Belmont to use historic site for affordable housing 

Walter Emmett’s home has stood along Ralston Avenue for more than a century, but by the end of the summer, it could have an entirely new view of Belmont.

It’s been five years since the Belmont City Council called for the former house of prominent turn-of-the-century businessman Emmett to be moved to a city-owned lot at 1,000 O’Neill Ave. But Tuesday night’s Planning Commission discussion regarding rezoning and a development plan concept put the city one step closer to having residents in the house by summer 2008.

"This is long overdue," said Community Development Director Carlos de Melo. "Planning staff has been working hard to finally make this a reality."

The house currently sits on a city-owned lot of .29 acres at 843 Ralston Ave. A move to O’Neill Avenue, which sits on the edge of the "Old Downtown," would allow the Belmont Historical Society to apply for national historical landmark status for the house, society president Denny Lawhern said.

Once it is moved and stabilized, the 3,229-square-foot house will be converted into two 1,500-square-foot affordable-housing units, leased out by the city.

The historical society has been watching the house for nine years, Lawhern said. Restoring the house and providing much-needed affordable housing would be a "double-plus," for the city and Peninsula, he said.

"Historical integrity can take many shapes and forms. As long as we take careful aim to preserve the integrity of the structure, I think we’ll have a win-win relative to also providing housing," de Melo said.

The City Council originally voted to move the house to the O’Neill lot in February of 2002 to open up its existing space for redevelopment.

In February, the City Council nixed the Planning Commission’s original recommendation to turn the home into a mixed-use building, with the affordable duplex on the top floor and space for the Historical Society below.

But Lawhern said housing should dominate the building, and the current proposed units are twice as large as they would have been if the mixed-use plan had gone through.

"It’s my hope that it would be made available to some of the employees in Belmont who can’t afford to live here," he said.

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