Belmont to hold off on decision to stop maintaining a portion of Jefferson Road

BELMONT — Selectmen voted unanimously last night to continue servicing what they consider to be the private portion of Jefferson Road and all of Lakeside Drive until Oct. 20, 2014.

With about 60 people packed into the Corner Meeting House, the board told residents to research their property records to see if there is any proof the town was responsible for the portion of Jefferson Road west of the railroad tracks.

"It just doesn't make a lot of sense," said one woman whose family has owned property for years and has had town sewer since the 1980s. "We don't want to get an attorney but we certainly will."

Last night's public hearing was really to discuss declaring Bayview Road and Wakeman Road emergency access roads, but most who came were residents of the west portion of Jefferson Road who also want an emergency declaration. As a result of the decision to wait, there will be no change in services until October 2014 although selectmen had initially planned to stop services much sooner.

Many who spoke at last night's public hearing said not maintaining or plowing that portion of road should fall under the same emergency clause as Bayview and Wakeman Roads because not maintaining them will create a safety hazard.

One man said his home burned down in 2006 and, had it not been raining or had there been too much snow for firefighters to access the area, it's possible that many of the other homes would have burned as well.

Many also reminded selectmen they have town sewer and pay fairly high property taxes.

The town is undertaking a road inventory to gradually determine the legal status of all the roads in Belmont. The inventory began in 2009 and, according to state law, it is illegal for a municipality to spend money or resources maintaining private roads.

The standard for a public road is set by state law and states a road must have been prescriptively used or used without the permission of the owner since 1948 in order to be "grandfathered." The only other way a road can be public is if the town builds it, if it is part of a designated subdivision, or if the road is brought up to a minimum standard and the town votes to accept it as a public road.

The east portion of Jefferson Road from Tucker Shore Road to the railroad tracks was built by the town in 1937 and will continue to be a public road. The westerly section, said Land Use Technician Rick Ball, "is not that clear-cut."

The earliest record regarding plowing and regular maintenance of Jefferson Road west is in 1973 when the Board of Selectmen told the former road agent to plow it.

Selectman Chair Ron Cormier told the crowd that the town is not trying to take something away from them but must definitively prove the west portion of Jefferson Road is public in order to legally continue plowing it. He encouraged them to check their deeds and bring any available information to the town for review.

Selectmen said last night that as a result of road inventory, the town has stopped maintaining other private roads in Belmont.

Cormier said the westerly portion of Jefferson Road — or Jefferson Loop — is not the only private road to lose services, but it is one of the private roads in town that has the most homes and residents.