though there are buildings that have been demolished in the past that she believes could have been preserved. An old brick powerhouse on the site of the Belmont Mill was torn down, she said, but it could have been a history museum.

“Any older building without some advocates and a plan and a good sensible use is at risk,” she said.

The planning board did have initial questions about the ordinance’s wording on the scope of a demolition and which buildings would fall under the ordinance, according to minutes from a January meeting. Harris said the planning board would host public hearings and iron out the details of the change, although voters couldn’t approve it until the 2015 town meeting.

“There’s no reason that we (see) a serious-in-nature problem ahead of us, that it can’t be one of those worked on and tailored,” he said.

What to know: Belmont town meeting

∎  Budget: On the warrant this year is a $7,226,054 operating budget. That’s up $71,643 – or approximately 1 percent – from last year.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin said if all warrant articles are approved, the town’s portion of the property tax rate in Belmont would increase 63 cents, to $8.16 per $1,000 of assessed property value. For 2013, the total tax rate for the town was set at $22.44 per $1,000.

In addition to the building code ordinance from Linda Frawley, Belmont voters will be asked to approve money for some new police equipment, including a dispatch center radio, and to earmark money in a capital reserve fund for a scenic trail near Lake Winnisquam. The town has already received a $282,720 federal grant to build that 5-mile trail.

∎ Contested elections: George Condodemetraky, Ronald Cormier and Donald McLelland Sr. are running for one, three-year term as selectman.

Four candidates – Condodemetraky, Peter Harris, Doug Sanborn and Rick Segalini – are running for two seats on the planning board, which carries a three-year term.

Mary-Louise Charnley and Simone Henderson are running for one, three-year term as a library trustee.

∎ Voting on the town warrant will take place March 11 at Belmont High School at 255 Seavey Road. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

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