Things to do Today: Wizard of Oz at the Library, Kids Recycle and Ballplayers in the Morning

It’s the final day of spring recess so make it count, kids.

• The Hampstead Stage Company, a national-touring children’s theater group from Barnstead, NH, presents the children’s classic “The Wizard of Oz” at 2 p.m. in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library. The 50-minute play is performed by two actors in full period costume, each playing several roles with emphasis on audience participation. This sounds like fun for kids AND parents.

• Celebrate the Earth and make a fun project out of recyclable materials at the “Recycle, Reuse, Reduce” open workshop at Paprika Kids at 404 Trapelo Rd (on the same block as the Studio Cinema) from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Bring a plastic bottle and Paprika Kids will provide the rest of the materials. Registration is required for this event so go on-line or call 617-993-3431.

• Belmont High School’s varsity baseball and softball teams will be in morning action today as both home games will begin at 10 a.m. vs Woburn High.

• On this day in 1792, La Marseillaise – the French national anthem – is composed by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

A First Look: Four Vie for Full Liquor, Beer and Wine Licenses

Despite the early hour –  8 a.m. – and school vacation, the Board of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall was filled with residents as the selectmen met on Tuesday, April 22, for the first of two public meetings in which four businesses presented their applications seeking a license to sell either beer or wine or a full slate of liquor in Belmont.

And this year, three of the four applicants are seeking the golden ticket from the Selectmen; a full-liqour license that will allow the sale of spirits in town, becoming the first licensed “liquor” store in the town’s 155 years.

“This is the first of two public meetings to discuss the available licenses,” Selectmen Chair Andy Rojas told the 50 residents who squeezed into the board room.

The next public meeting will take place on Thursday, May 1 at 6:30 p.m. Because the board expects a considerable number of residents to attend the next meeting, a larger location has yet to be selected.

And while each of the three – The Loading Dock on Brighton Avenue, Belmont Center’s Craft Beer Cellar and D&L Liquors of Waltham – presented well-thoughout presentations (all would emphasize training their staffs on state laws controlling sales to those under 21), at first glance there already appears to be a front runner for the coveted full permit, the only establishment to win praise from the audience during the meeting.

Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow, owners of the Craft Beer Cellar at 51 Leonard St. in Belmont Center, came before the board with a proposal to expand “very lightly” their craft beverage concept to include small artisanal liquor companies such as Belmont’s Damnation Alley distillery as well as allowing their store to sell beers, such as Sam Adams’ Utopias, that exceed 12 percent alcohol content which they are currently barred from handling by state law.

They anticipate selling about 30 to 40 bottles each of liquor and strong beers taking up 200 to 250 square feet of the 1,500 sq.-ft. main

The two self-proclaimed “beer geeks” have overseen the store’s rapid success since opening in November 2010 – winning a Best of Boston award from Boston Magazine – to where now the business is franchising their craft beer concept across the state and around the country.

Belmont residents, Baker and Schalow discussed cultivating relations in Belmont’s business community, among residents and with local government, with Schalow stating she and Baker “feel very, very blessed” that they have the opportunity to build on their retail model from “our mothership” store in their hometown.

When asked by Selectman Sami Baghdady how much attention they can give managing the store with its new products if they are expanding their concept across the country, Schalow said the “one place that I really want to be is in my hometown,” saying that she and Baker will continue to be in the main store.

Of the four applications, which included LC Variety located on Trapelo Road which is seeking one of two beer and wine only licenses available, supporters of Craft Beer Cellars – including former Selectman Ralph Jones – hailed the business and the owner’s commitment to customer service and the town in calling for the town to provide them the license.

First customer speaks for Belmont business

Darryl King of Long Avenue said as the first person in line when the Cellar’s doors initially opened three and a half years ago, the owners have been “exemplary” in their service and training of employees.

“They even shoveled the sidewalk before they were told to. They have done everything right,” said King, who urged the selectmen to favor the two women.

On the other end of the spectrum, what would appear to be a strong candidate for the license brought out the largest contingency of residents seeking to block the proposal. D&L Liqour has been in the business since the first day after Prohibition in 1933 when Peter Dion’s grandfather took out a license.

Now in its fourth generation, the Dion family has grown the business to three locations in Needham, Woburn and its home in Waltham. The store would be less a traditional liquor store then a full-service retail operation with expanded educational services especially in wines which they are now emphasizing. A good corporate neighbor, the Dion family has garnered the support of Waltham town officials who vouch to the business’ cooperation with law enforcement in preventing underaged drinking.

Yet despite 80 years of experience and a good business record, many residents waited to speak out in opposition to the Waltham’s business from opening in Belmont. While the residents said they were not opposed to D&L or any similar company coming to town, they wanted the board to reject the proposal due to its location.

Homeowners and at least one business owner told the selectmen the proposed building D&L would renovate – currently the Mini-Mart at the corner of Pleasant and Brighton streets – is in the midst of an active residential neighborhood with many families with small children.

The most formidable challenge to the Dion’s efforts to come to the location a block from Route 2 came from a fellow business owner and resident. Representing Dr. Iris Chin Ponte who runs the four-year-old Henry Frost Children’s Program less than a block away, Adam Ponte of the Boston law firm Kenney & Sams said his client (and sister) would hope the board would invoke a Supreme Judicial Court decision to deny the sale of alcohol within 500 feet of a school or child care business.

Ponce added that due to its location near a highway and with the recent spate of panhandling at the intersection, a liquor store would “be another avenue for criminal activity.”

Homeowners who spoke worried that vehicle traffic from the site’s 12-space parking lot will significantly increase leading to congested streets and making it more difficult to cross these already busy main streets.

Former Boston school administrator Edward Mabardi, who said he built his house nearby 40 years ago in a residential area, asked “what value does a liquor store here give Belmont?”

Katherine Nelson of Bradford Street said of the 49 homes in her area – which 75 percent have “small kid” – 42 homeowners have expressed opposition to the proposal and 65 signatures on a petition to the board. 

In support of a “vital new business”

As a counter to the prevailing view, former Selectman Angelo Firenze said he supports D&L “a new and vital new business to Belmont” since it would rehab “a very, very tired building.” He noted that the decision will be a difficult one for the board, “so good luck,” said Firenze.

The one full-license applicant that did not elicited a public response from the public would be a newcomer to selling alcohol. The Loading Dock is undergoing an extensive renovation at its Brighton Street location which will be across a parking from the new Belmont Light substation.

Fuad Mukarker, who first managed the former White Hen Pantry then buying the store in 2010, said he wants to add a new 500 square-foot section of the 3,000 square-foot footprint for liquor sales as he moves away from the current convenient store business to “a family market that sells liquor” as a compliment to the food they purchase.

When asked by Rojas on the close proximity of Belmont High School (which has a troubled reputation of student drinking for the past three decades) to the store, Mukarker said he has been diligent in keeping students from “hanging around” the store and from attempting to purchase cigarettes.

“We are very, very careful with these things,” said Mukarker.

Only one applicant is seeking a beer and wine license in this cycle but there were concerns with this limited proposal. LC Variety at the corner of Trapelo Road and Walnut Street in Belmont’s Central Square will add 400 square-feet of space for alcohol sales, said owner and Belmont resident Pankaj Ghai.

“It’s a convenient store and this is [an added service],” said Ghai who has owned the store for the past 12 years.

Baghdady, who is a neighbor of Ghai and has been a customer of the store since he was a child, said the store continues to be frequented by small children and teenagers.

“You will locate the beer and wine in the back and you only have one employee in the store. How will you establish controls?” he asked.

“I know the parents and they all talk to me so they know I am watching what is going on. I know my duties,” said Ghai, who said his staff has not made any sales of cigarettes to minors since he’s owned the store.

Yet Rojas said the town’s health department has had issues over the years with the management and the store has been victimized twice by armed robbers in less than 12 months. And neighbors did not give Ghai much comfort on his application.

“This is a store that sells cigarettes, lottery tickets, pornography and potato chips,” said Jean Cabral of Walnut Street who said the garbage and trash are not kept in containers.

With a preschool in the VFW building down Trapelo Road and Pequosette Park nearby, this is not the time “to add beer and wine to a variety store,” said Cabral.

Belmont Savings Reports Strong Quarter

Despite a winter that didn’t appear ever wanting to end and continued sluggishness in the general economy, Belmont’s only bank headquartered in the “Town of Homes” had a spring in its step over the first three months of the year.

BSB Bancorp, the holding company for Belmont Savings Bank located in Belmont Center, reported a strong first quarter of 2014, according the bank’s CEO.

“The quarter was marked by significant loan and deposit growth which fueled the bottom line improvement.  Core expense growth has slowed and credit quality remains good,” said Robert Mahoney, BSB Bancorp’s president and CEO, who in February was selected the “most admired CEO of a small or mid-sized company” in the state by the Boston Business Journal.

As a result, net income came in at $680,000, or 8 cents per basic and diluted share, for the quarter ended March 31, compared to net income of $416,000, or 5 cents per basic and diluted share, in the first quarter of 2013.

The bank’s stock, under the symbol BLMT and sold on the NASDAQ, is off its 52-week high of $18.65 and closed yesterday, April 23, at $17.07.

Net loan growth increased by slightly more than 10 percent over the final three months of 2013 or about $88.6 million in new loans with more than half commercial loans.

Deposits at the bank’s six full-service branches in Belmont, Newton, Waltham, Watertown and Cambridge totaled $827.7 million, an increase of $63.0 million or 8.2 percent from the $764.8 million the bank had on Dec. 31.

As of March 31, total assets for the business were $1.2 billion, an increase of $114.4 million or 10.8 percent from the $1.1 billion at the end of last year.

Things to Do Today: British Troops at the Library, Food Collaborative Meeting

The British are coming to Belmont! Members of His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot Revolutionary War re-creators will be in the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to tell the British perspective on the American Revolution and demonstrate an 18th-century military drill under the guidance of their commander, Rob Lee. The group is dedicated to portraying the life of the British troops garrisoned in the Boston area during the War for Independence. For ages 10 and up. Sign up online or call 617-993-2870.

The Underwood Pool Building Committee will be meeting at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall to continue refining the design of the $5.2 million facility.

If you are interested in Belmont’s award-winning Farmers Market and the idea of good food, nutrition as well as local and sustainable farming, come attend the Belmont Food Collaborative’s meeting from 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the Belmont Public Library’s Flett Room.

All of Belmont High’s sports teams are in action in neighboring towns: Baseball in Arlington and Softball at Cambridge Rindge and Latin, both at 10 a.m., and Boys’ Lacrosse at Waltham at 1 p.m.

Belmont Takes Advantage of Low Rates to Bond $29 Million

While the low-interest rate environment promoted by the Federal Reserve over the past five years has dampened residents appetite for bonds, the same condition has been a boom for municipalities with good credit ratings when selling their debt on the open market.

Using its top-ranked “triple A” credit rating, Belmont’s Treasurer and Tax Collector Floyd Carman was able to receive eight bids for nearly $29 million in municipal bonds that will include financing construction and upgrades to the Belmont Light substation that will be located on Flanders Road.

The winning bid for Belmont’s bonds came from Morgan Stanley offering an average interest rate of 2.951 percent, Carman told the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 22.

“That is a good deal for the town,” said Carman, noting the low rates will result in a significant savings to taxpayers which will be felt on Belmont’s fiscal bottom line.

The bond will pay for:

• $26,100,000: Belmont Light substation construction.

• $482,000: Water main replacement.

• $30,000: A school department vehicle.

• $890,000: a ladder truck for the Fire Department.

• $500,000: a new fire engine.

• 960,000: Harris Field replacement.

Things to Do Today: One Book One Belmont Talk, Rugby in the Afternoon, Calling Precinct 3

• One Book One Belmont presents John Stauffer, Professor of English, American Studies and African American Studies at Harvard University, who will talk about Phillis Wheatley, a Boston slave born in Gambia, became one of the foremost poets in early America from 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Belmont Public Library’s Assembly Room. The talk is co-sponsored by Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Historical Society and the Human Rights Commission.

• There is a meeting of Precinct 3 Town Meeting members from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the Fleet Room (across from the Children’s Room) at the Belmont Public Library.

• The defending state Div. 1 rugby champions, the Belmont High School’s Rugby Club, will take on Arlington Catholic at Harris Field (adjacent to the skating rink on Concord Avenue) at 3 p.m. If you haven’t had the chance to see the team in action, here is your chance to see why this team is so special.

Belmont High Named As One of Nation’s Best

As the saying goes, you don’t come to Belmont for the roads; you come for the schools.

And in the latest issue of US News & World Report, Belmont High School is honored as one of the top-rated high schools in the country, earning the magazine’s “Gold” medal. The Concord Avenue school is ranked 151st nationally out of 19,400 public high schools in 50 states and the District of Columbia examined that includes charter and examination-entry schools from across the US.

Using the USN&WR ranking criteria, Belmont High is rated higher than 99.2 percent of all high schools in the country.

The top-ranked high school in the country is the School for the Talented and Gifted in Dallas, Texas.

In Massachusetts, Belmont is the top-ranked open-enrollment high school, rated just below the state’s top school, Boston Latin, an exam school, and the Advanced Math & Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough. Wellesley High and The Bromfield School, the town of Harvard’s public high school, round out the top five schools.

In 2013, the school was ranked 193rd nationally.

U.S. News teamed up with the Washington, D.C.-based American Institutes for Research, one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world, on creating the ranking methodology that is based on, as the magazine stated, “the key principles that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show the school is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.”

According to the magazine, Belmont High scored high on college preparedness, with nearly three-quarters of high school seniors taking and passing at least one AP advanced course.

The school also rated very high, 63rd in the country, in students taking and passing AP exams in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) courses.

Fast Times For Belmont’s BAA Marathoners

Your neighbors are a quick lot!

Belmont runners produced some outstanding results at Monday’s 118th Boston Athletic Association Marathon, the historic annual 26.2 mile trek from Hopkinton to Boston’s Copley Square to celebrate Patriots’ Day, April 21.

Of the 42 who finished the race, 40 percent, 17, ran under four hours, a great accomplishment for any runner.

And just like the men’s race, where American Meb Keflezighi won the race by 11 seconds, it was a close contest for the first Belmont resident across the line as Roger Donaghy finished nine seconds ahead of fellow BAA member Ryan McCalmon, 2 hours, 36 minutes and 17 seconds vs 2:36:26, placing 213th while Ryan finished 217th.

Rachel Reardon was the female Belmont runner, finishing in 3:25:15, or 7,490th overall, ahead of 25,000 fellow runners, and 1,225th among all women.

But it was in the veteran’s categories that Belmont runners made their mark. Fifty-six-year-old Wolfgang Ketterle finished third in the 55-59 age group in 2:44:06, less than three minutes from the winning time. He placed 528th overall.

Hammond Road’s Robert Cipriano ran a possible personal best in the marathon in 2 hour, 40 minutes and 48 seconds to finish 4th in the 50-54 age group, placing 364th.

Here are all the results from the race:

  1. Scott Abrams, 3:37:45
  2. Anne Antonellis, 4:40:28
  3. Cara Brickley, 4:31:55
  4. John Carey, 3:13:14
  5. Sarkis Chekijian, 3:42:11
  6. Robert Cipriano, 2:40:47
  7. Kelly Coates, 6:14:43
  8. Charlie Conroy, 3:05:03
  9. Virginia Cox, 3:53:19
  10. David DeMarco, 4:06:28
  11. Roger Donaghy, 2:36:17
  12. Paul Feloney, 4:22:19
  13. Paul Firth, 4:38:32
  14. Jonathan Haines, 3:59:19
  15. Bill Hees, 5:22:45
  16. Christopher Heuisler, 3:32:29
  17. Richard Horgan, 5:27:31
  18. James Kelleher, 4:58:31
  19. Wolfgang Ketterle, 2:44:06
  20. Peter Lamb, 4:45:28
  21. Russell Leino, 3:06:15
  22. Mark Lewis, 6:35:29
  23. David MacDonald, 5:03:49
  24. Eric Marro, 4:54:57
  25. Leslie Mauriello, 4:43:14
  26. Ryan McCalmon, 2:36:25
  27. Carolyn Mehaffey, 3:58:36
  28. Karyn Miller-Medzon, 4:26:36
  29. Joseph Mullaney, 4:53:48
  30. Stephen Najarian, 5:34:58
  31. Carrie Palmer, 5:08:19
  32. Oswald Paredes, 5:24:42
  33. John Pilkington-Sperry, 4:40:10
  34. Becca Pizzi, 3:40:15
  35. Rachel Reardon, 3:25:15
  36. Kristen Ruane, 5:27:20
  37. Alissa Schreiner, 3:56:39
  38. Andrew Schreiner, 3:59:03
  39. Emily Seaver, 4:41:41
  40. Hannah Swartz, 5:00:05
  41. Kimberly Usseglio, 4:27:45
  42. James Winter, 5:15:02

Belmont’s Combined Water, Sewer Rate to Increase 4.6 Percent

The typical Belmont resident will need to dig a bit deeper into their pockets to pay the quarterly water and sewer charges as the combined rate for both services will increase by 4.6 percent in the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.

The average Belmont homeowner who uses 20 HCF (hundred cubic feet) of water every three months will see their expenses jump by a little more than $17 – from the current $372.48 to $389.77 in fiscal 2015 – in their quarterly bill from the town, topping $1,500 for the fiscal year, according to Peter Castanino, director of the town’s Department of Public Works.

Speaking before the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday morning, April 22, Castanino told the members the department was successful in keeping the rate hike under the five percent benchmark on all future increases set by the 2010 Water and Sewer Rate Study, this year using retained earnings from the water and sewer accounts above a set minimum amount to run the systems operations and maintenance for 75 days.

Castanino said the rates are greatly influenced by the fixed rates imposed by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority which supplies the town with water and takes its sewage. That rate is just north of 50 percent of the average bill Belmont residents receive.

He also noted the rate from the MWRA will spike upwards (specifically in 2017 and 2020) due to increases in debt services it took on from the state when it was created.

In addition, the rate increases come as Belmont residents have steadily reduced their consumption of water usage over the past two decades.

But Castanino said with households being more efficient, “when we sell less, water will cost more.”

“Those fixed costs must be covered,” said Castanino.


Castanino said it is likely the department can continue to maintain its five percent limit on annual increases by decreasing the town’s capital reinvestment into the water and sewer infrastructure.

But a temporary decrease in the pace of the town’s effort to replace the 91-miles of water mains and sewer pumping stations crisscrossing town can be accomplished without doing long-term harm to the upgrade, said Castanino.

He said in 1995 the town began replacing every main installed before 1928 or about 38 miles of pipes and the work is now 59 percent complete. In addition, a pair of sewage stations have been replaced and upgrades to the sewage system has been ongoing. Castanino said many towns and cities have yet to establish as program to replace aging mains.

Selectman Sami Baghdady asked Castanino if there could be someway for the town to reward residents for the drastic decrease in water consumption by further dampening rate increases.

Castanino said the one way to do flatten the rate jumps is for the MWRA – which only uses 2/3 of the water it has on hand – to increase the number of communities within its membership so that debt can be spread around a greater number of cities and towns.

Belmont Fire Log: Car Hits Tree, Tree Hits Ground

Car and tree in crash 

On Palm Sunday, April 13, just before 11:30 a.m., Engine 1 and Rescue 1 where sent to the intersection of Washington and Dalton for a report that a car had hit a tree and was on fire. When they arrived, the car was smoldering and the driver was out of the vehicle. That person was taken to Mt. Auburn Hospital to be evaluated. After putting out the fire, as the car was being removed, the old tree suddenly fell across Washington. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Gas for many years

On Monday, April 14, a few minutes before 8 p.m., Engine 2 was sent to a location on upper Common Street near Cushing Square for the report of a natural gas smell in the air. The resident who called said she could smell gas in front of her home for many years. And the crews could detect a “faint intermittent odor” near a “Dig Safe” markings on the street. The gas company was called. While they could smell the gas, none was picked up on their detecting equipment.

Overcooking leads to storage problem

Also on Monday, this time around quarter past 9 p.m., all companies were sent rushing to a Thayer Road multifamily for the report of a kitchen fire. There crews from Engine 1 and Rescue 1 found a pan of food on fire. They removed the smoldering attempt at cooking dinner outside and aired out the apartment. The firefighters had a hard time navigating around the apartment due to a great deal of “storage” in the unit. Turns out that the town, which manages the apartment, knew about the renter’s “problem” and would deal with it.


There was a light show on Tuesday, April 15, on Common and Orchard streets just after 9 p.m. as electrical wires starting rubbing against a tree setting off sparks and electrical arcing. Lots of fun but very dangerous. Belmont Light was called to make repairs.

Failing grade

It was a busy day for fire crews as they were heading off to Belmont High School several times on Thursday, April 17: first a faulty fire alarm just before 10 a.m., then another alarm and this time a teacher reported smelling gas in the kitchen and finally another false alarm at 10:45 a.m. The alarm company was called to fix the issues.