Mr. Schneider's letter is quoted here in its entirety, with our responses to the highlighted parts on the right.
Suggests that the neighbors asked for this lot. This is completely false. The neighbors do not want this lot at all. We do not know of a single town resident not affiliated with the school who supports this construction.
Suggests that they addressed abutters concerns. This is completely false. The abutters were crystal clear in their meeting with the school: they asked the school to
1) significantly reduce the number of parking spaces including removal of the last row with outward-facing lights.
2) to replace the maintenance building with a building more appropriate for a residential neighborhood, like an administrative one.
Does not address any of the environmental concerns raised by the town
Dear Belmont Hill Parents,
I am writing to you in regards to the School's exciting decision to develop our East Campus over the coming years as part of Belmont Hill's campus master plan. Some of you may be aware of the neighborhood opposition to a building application we have made to the Town of Belmont Planning Board in association with this plan. Whether it has been through lawn signs, websites, a petition, or emails, some of you may have been contacted about our pending project. We thought it would be beneficial to create a website that offers more detail and factual information about the plans in question as we have observed a fair amount of misinformation in this process to date. While we did hold an in-person meeting for parents to review the project on campus in October, we hope this website will be a resource to all.
Belmont Hill has acquired properties (approximately 7 acres) across Prospect Street (now known as the East Campus) over a period of roughly two decades. These parcels consist of five residential properties that were never categorized as woodlands, although one of the original homes on a larger parcel was taken down many years ago. Before my arrival, the School approached the Town about the possibility of adding parking to the East Campus given the concerns from neighbors about the parking that occurs in our surrounding area. Currently we lease fifty spaces across Route 2 to accommodate student drivers who do not fit into our existing lots, raising meaningful safety concerns.
These spaces are almost entirely unused:
At 10am on Nov 9, 2022, we checked at there were 9 Belmont Hill School cars (student parking passes) parked in the satellite lot. That leaves 41 spaces unused.
During a homecoming game on Oct 15, 2022, not a single spot was being used for overflow parking
The school must try harder to use this lot!
We were told many years ago that the Town wanted to see a comprehensive plan for the area before approval, which is work our Board of Trustees undertook during the pandemic as part of the campus master plan.
The proposed parking lot is approximately 15 percent of the total property on the East Campus, including 143 spaces. The design incorporates intentional plantings to address heat island concerns as part of the design.
15% = 1/7. They mean they are only using 1 of the 7 properties they bought. But the area of the parking lot is much more than 1/7 of the "East Campus". Just look at their plans on their website. Here is an overlay of the parking lot with a Google map. 15% of the total property is completely misleading.
The second phase of the project will focus on the construction of a new facilities building architecturally designed in a residential style with the hope of one day building a new Dining Hall next to the Hamilton Chapel in the area currently occupied by facilities. That Dining Hall location would ultimately allow us to reroute deliveries out of the center of campus and will afford us the space needed to operate a fully functioning dining experience for our boys. Equipment such as mowers would continue to be housed on the main campus, even after new maintenance facilities are constructed on the new site. While the plans call for a double-walled, above ground gas tank of 500 gallons, this unit is of the highest possible safety and environmental rating, and its size does not generate the same issues the Town experienced with the DPW gas tank issue, although neighbors do remain concerned about gas tanks in general
A petition was signed by 252 residents of Belmont from all 8 precincts requesting that the Town not approve any aboveground fuel tank installations, regardless of size, within 300 feet of a residential property. We consider such installations a threat to the health and safety of neighboring residents, as well as to the marketability of their properties, and believe that they would set a dangerous precedent. The Belmont Hill School may install their aboveground fuel tanks somewhere else on their main campus - but not within 300' of our residents.
During the year leading up to our application, we held an open forum with the neighborhood and hosted smaller group meetings with the abutters. Out of those conversations, additional improvements and accommodations were made through multiple redesigns before our application was submitted. The largest was the purchase of 20 Park Ave. as a means to change the entrance and keep headlights out of abutting yards, which cost the School more than $1 million.
This purchase was not needed to complete the project. We also increased the distance between the parking lot and abutting yards. We raised the height of the proposed fence, divided it in sections to support wildlife movement, and we are providing planting and screening on both sides of the fence at the School’s expense.
The conservation commission has determined it has no jurisdiction on our project for wetlands, and with the exception of one driveway that is an existing condition,
everything we have proposed we believe is allowed by right as an educational use for our school.
We did not want them to purchase this property. They did it to increase their campus size. This is gaslighting.
They claim minimum of 25 foot setbacks. However, they measure to the pavement. In fact, they put a fence 10' from the abutters properties. So from the abutters viewpoint, the setbacks are tiny. Even 25' is way too small. Setbacks need to be 40'+ to save the trees and wildlife.
The school submitted plans to the conservation commission even before their first meeting with neighbors in December and no notification was given. The Conservation Commissions narrow interpretation of the wetland statute is currently being appealed to the Mass EPA.
By right as an educational use refers to the Dover Amendment which they are too embarrassed to refer to directly.
Belmont Hill continues to support sustainability initiatives in a variety of ways. We currently plan to add electric charging stations on the East Campus, and we always implement our busing, carpooling, and public transportation options. However, serving students from over 80 communities means that driving remains essential for our families and our boys. We also utilize a large solar array on the Jordan Athletic Center and are exploring other possible projects for the future. By adding parking, we are addressing longstanding concerns of many neighbors regarding the overflow issues that have occurred in the past. All proposed parking includes pervious pavement and comprehensive storm water management
Notable that the Hill School students manage to get to school without driving their individual cars for so many years — but suddenly when they get to be juniors and seniors, they present an insurmountable transportation problem that can only be solved with a new parking lot?
This seems to be their justification of the parking lot. Neighbors do not want school visitors parking illegally on Marsh street or blocking their driveways. Parking on town streets is expected and encouraged -- and totally standard for any urban campus.
Belmont Hill School already has more parking per student than any other comparable private school in the area. With the new lot they would be an extreme outliner in spots/student.
To this point, the Planning Board has experienced significant delays in hearing our application, which was initially made in August of 2022 after many conversations in advance of filing. The forthcoming process will involve multiple chances for public input in addition to what has already taken place. We take our role as neighbors in Belmont very seriously, and included a copy of our economic impact on the Town of Belmont on our new site that you may like to review. This includes extensive free use of our athletic facilities to support Belmont youth sports. In addition we have provided event space to support the Belmont Foundation for Education. Finally, Belmont Hill has always opened our track and playing fields for our neighbors and their dogs. It is common to see Belmont residents on our campus enjoying the wide open space of our fields. On Sundays during the winter, we welcome neighbors for an “open skate” in our ice rink. We do not believe any other non-profit in Town offers more to Belmont free of charge in this regard.
The school is looking to implement their plan as early as Spring of 2023, so we have limited time to express our opposition to the school and to the Town-- if the school will not listen to Belmont residents, perhaps the Town itself can convince them otherwise. Please reach out to the Planning Board and the Select Board to share your thoughts.