A new law has pushed Belmont one step closer to taking control of a former incinerator site on Concord Avenue, a move that would grant the town valuable maneuvering space when exploring new public facilities projects.
The state owns the property, which Belmont’s Department of Public Works uses as a tree and brush collection site. The legislation, which was approved last month, does not transfer the land to the town, but instead authorizes the state to sell it to Belmont at a fair market value.
Officials said that if Belmont ends up taking control of the property, it will provide much-needed flexibility for new public works projects in a 4.7- square-mile community where most land has already been developed.
“It creates another degree of freedom in the town’s planning process. It’s one of those games where you’re moving things around in a tight space, and this creates some new options for the town,” said state Senator William Brownsberger, a local Democrat who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Town Administrator David Kale said the conversation about purchasing the land began in 2012, when the town first considered converting the site into an athletic field and moving the Belmont Public Library onto a current girls’ softball field. Local officials discovered ownership of the land had reverted to the state when the town stopped using it as an incinerator site in the 1980s.
“In the investigation of different parcels in town, this was one that we wanted to have closure on to make sure we could use it for municipal public works or recreational uses,” Kale said. “So if we decided to do an athletic field, or permanent public works uses, there would be a question about whether we’d have the ability to do that” before the law was passed.
The new law authorizes the state Department of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, which is responsible for the disposition of state-owned property, to work with Belmont so the town can purchase the site for municipal, recreational, or public works uses. The process is expected to take several months.
Last year, Belmont’s lack of available land contributed to the town library losing out on millions of dollars in state aid. Officials have been looking for a new site for the library for 14 years, and in 2012 the library received a $7.5 million state grant to help fund a replacement facility. But last May, the School Committee voted not to transfer a potential site, being used by the high school for playing fields, for the library project. As a result, the library had to return the state funds.
State Representative David Rogers, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said the issue with the library illustrates the importance of Belmont taking control of the land.
“Recently the town was contemplating building a new public library at a new site, and the most difficult issue was where to put it,” said Rogers. “Think about a town that is so starved for land for public use that one of the biggest — if not the biggest — issues in building a new public library is where we can even put the thing.”
Library director Maureen Conners said it’s possible that the library might receive another grant within the next few years, but she thinks the facility will probably remain in its current location.
The town acquiring the Concord Avenue parcel “is kind of a moot point for the library. We had to give the grant back in December,” Conners said.
Kale said the town does not have definite plans for the former incinerator site if the process is successful, but moving athletic fields there is one possibility. He said the town will continue to use part of the site for tree and brush storage, but officials will brainstorm other potential uses for the rest of the property.
The town is required to perform environmental remediation on the site, which is contaminated with ash from the incinerator’s operations. But Kale said the cleanup cost will be offset in the purchase price. The state will deduct the amount of money Belmont spends on remediation from the assessed fair market value.
Kale said the money to acquire the site has been appropriated. Belmont was part of a regional trash disposal consortium, and when that was dissolved, each participating community received funds. Kale said Town Meeting placed the money in a stabilization fund in 2006.Emily Cataneo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.