Belmont Health Board to Vote in June on Raising Tobacco Sales Age

Residents could see tobacco and electronic cigarettes join liquor and beer with a 21 year old age restriction on their sale if the Belmont Board of Health approves a proposal at its June meeting, according to the board’s chair.

Answering questions at an informational meeting held at Town Hall Thursday, May 22, the Health Board’s Donna David said the move will be decided at the board’s next meeting in June.

“If we come to a consensus we could vote then,” said David, who added that she did not expect an outcry by raising the minimum age by two years.

“It’s not like we are saying you can’t sell tobacco in town. Now that would bring people out to comment,” she said.

The reasons for increasing the age is straight forward, it will delay the onset of smoking initiation and reduce the chances and opportunities to become addicted to tobacco, which David observed is more difficult to “kick than heroin.”

The new restriction will virtually eliminate any student attending Belmont High from purchasing tobacco products. It will also be the same age as alcohol which will make it easier for store owners and clerks “to do the math” and will also prevent those under 21 from using their “vertical” state driver’s license.

Belmont would join a growing number of communities in Massachusetts and the US if it approves increasing the minimum age for tobacco and other nicotine devices. Currently 17 municipalities have or will impose the higher age level by August, including Lexington (which it has not been enacted) and Arlington.

Nationally, New York City (on May 14) and Hawaiʻi Island of Hawai’i have adopted 21 as the new standard.

Belmont’s Health Board raised its minimum age to 19 in 2010.

According to the latest data from the state’s Department of Public Health, only eight percent of adult Belmontians – approximately 1,868 residents – smoke tobacco, which is about half the statewide rate of 15 percent.

But the rate of illegal sales to minors (at 21 percent) in town is 87 percent higher than in the state at 11 percent.

Yet David said the lacks direct data to prove that the new regulation would be effective in preventing smoking from the young. In addition, the new regulation could put a dent in the financial health of the convenient stores. David said stores still selling tobacco and lottery tickets can make up to $2,000 daily.

Both David and Angela Braun of the Health Department said they are concerned by the chemicals used in the delivery devices that have gained favor with those attempting to quit smoking and it doesn’t omit second-hand smoke.

“They are dangerous. I don’t know the exact chemicals but that is an issue,” said Braun.

Health Board Seek Comment on Raising Tobacco, E-Cigarette Sales Age to 21

The Belmont Board of Health will be holding an informational meeting tonight, Thursday, May 22, at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall auditorium to hear from residents on a proposal to raise the age to 21 years old to purchase both tobacco and the increasingly popular “e-cigarette” nicotine delivery devices in Belmont.

“It is a proposal that we want people to know and comment,” said Dr. David Alper, vice chair of the Belmont Board of Health on Monday, May 19.

Two years ago, Belmont raised the age requirement to 19 to purchase all tobacco-related products such as cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco.

The board can unilaterally increase the age limit without Town Meeting approval since it would be a change in health regulations, not altering a town bylaw.

In 2005, Needham was the first community in the United States that prohibited sales to anyone under 21 years old.

Since then, New York City has issued the same ban while neighboring Arlington is raising their age of sale to 21 via a three-year step plan.

Goose Busters Program Coming Back to Belmont

When your fields and playgrounds are fouled by fowls, who are you going to call?

Goose busters!

In an effort to control the waste left on Belmont’s fields and common areas by Canada geese, the most common waterfowl species in North America, the Belmont Health Department will be establishing a new, more formalized “off-leash” registration program for residents and their pet pooches, according to members of the Belmont Board of Health at an informational meeting held last week and in subsequent interviews.

A past attempt to register dogs to run on the tows playing fields was less organized or controlled, resulting in an ineffective scheme. The existing “Off-Leash Program for Dogs on Belmont Athletic Fields” run by the Recreation Department is $40 per resident dog for 2014.

“[O]ver the recent years we have found residents made  little or no attempts to actually have their dogs involved in chasing geese,” Belmont’s Health Director Stefan Russakow told the Belmontonian Thursday, April 17.

Under this new initiative, the town’s Recreation Department in conjunction with Belmont’s Animal Control Officer John Maguranis, will create a registration program that will allow dogs to be “off leash” outside their owner’s property.

Under the proposed guidelines (Article 8) for animals that will be voted on by Town Meeting in May, no dogs will be allowed “to run free” without permission from the Board of Health.

One important part of the new program will be determining if those dogs “are good citizens,” said Board Vice Chair Dr. David Alper, that they can be controlled by their owners while on the fields and playgrounds.

According to Russakow, his department will not be issuing ‘licenses’ for off-leash activities on the fields, but creating a laminated card similar to the former “goose buster” card of the past indicating the owner has paid the fee and their pet was evaluated by Maguranis.

The new program “will be looking at activities for dog owners and their animals to increase animal and human health through exercise in the future,” said Russakow.

In fact, Russakow said as a result of the expanded nature of the initiative, his department will not be using the term “goose busters.”

“Any secondary benefit like keeping geese off the fields is a plus,” he said.

Town Meeting Articles Could Force Dog Kennel to ‘Take a Walk’

Sadie, a blue-nose bull dog, isn’t shy to say “hello” to anyone after spending a day at Crate Escape, Belmont’s “doggy day care” center at the corner of Brighton and Hittinger streets.

Her owner, Chris of Acton, said he has been taking his pet to the facility located hard by the commuter rail tracks for the past three years which is convenient as he works in neighboring Arlington.

“It’s awesome. She loves it here,” said Chris who has owned Sadie for the past five years.

“She runs around all day and comes home tired. He usually naps on the trip home,” he said, calling himself a “very satisfied” Crate Escape customer.

But Chris and Sadie along with approximately 300 customers and nearly 150 dogs on an average day will need to look for a new canine provider if next month Belmont’s Town Meeting passes a pair of articles forcing the six-year-old facility to shut down for exceeding the maximum amount of dogs a kennel can house under the new regulations.

“This will bankrupt me if this passes,” said Crate Escape’s owner Bradley Hastings, who opened his current Belmont facility last year after moving from his original location across Brighton Street on Flanders Road (which opened in 2008) that will be used for the new Belmont Light substation.IMG_3798

Chris was more succinct.

“It would [stink],” he said.

Hastings attended an informational meeting by the Board of Health Thursday, April 10 at Town Hall on the changes to the town’s health codes in Article 8 to amend the general bylaws effecting animals.

Hastings, who has 55 employees and a $1.2 million payroll at stake, said first heard about the meeting and the warrant articles that morning when clients spoke to him advising him to attend. What he heard was sobering for the Belmont resident.

“People don’t like services taken from them and this is what will happen. But it will also do such damage to a business that is successful and wants to do what’s right for everyone,” said Hastings to the Belmontonian.

Located in a 15,000 square foot single-floor commercial building, Crate Escape is a big open play space for your pooch. On a visit, some dogs were running around, others playing with plastic toys, a few napping and several extremely curious of a 35mm camera.IMG_3778

Dogs are segregated by temperament and social “skills” in one of the seven pens with a handler on hand so everyone “plays safe,” said Nikkilee Condon, Crate Escape’s general manager, who said there is also grooming and boarding at the facilities.

“There’s a lot of running around and mental stimulation for the dogs. They have to figure their way through a new hierarchy each day,” said Condon, who said their are 30 dogs in each enclosed area.

Calling the business’ clients “very loyal,” Condon said more most dogs, a half-hour walk “is not enough” activity and leaving them alone is troublesome for both pet and owner.

“We have the right balance here,” said Condon.

Yet for Hastings, the services he provides the community is just two votes away from being banned in Belmont.

On Thursday, the Board of Health’s vice-chair Dr. David Alper told the sparsely-attended meeting the language change to the existing bylaw was effectively mandated by the state’s Board of Health which issued language in 2012 in an effort to bring uniformity to the hodgepodge of hundreds of regulations existing in each of the Commonwealth’s approximately 350 municipalities.

Changing regulations, static numbers

Under the “tweaking” of the regulations, the town’s Health Department will only have the power to enforce the safety and welfare of the animals by inspection and licensing facilities; it is unable to determine where a facility can be located which is left up to the zoning bylaws, said Stefan Russakow, director of the town’s Health Department.

Yet in the proposed new bylaw, the town’s terminology for what is a “kennel” has been expanded and specified  to the determent of doggy day care facilities.

In addition to requirements on licensing pets and dealing with “dangerous” dogs, Article 8 states that “[n]0 Kennel may keep more than 25 dogs on the premises at any time.”

And under the language in Article 9, a kennel in Belmont will include “[a]n establishment used for boarding, holding, day care, overnight stays or training of animals.”IMG_3795

This regulatory double play would force Hastings’ facility to close down as he could not meet the drastically-altered licensing requirements.

“There is just no way we could do business here,” said Hastings.

Yet the new amendments were not being proposed to drive kennels out of Belmont, according to town officials, but rather an oversight when transforming existing bylaws and zoning regulations.

According to Jeffrey Wheeler, the town’s Planning Coordinator, the history of the current animal regulations goes back to 2003 when residents along Pleasant Street complained of noise coming from an animal clinic’s outdoor kennel and petitioned the town to regulate those facilities by limiting the number of dogs to 25 in any kennel.

Under the bylaw that has been in existence for the past decade, a “kennel” did not included a section for canine care facilities such as Hastings’ but will under the amendments.

“And the Board of Health did not change the number of animals in their regulations when the zoning changes were made,” said Wheeler.

If in the first week of May Town Meeting votes to amend the bylaw (Article 8) and the zoning code (Article 9 ), Create Escape will be forced to close.

Yet the articles are far from being death sentences to Hastings’ business, according to both the Board of Health and Wheeler. Crate Escape will need a little help to revise the articles with the stroke of the copy editor’s blue pencil.

One of two measures would need to take place to save Sadie’s daytime home: the submission of a so-called “amendment to the amendment” (the articles are, in fact, amendments; they do not create new bylaws or codes) doing one of two things: either excluding the terms “day care”; or change the number of dogs a specific facility can handle.

Those who hope to change the articles are required to submit an amendment to the amendment.

Town Clerk Ellen Cushman told the Belmontonian that one Town Meeting member can file the proposed amendment in writing with the Town Clerk by the close of the business three days prior to the session of Town Meeting the article is expected to be voted.

“Related to animals, [that is] expected to be heard and voted on May 5; amendments are due by 4 p.m. April 30. No additional signatures are required,” she said.

“It behoves you to go to the zoning, planning to discuss this,” said Alper to Hastings.

But for Hastings, the last-minute way and how he was informed of the two Town Meeting articles he said could do severe damage to a decade-old service with 4,000 current customers in three locations was deplorable.

“There has been this anti-business feel since I’ve been here. No one could think of calling me? I’m disappointed,” said Hastings.

It’s Official: The ‘Old’ Underwood Pool Gets One Last Season

The 102nd consecutive summer of the Underwood Pool, the nation’s oldest community pool in continuous operation, will be its last as the Belmont Board of Health approved variances to town regulations allowing the oval-shaped facility to open in the final weeks of June.

“We approved it for one season only,” said Donna David, chair of the Board of Health at a meeting held Thursday evening, April 10.

Town officials have said they expect the state’s Health Department will go along with Belmont’s recommendation on opening the pool for 2014 with the knowledge that a new $5.2 million two pool complex is all but a certainty after town voters overwhelmingly passed a $2.9 million debt exclusion on April 1. The final piece of the pool financial puzzle is Town Meeting approval of a $2 million Community Preservation Committee grant in May.

Construction of the modern structure is anticipated to begin in September.