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The Boston Globe

Metro

Brian McGrory

Romney opposition to hospice ironic

You have to look far, wide, and probably futilely to find anyone who has anything but kind words about Tagg Romney, the son who best blends his father’s purebred retriever looks with his mother’s straightforward warmth. Which is why it’s so bizarre to see him front and center in a petty controversy in his hometown of Belmont.

First, a few facts. Like every other community, rich and not, Belmont could use cash, so local officials came up with the seemingly bright idea of selling a town-owned 5.5-acre wooded parcel in the midst of upscale Belmont Hill.

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Belmont Hill is, among other things, home to Belmont Country Club, the staggeringly expensive redoubt of rich and famous members, most of whom wield a golf club like Mitt Romney holds a microphone — erratically and sometimes dangerously. Those members have also been beating the stuffing out of each other lately over multimillion-dollar cost overruns and abandoned deadlines on the construction of a huge new clubhouse, but that’s an issue for another day.

Belmont Hill was also home to Mitt and Ann Romney, before they sold their tasteful colonial. It’s currently the neighborhood of Tagg and Jennifer Romney, who built a 14-room, 8,000-square-foot house in 2007 that the town has assessed for $3.9 million.

Local officials received an inquiry this spring from Integra Medical Properties, a Georgia-based company interested in building a residential hospice facility on the town land adjacent to the country club and in the woods deep behind Tagg Romney’s street. It was to be one-story, about 15,000 square feet, set far back from the neighborhood.

Belmont planners seized on it. The town needed the revenue, the site was well buffered, and residents, they thought, might appreciate the service.

Sure they would. Belmont Hill, it ends up, is like Hingham without the harbor. Residents immediately printed up lawn signs by the hundreds. They launched an antihospice website and Facebook page. They raised the specter of hearses and ambulances parading down their streets.

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All of which is slightly amusing if you take a drive around Woodfall Road, which borders the site. The quaint and older ranches and split-levels are overshadowed by gargantuan new mansions crammed onto lots about three sizes too small. My personal favorite was a garish, 9,000-square-foot brick structure squeezed onto half an acre and seemingly abandoned before it was completed. Sitting in its scraggly yard is the sign, “Preserve our Neighborhood.”

At an August selectmen’s meeting, according to a video posted by the Belmont Citizen-Herald, Tagg Romney stood and told the board, “I certainly would not have built my house if I thought there was a possibility of a hospice going there. The value of all our homes will decrease dramatically.”

Tagg speaks, the selectmen act. They pretty much killed the proposal on the spot, saying they would restrict bids to those who planned to build only houses on the property.

Which leads to the Irony part of our program. Maybe it’s vaguely understandable why neighbors wouldn’t want a hospice in their community, even if, as Integra partner Tom Lewis Jr. said on the phone recently, “There are no screaming sirens. People don’t drive down the street and say, ‘I’m dying, let me pull in there.’ ”

The Mormon temple under construction on Belmont Hill near Route 2 in 1999.

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/File 1999

The Mormon temple under construction on Belmont Hill near Route 2 in 1999.

But there was another controversial proposal on Belmont Hill not all that long ago, and the Romneys played a far different role. When Mormon church leaders announced plans to build a 94,000-square-foot temple on Belmont Hill, residents packed hearings, swamped newspapers with letters, and filed court challenges. Mitt Romney spoke on behalf of the plan, then told the Globe at the time of the August 2000 opening, “It feels great to have a temple closer to home.”

So when it was a Mormon temple on Belmont Hill, one Romney backed the plan. When it’s a hospice on Belmont Hill, another Romney opposed it.

For the record, neither Tagg Romney nor Ron Kaufman, a campaign adviser, returned e-mails and phone calls.

Compassionate conservatism may really be dying. Someone should let it know not to look for hospice care in Belmont.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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