A workshop about city zoning rules may not appear to be a huge draw, but nearly 150 residents of varying opinions crammed into Belmont City Hall last week to get into the details of how homes should be remodeled and share ideas on the best path to move forward.
“I was pleased by the fact that there was a pretty large turnout,” said Steve Chamberlin, who said he’s become more involved in city government the past few months and attended the meeting to support efforts to ease the ability for property owners to remodel.
“For the most part, it was really cordial. You never would have guessed there was the prior referendum and a lot of bitter words exchanged through Nextdoor[.com],” he said.
He did note, however, that he wished there was more time to discuss the range of topics — a sentiment shared by members of the Ask Belmont Citizens Group that collected signatures for referendum to repeal the ordinances this summer.
Tran Tran, treasurer of ABC, said she attended the meeting and believes the city should spend more time reviewing the various topics covered in the proposed amendments.
“I was happy to see such a large turnout. This validates that people do feel strongly about proposed changes to our zoning and tree ordinances. And it further supports additional community meetings that allow for interactive participation,” Tran wrote in an email. “Squeezing six topics into a one hour session is not sufficient on such complex topics.”
This summer, changes to the Zoning and Tree ordinances sparked a citizens’ referendum and the City Council responded by recalling the amendments while initiating a new public outreach process earlier this year.
There was a large turnout at the workshop where staff gave a brief presentation then attendees split into groups to generate and provide feedback on the regulations concerning maximum home sizes, secondary units, parking requirements, design criteria and removal as well as planting of trees.
Although the proposed changes have served as a point of contention amongst the group Ask Belmont Citizens and the council, several attendees said they were impressed by the general cordiality amongst residents with varying opinions.
“I was incredibly pleased with the level of engagement and the number of people who attended,” said Councilman Charles Stone. “I was heartened to see people with different viewpoints working well together and I hope that remains a theme as we continue down this road.”
Although the city initially scheduled just one workshop before the Planning Commission and City Council host public hearings on the ordinances next year, a second wrap up workshop is proposed for December.
Chamberlin said he’s generally in favor of what’s been proposed and thinks reasonable changes allowing residents to improve their properties is a benefit to individual families as well as the city as a whole. There appeared to be broad and general support for the changes that would help alleviate Belmont’s strict and seemingly arbitrary rules, Chamberlin said.
Concerned the opinions of those in the active ABC group weren’t representative of himself or his neighbors, Chamberlin said he attended the meeting and plans to stay involved.
Tran said many didn’t have a chance to consider the array of proposed amendments during the short workshop and more discussion is needed. She also noted Redwood City recently adopted changes to its secondary unit ordinance after a yearlong process on the one topic alone.
Prior to the meeting, ABC representatives sent a list of questions and request for data regarding the need and impacts of such changes to city staff. Tran said the citizens group would like a more objective process that includes a review of the data.
Since the ordinances became controversial, one aspect in which both sides appear to agree is whether citizens truly understand the nature of the complex zoning codes. The workshop was intended not only as an opportunity for people to provide feedback, but also as a means for people to learn about the codes.
Tuesday drew a crowd much larger than some expected and city staff had to set up overflow rooms for additional residents to participate.
Stone, who served on the council subcommittee along with Vice Mayor Eric Reed to help draft the amendments, said he was glad to see the community getting involved.
“I was also incredibly pleased that there was some consensus that the community thinks there’s a need for change,” Stone said, adding he appreciated the “great attendance and the cordiality.”
Comments generated from the workshop will eventually be posted on the city’s project website at belmont.gov/remodel.
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