Time Running Out To Find New Home For Belmont Food Pantry

Photo: A busy Belmont Food Pantry on Belmont Serves.

It’s nail-biting time for the Belmont Food Pantry.

With a little more than five weeks before the non-profit will be forced to move from its current home in a modular unit at the rear of Belmont High School, the pantry – which assists more than 200 residents with much-needed food staples and sundries – is scrambling to find a space to continue its charitable work.

“What we are asking we know that we need to come together as a community to provide this service to the people,” Laurie Graham, former Belmont School Committee chair, and a pantry director, told the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 27.

“We’ve known since December and to solve this problem now is acuter with this short fuse,” said Chairman Mark Paolillo of the August 1 deadline.

The pantry will need to move as the school department is running short of classroom space due to rocketing enrollment levels at Belmont High and throughout the district.

But despite the best efforts of the town administration, houses of worship, non-profits and businesses, as of the last week in June, there simply isn’t a location of a similar size – about 1,600 sq.-ft. – to meet the pantry’s needs.

Currently, the pantry is open five times a month: in the mornings on the first and third Saturday of the month and on afternoons on the second and fourth Tuesday evening with an additional day on the last Sunday of the month at Plymouth Congregational Church on Pleasant Street.

Belmont residents can use the service twice a month to pick up canned goods, baking supplies, sundries and, during the summer, fresh vegetables from gardens run by volunteers.

While the Belmont community has been “very supportive” of the pantry financially and with food donations, “we need space,” said Graham.

David Kale, Belmont’s town administrator, said he had discussions with department heads on available space, but so far there isn’t any local site that could handle the pantry.

A recent walk through of the former Belmont Municipal Light Department headquarters adjacent to the Police Headquarters and across Concord Avenue from Town Hall, which three years ago was the pantry’s home, was deemed unavailable as the building has deteriorated over that time and would need substantial rehabilitation to bring up to code. 

There had been discussions of using two empty storefronts near the intersection of Belmont Street and Trapelo Road adjacent to Moozies that are owned by developer Chris Starr or parking a trailer in the Beth El Temple Center’s parking lot. But both some with significant restrictions such as lack of running water and electricity and a small footprint.

“But while saying that, we’d love to have anything on a temporary basis,” said Graham.

With nothing available at this time, the pantry is looking at stop gap measures to continue service, including sharing space with pantries in Watertown and Arlington, although the Watertown space is problematic since they hand out bags of food rather than allowing residents select what they need which is done in Belmont.

Graham said there had been discussions by the pantry’s board of directors of possibly allowing the pantry become part of town government similar to the way Watertown runs its food service.

“There are pros and cons to this [approach],” said Graham including giving up the pantry’s non-profit status. The pantry could find a commercial storefront and pay market rent although that would mean fewer supplies for residents. 

“But I think for us an issue is sustainability … and that means we need to have a place,” she noted. 

Saying the food pantry serves “a very important need,” Selectman Sami Baghdady said he has reached out to several large property owners if there is any available storefront in an accessible commercial location. 

“When I say ‘food pantry,’ everyone’s attention spikes, and there is a strong desire to help,” said Baghdady, saying he is now waiting for a call back to resolve the predicament, “sooner rather than later.” 

Market Day in Belmont: Stock Up For The 4th

Photo: Greens are in the market. 

Take time out before the July 4th holiday to stock up on the freshest produce and sundries on Market Day, Thursday, June 30.

The last June Market features strawberries, arugula, carrots, garlic scapes, leafy greens and lots of fresh peas.

Occasional vendors this week are Turtle Creek Winery, Warren Farm & Sugarhouse, Belmont Acres Farm and True Grounds Coffee House.

Performances in the Events Tent

  • 2 p.m.: Bob Leger returns play guitar and sing classic, pop, rock, country folk and blues songs.
  • 4 p.m.: Storytime – Stories for all ages, sponsored by the Belmont Public Library.
  • 4:30 p.m.: Music Together of Belmont: music for children from birth through age 7, and the grownups who love them.
  • 5 p.m.: Solomon Murungu returns with music showing the culture, folklore, and wisdom of the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

Traffic advisory: There will be sidewalk work under the Belmont Center railroad bridge weekdays through July 7. This has caused some delays, but the roads are open. Work stops at 4 p.m.; the market is open until 6:30 p.m.

Find out what’s at the Market each week  Sign up for the email newsletter for weekly info about vendors, performers and special events. Follow the Market on Facebook and Twitter.

SNAP payments: The market accepts and doubles SNAP benefits (formerly called Food Stamps) up to an extra $25 per Market day, while matching funds last. Make a tax-deductible donation to the Belmont Food Collaborative to support programs like this.

Belmont Joins Ranks With Communities on Gas Leak Legislation

Photo: Yvonne Brown (left) and Jennifer Marusiak of Mothers Out Front.

The rotten egg smell associated with leaking natural gas – it’s actually a chemical additive called mercaptan – is an annoyance that dampens your outdoor activities or forces windows to be closed on summer nights. But the problem of leaking gas mains goes beyond the odor it emanates; the hydrocarbon mixture is harming the environment and draining resident’s pocketbooks.

That’s the warning Jennifer Marusiak of Chester Road and Yvonne Brown of Highland Road brought to the Belmont Board of Selectmen on Monday, June 27, as they sought the board’s backing for state legislation that would put a modest plug in what has become an epidemic throughout the state.

“It’s serious that we have these uncontrolled leaks in every Belmont neighborhood and the consequences are to climate change,” said Marusiak, who with Brown are members of the Belmont chapter of Mothers Out Front, a national grassroots organization seeking to implement policies to transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

And with the Selectmen’s official endorsement of the legislation making its way through Beacon Hill, Belmont joins 36 communities across Massachusetts supporting the effort to limit the level of gas leaks statewide.

In a comprehensive analysis of Belmont by Mother’s Out Front reported in the May/June Belmont Citizens Forum newsletter, there are 80 gas leaks throughout town – the majority in the heavily residential neighborhoods inside an area bordered by Trapelo Road, Pleasant Street, Concord Avenue and Grove Street –  part of the 20,000 leaks statewide that is spewing tons of methane into the atmosphere.
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‘[Methane] has been described as carbon on steroids,” Marusiak said of the greenhouse gas that’s nearly 90 percent more efficient than CO2 in trapping heat. It also exacerbates the effects of asthma and kills trees.

In addition to the environmental damage, the leaks cost ratepayers and consumers $90 million annual in lost product, which could power 200,000 homes each year.

The reason leaks occur is due to an aging infrastructure, said Marusiak. National Grid, the gas utility in Massachusetts, told Mom’s Out Front that half the pipes running through town are cast iron or unprotected steel “which makes them leak-prone” due to changing temperatures and corrosion, said Marusiak.

National Grid will repair leaks immediately if they are indoors and in an enclosed space with the real potential of an explosion, she said. There is a second level of severity are pipes that could become dangerous if they are close to residential buildings, but the company can wait six months before fixing them.

All other leaks don’t have any timeframe on repairs, which has resulted in two Belmont locations which have had been leaking gas since 1996, said Marusiak.

“And the shocking thing [about replacing leaking pipes] it has absolutely nothing to do with the volume [escaping] … they could sit there forever,” Marusiak said, noting that National Grid acknowledged it doesn’t know the volume of escaping gas from any of the Belmont problem areas.

The women were seeking backing on two bills in front of the state legislature on Beacon Hill: House 2870 would prohibit company from passing on costs from leaks to customer – this bill has been sent to a Study Committee – while Senate 1767 would mandate utilities check for leaks when roads with gas pipes are dug up, and fix any leaks found within one calendar year.

“The support from towns are vital,” said Marusiak. “The main benefit of passing this resolution is to keep up the pressure by saying ‘we need action now’.”

“This is an issue that the town itself can’t do and so political pressure that you’re proposing is the only way to get action,” said Selectman Jim Williams, who joined Chair Mark Paolillo and Selectman Sami Baghdady to sponsor an official resolution backing the measures.

Despite a stall on the House bill and the Senate measure still to be voted on to be included in the Senate’s omnibus energy legislation, Marusiak said communities, citizens, and groups “will just continue to keep on pushing for its passage, now or in the next session.” 

Minuteman To Hold District-Wide Vote Sept. 20 To OK $144M Building Project

Photo: Belmont may have voted no, but it could be on the hook for nearly $500,000 in annual costs to construct a new regional technical school.

Belmont may have voted “no” in May, but that hasn’t stopped the Minuteman School Committee from getting a second bite at the apple to approve a $100 million bonding issue to build a new regional technical school on the Lexington/Littleton town line.

On Monday, June 27, the school’s school committee voted 12-1 with one abstention to bring a referendum to build the school to the entire 14 community district.

The vote – funded by the Minuteman School Committee – will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20 from noon to 8 p.m. 

“It’s a simple vote across all the [d]istrict towns,” said Edward Bouquillon, Minuteman’s Superintendent-Director in a statement issued on June 28.

“It’s done on the same day during the same hours. The votes are totaled. If there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, the project is approved,” he said.

According to data from Minuteman Tech, renovations and repairs are projected to cost local taxpayers roughly $100 million and take six to ten years to complete. With the MSBA grant, the local share would be roughly the same amount, to be paid by local taxpayers and by out-of-district communities through a new capital fee assessed by the state.

The new vote comes about two months after a Special Town Meeting overwhelmingly rejected the bonding issue, the only Town Meeting to vote down the proposal that would saddled Belmont with an annual bill of $350,000 to $500,000 to pay for its portion of the nearly $100 million to build the school.

And despite Belmont having expressed its opinion on the issue and while many in town would like the town to commit its own “Brexit”-style departure from the district, “it has there really is no practical way for Belmont to leave the District before the vote is taken. It’s simply not possible,” said Jack Weis, Belmont’s representative to the Minuteman School Committee.

In the view of the Minuteman officials, they were left with only one option after Belmont’s legislative body rebuffed the proposal.

“We tried the traditional Town Meeting route and won by overwhelming margins just about everywhere,” said Bouquillon, winning approval in the other 13 Town Meetings. “But we were unable to make the case properly in one town [Belmont] and, given the rules of this process, that was enough to require going directly to citizens through a formal referendum.”

In hopes of saving a $44 million grant from the Massachusetts School Building Authority to build the school, said Bouquillon, the Minuteman School Committee will submit the issue directly to the voters of its member towns.

In a press release issued on Tuesday, June 28, Minuteman and officials from other communities in the Minuteman district met with Belmont officials on June 20 “to determine whether Minuteman should attempt to bring the matter back to Belmont Town Meeting or, alternatively, go to a referendum.”

Under the town meeting approval process, the project could only move forward if no member town voted to object. 

Belmont officials told the committee there was no indication that Town Meeting members would change their opposition to the project which it considers far too large for the number of students coming from district communities.

“[The] sensible course would be to proceed directly to referendum,” said Bouquillon. “Fortunately, state law gives multi-town districts such as Minuteman a second option for getting capital projects approved.”

“Under the new Regional Agreement, any community can petition to leave the District at any time.  The first step is to have a Special Town Meeting and to have the two-thirds of the Town Meeting members vote in favor of leaving. But, the actual departure isn’t effective for three years after that. So, there is no way to leave the District before the vote is taken.

Even if Belmont could decamp from the district, “communities are still obligated for their share of any debt incurred prior to the withdrawal date,” said Weis.

Dog Owners Seek To Keep Belmont’s Current Off-Leash Regs

Photo: The public meeting on the town’s existing off-leash regulations.

Just how passionate many (or is that most) dog owners are of their pets can be found in the phrase from the famous wildlife writer Roger Caras: “If you don’t own a dog … there is not necessarily anything wrong with you, but there may be something wrong with your life.”

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that nearly 60 dog owners and their friends jammed into the Board Of Selectmen’s Room at Town Hall on a beautiful first day of summer, Monday, June 20, to speak at a public meeting on the town’s existing off-leash regulations.

Belmont Board of Health Chair David Alper called the meeting to hear from all sides on the permit program that allows pets to run unencumbered.


Belmont Board of Health Chair David Alper (center) with board members Donna David (left) and Julie C. Lemay.

“We three are here to listen to you,” said Alper, referring to his board colleagues, Donna David and Julie C. Lemay. “We want as much information as we can get about the current situation … plus or negative.”

The off-leash program requires dogs and their owners meet with Belmont’s Animal Control Officer, John Maguranis, for a pet behavior assessment and a review of the regulations. While the Board of Health sets the rules, the program is run through the Recreation Department, which has a strict 200 permit annual limit while the town has more than 1,600 registered dogs.

Alper said the nexus for the meeting was a steady stream of letters to the board expressing “unhappiness” of the program which dogs were becoming a nuisance to pedestrians or scaring children in playgrounds and open spaces around town.

Those complaints were joined by the ever-present issue of dog “waste” on playgrounds shared by youth sports and residents seeking passive enjoyment.

For dog owners, the status quo is far more satisfying than any conceivable alternative. Many of the owners told how their pets are becoming more socialized and easier to handle by being taken to the open parks.

“This is one thing that Belmont does better than any town around us … where owners can take their dogs to run and play and chase balls,” said Susan Demb from Louise Road, who spoke for many in the audience. 

But for one meeting participant, the program is “not always amazing,” Azra Nelson of Vincent Avenue said over 12 years of using Belmont parks she has found some dog owners “rude and expect their dogs can run to anybody and anywhere, not picking up while pestering kids and other people” where now her children are now scared of dogs.

“I pick up this sense of entitlement that ‘My dog can do whatever and that should be, OK because they are friendly,” said Nelson, who suggested “clearer rules” be set for owners who are socializing or ignoring situations when their pets are jumping on people.

In an apparent act of contrition, owners admitted that there were some “bad” owners operating “on the fringe,” who don’t collar their pets or pick up after them. It is those few outliers that owners say are hurting the doggy community. 

“When I see a dog misbehaving, I’m more mad than someone else who’s not a dog owner; I feel like you’re threatening my dog’s ability to have fun and my ability to have fun and you’re harming my park. And that irresponsibility doesn’t belong in our town,” said Scott Abrams of King Street.

Abrams said there were plenty of examples of youth sports participants who are just as ambivalent to rules concerning picking up after them or of residents to shot off “fireworks” at PQ Park, “so everyone can be a little bit more responsible.”

While dog parks – fenced in enclosures set aside for unleashed canines – are popping up in many communities (Arlington, Waltham, and Cambridge) surrounding Belmont and garnered some support Monday, most owners said the facilities are not large enough to allow for the amount and quality of running and socializing their pets need.

“They end up becoming hard-packed dirt patches where there’s not enough room for a dog to run and play,” said Johanna Swift Hart of Hull Street.

The consensus from the dog owner’s was that easy to read signage and notification on “correct” behavior and hours and times off-leash dogs can be in Belmont’s parks would be the first step in minimizing the conflicts between the animals and people.
They also advised an easily recognizable off-leash permit for the dog’s collar should be used to ID those pets that are licensed to run as well as owners volunteering their dogs for a program on how children should approach a dog. 

For many residents, the program is more than just for their pets.

“We were drawn to this area because it seems to be both common to people who have children and people who like [dogs] and this would be a great place to have both,” said Rachel Kilmer, who with her husband, have discovered the owners have bonded and have formed friendships through their use of the parks.

“It’s a really important thing to have in the community that brings people together,” said Kilmer. 

Road/Sidewalk Work At Center’s Tunnel To Continue for Next 2 Weeks

Photo: Tunnel 

Beginning on Thursday, June 23 and continuing for approximately two weeks, Charles Contracting will begin curbing and sidewalk construction under the Belmont Center bridge on Concord Avenue. Construction hours are anticipated to be from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Two-way traffic flow will be maintained at most times, however, residents are advised that at times, and only during off-peak traffic hours, alternating traffic flow will be required. 

Traffic impacts during the morning rush hour, between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., are expected to be minimal.

For additional information, refer to the Town of Belmont website for additional information.

Belmont Yard Sales: June 25–26

Photo: Yard sale.

Yard sales in the “Town of Homes.”

48 Concord Ave., Saturday, June 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

28-30 Francis St., Saturday, June 25, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• 116 Gilbert Rd., Saturday, June 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

77 Maple St., Saturday, June 25, from 9 a.m. to Noon.

• 6 Pine St., Saturday, June 25, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

17 Ridge Rd., Saturday, June 25, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

78 Unity Ave., Saturday, June 25, from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

60 Washington St., Saturday, June 25, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

45 Wellesley Rd., Saturday and Sunday, June 25 and 26, from noon to 5:30 p.m.

Course Records Fall At 15th Brendan’s Home Run 5K

Photo: And they’re off!

It was perfect Father’s Day weather – dry, no wind, a bit warm – on Sunday, June 19 which translated to wonderful conditions for the nearly 400 participants who came out to Harris Field to run the 15th Brendan’s Home Run 5K.

And the lead runners didn’t disappoint as both the men’s and women’s course records fell in outstanding performances by a pair of young up-and-comers.

The men’s race was a tight three athlete competition for the entire 3.1 miles with 2014 champion Louis Serafini outsprinting Brian Harvey and Liam Hillery to the line. The 24-year-old former Boston College runner’s time of 14 minutes and 32 seconds was eight seconds better than the previous record of Zack Schwartz’s set last year. In addition, Harvey (14:34) and Hillery (14:35) dipped under Schwartz’s previous record.

In the women’s race, Providence College grad and NCAA Cross Country All-American Laura Nagel finished in 17:15, running away from Karen Roa, who finished second Sunday in 17:47. Jessica Barton took third in 18:06. The 24-year-old New Zealand-native who was a member of PC’s national champion cross country squad, Nagel broke Roa’s women’s record set in 2013 by two seconds.

Leading Belmont residents were 19-year-old UMass runner Ari Silverfine (8th in 16:50) and 23-year-old Flora Berklein who cruised home in 22nd/6th woman in 18:52. 

The wealth of young, strong runner who travel some distance to participate in the Home Run each year has all to do with making a personal connection with them, said the long-time event’s director. 

“I think to get good people here all you need is a couple of conversations and let them know that there’s something special happening in Belmont every Father’s Day,” said Brian Rogers.

Rogers said it also helps when seven-times race winner and 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials finisher Dan Vasallo of Peabody “is always telling other runners about this race.”

But for the vast majority of runners, the race was a chance to put in a few miles before the Dad Day celebrations commenceed. The back-of-the-packers (including parents running with their children)  were cheered on and enjoyed the same swag – thanks to sponsors Belmont Savings Bank, Fitness Together, Belmont Dental Group and the DerKazarian family – as those what finish 10 to 20 minutes head of them

“When we started this thing 15 years ago, we knew we had a significant chore in front of us because Brendan Grant was a quality kid. And if we are going to do anything in his name, this event had to be quality too,” said Rogers.

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As Underwood Opens, Advice From The Manager: Apply Lotion Before Diving In

Photo: Underwood pool manager Lorraine Benoit.

At 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 18, the bike rack outside the Underwood Pool was filled, there was a line at the facility’s front desk and SUVs, and sports vehicles were dropping off folks on Concord Avenue.

It was opening day of the first full-season of the Underwood, constructed and opened in August of last year. And if the first afternoon of operations is any indication, this is going to be one very popular place to Belmont. 

The crowds of kids and adults frolicked in the water as temperatures and sunny skies brought out a steady stream of visitors to get a jump start on summer. Toddlers were happy just getting their feet wet in the shallow pool while older kids took advantage of the diving board’s springiness. A line of youngster prepares to take the “deep end” test as adults camped out around the parameter, staking out their little homestead. 

While a bit crowded, the atmosphere around the pool is relaxed and upbeat, as is the long-time manager.

“It’s going great,” said Lorraine Benoit, who manages the staff, lifeguards and the running of the new facility.

“The best part is that every member of the family can have fun down here. And from the looks of it, they’re all here,” said Benoit. 

This season, the pool has new large umbrellas along with the “Underwood trees” which is providing shade on the south side of the pool. “I don’t see people wanting for anything,” she said.

Asked what if the one thing she would tell the public about coming to the pool, Benoit didn’t hesitate to point out what will be her prime pet peeve this season.

“Before you come to the pool, put on your sunscreen at home!” said Benoit, using the referee’s voice – she is a noted field hockey, and lacrosse umpire. Saying that lotion takes a half-hour to be absorbed into the skin, Benoit said if a person enters the pool before then, “the oil is going to end up in the water, and you’re not going to get the protection.” 

Last summer, during the abbreviated season, the pool was closed for some days due to water contaminated by lotion. 

And when it is time to reapply the sunscreen, “just wait a bit before entering the pool. And we have so many things that you can do while you hold on, whether it’s playing volleyball in the depression (the area just outside the structure) or have lunch on the grass,” she said.

The Underwood Pool will be open daily (except for July 4) until Sunday, Sept. 5. For complete information on hours, programs and fees, go to the Belmont Recreation Department’s web page

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Summer Solstice Will Be Special Monday With A Rare Strawberry Moon

Photo: That moon.
Today, June 20, is the Summer Solstice, the longest “day” of the year. Sunrise in Belmont is 5:07 a.m. with sunset at 8:24 p.m., or 15 hours and 17 minutes of sunlight.
But that’s not as long as London, where the sun will rise at 4.45 a.m. and sunset at 10.34 p.m.
Since the sun is at its highest point of the year in the northern hemisphere, check out your shadow at 1 p.m.; it’s your shortest shadow of the year.
Summer officially begins at 6:34 p.m. on Monday, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
And 2016 is a special year, as the solstice coincides with the full moon, known as the “Strawberry Moon” – or Full Rose Moon in Europe – which is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence as the two events coincide once every 70 years. The last time the solstice and the Strawberry Moon occurred at almost the same time was in 1948. 
The forecast for Monday is for clear skies all day until midnight, so there will be great viewing of the moon rise.
Around the time of the summer solstice, is the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvest. Next to Christmas, Midsummer which occurs from June 21-23, is Scandinavia’s most popular holiday. In Sweden, it’s traditional to eat your way through the entire day, which means eating a lot of potatoes and herring as well as the first strawberries of the year.