Improving conditions for existing and new businesses in Belmont is an issue with which I’ve been concerned since I was first elected to the Board of Selectmen. I created the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) in 2011 as a first step toward addressing this. EDAC’s purpose is to promote balanced, long-term economic development within Belmont and to advise the Board of Selectmen on issues concerning policies and zoning that foster commercial and business growth. But we need to do more.
Retail businesses would be the focus of my next step. I would identify recently established, successful businesses in towns like Lexington that have a thriving retail base. We can have the Community Development Department take on the project of interviewing each of these businesses so that we understand what drove their decision to locate in a town other than Belmont. Understanding those decisions will allow us to tailor our initial efforts to attract new businesses.
I would explore some big ideas that would give us a comparative advantage in attracting the most advanced digital companies. One that has not been fully explored is broadband internet – gigabit service at reasonable prices provided by the Belmont Light Department. The commercial vendors (AT&T and Verizon) do not readily offer this service. Belmont could run fiber optic cables from the Belmont Light Department directly to South Pleasant Street, an area already zoned for commercial R&D space. The creation of high-tech tenants in South Pleasant Street could attract others to the McLean space.
Prior to putting such a program in place, I would address the concerns of homeowners by looking at the experience of communities like Falls Church, Virginia and, where appropriate, applying it to Belmont. Falls Church is smaller than Belmont and is a town of homes. However, along the major transportation corridors, it has attracted high-tech firms; strict limits have been placed on their locations. They cannot expand beyond those major corridors. Because of this, the adjoining streets are quiet, residential neighborhoods.
These are just a few of the substantive steps that I would take so that business can flourish in Belmont.