They’re Here To Stay: Controlling Rats with Education, Money and Garlic

Photo: Joey’s Park, ground zero for rat removal.

Take equal parts garlic and white pepper then add a dash of paprika and mix.

Sounds like an excellent dry marinade you can rub on chicken or steak before grilling to give the meat a bit of a punch.

In fact, the mixture is an excellent organic rat repellant. That’s correct: rat repellant. 

That spicy recipe is currently being pushed into the rodent lairs under Joey’s Park in the Winn Brook neighborhood, according to Jay Marcotte, the town’s Department of Public Works director as he came to update the Belmont Board of Selectmen of his department’s battle with the rodents.

The popular playground adjacent to the Winn Brook Elementary School has been closed for the past fortnight after workers discovered the vermin living in and around the play structure.

Currently, the town is seeking “a safe and swift resolution to the issue,” said Wesley Chin, Belmont’s Health Department director,

Marcotte said he decided to approve a non-chemical approach – at the cost of $2,300 – as “the safest possible” method as the playground is very popular with children and families from around town. The natural repellant that comes in a gel is intended to irritate the rats’ skin which will hopefully have them scurry into one of the 40 traps laid out in the park.

The park will stay closed for another three weeks when the firm applying the solution believes the job will be complete, said Marcotte.

Even if this method does the job in the Winn Brook neighborhood, Belmont will not be as fortunate as the Town of Hamlin which found a pied piper to drive off the pests – and unfortunately a large segment of the German town’s school-aged population – as the rodents have been seen congregating near the port-a-potties at Town Field, on Beech Street, and along Pleasant Street, said Chin.

“They’re not going away,” said Dr. David Alper of the town’s Health Board, advising the board to create a new line item in the upcoming fiscal 2018 budget to tackle the rat issue in the future.

“Short money for long-term gain,” said Alper.

The town will expand its current rat removal campaign in all of the town’s parks which will include removing trash cans from those public spaces to rid the rodents of their food source, said Marcotte.

But the most effective method of controlling the rodent issue is information and data, including calling the Health Department when rats are found so the town can track their migration.

“The best tool is educating the public,” said Alper.

Make Way for Hinckley: Town OK’s Call For New Street Name

Photo: Steven Wheelwright (right) with Glenn Clancy before the Board of Selectmen.

Good-bye Frontage Road. Hello Hinckley Way.

Belmont will soon have a new street name for the roadway best known as the exit ramp from Route 2 as members of the town’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints community filled the Board of Selectmen’s Room on Monday, Oct. 16 to support changing the byway’s moniker to Hinckley Way.

Glenn Clancey, director of the Office of Community Development, said the “new” road will run from the end of the state highway – there’s a sign noting its location – just before Ledgewood Place to the intersection of Park Avenue.

The reason for the change, according to Steven Wheelwright who presented the proposal to the Selectmen, is to end what has become an all-too-common occurrence for out-of-state visitors who have come for a family reunion or meeting friends at the “Boston” Temple.

“Unfortunately, there is a Frontage Road in Boston so when you put into your GPS ‘Boston Temple, 86 Frontage Road,’ the first thing that pops up is the Boston address,” Wheelwright told the Belmontonian before the meeting.

So rather than a stately temple of Olympia white granite, some visitors have found themselves outside the MBTA’s bus washing facility in the city’s South End neighborhood.

Since the only address on Belmont’s Frontage Road is the LDS Temple, the name change would not impact any home or business nor would it replace a prominent or popular street name, Wheelwright told the board.

“It was named Frontage Road by the state when it built the modern Route 2. It’s a town road, but no one ever got around to give it another name,” said Wheelwright, who is the current Temple president. The former Brigham Young University–Hawaii president, Wheelwright was one of the principal movers in the 1970s in purchasing the land where the Temple and the LDS Meetinghouse stand as well as overseeing the temple’s construction in the late 1990s.

Wheelwright told the board he and others in the community solicited comments from Belmont Hill residents on nearby connecting streets to gauge if there would be any issues with the new name. 

With no opposition and with the town’s blessing, the selectmen approved the request unanimously to the applause of many in the audience.

And why Hinckley? Wheelwright said there are no other Hinckley Way in the state thus avoiding any future GPS confusion and that Hinckley is a “good sounding New England name” referencing Thomas Hinckley, the governor of the Plymouth Colony in the late 17th century.

While unsaid by the proponents, Hinckley Way could also be a lasting tribute to Gordon Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) who, during his 12-year tenure, accelerated the construction of Mormon temples around the world. Hinckley’s goal of building 100 temples by 2000 was reached when he came to Belmont to dedicate the Boston temple in October of that year.

Gordon Hinckley, center, at the dedication of the Boston Temple in October, 2000.

 

Selectmen Approve Three Traffic/Parking Changes

Photo: The new traffic restrictions on Concord Avenue.

The Belmont Board of Selectmen approved three recommendations from the town’s Traffic Advisory Committee which will free up parking, allow greater space for a school bus drop off and hamper cars from using side streets as cut throughs.

Community Development Director Glenn Clancy presented the proposals to the board at last Monday’s, July 31 Selectmen meeting.

• A request by the Belmont Board of Library Trustees that the five to six parking spaces before the entrance to the library’s parking lot on Concord Avenue be restricted to four hours of free parking was approved. The trustees and library staff noticed that at times the spaces are taken up for several hours, whether by residents visiting the Underwood Pool or used by commuters who walk the short distance to the commuter rail station. With space in the library’s parking lot usually filled, it is critical that parking spaces turn over during the day to allow patrons to visit the library.

• Parking is now prohibited during specific hours on the odd side of Sharpe Street adjacent to the Burbank Elementary School. The changes, requested by Burbank Principal Tricia Clifford and the school’s PTA Safe Routes to School Committee, were to accommodate a new bus route that will ease traffic and increase safety on School Street. In the past, the bus would stop on the busy School Street, while now the bus will discharge/pick up students at this new Sharpe Street turn-in.

The changes include:

  • Restricting parking on the odd side of Sharpe, Monday thru Friday, 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.;
  • Restrict parking on the odd side of the curve along 39 Sharpe, Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.;
  • Restrict parking on the even side of the curve adjacent to 42 Sharpe, Monday thru Friday from  8 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; and
  • Change the current sign in the new bus turn-in to read: “School Bus Access Only, No Parking, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.”

• Residents on Ernest Road had seen an increasing number of drivers who found a “short cut” using their street to avoid the long line of vehicles during the morning rush on Clifton Street. Either through trial and error or using the traffic and navigation internet app Waze, drivers were taking Prospect Street to Ernest before turning onto Stella Road that leads into Pleasant Street.

To discourage the action of drivers, a stop sign was placed at the intersection of Stella and Ernest, and a sign is up at Prospect and Ernest restricting access to the street from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday thru Friday.

While discussing whether to approve the restriction, Clancy told the board that both signs are already up for several weeks.

‘Who’s in charge here?” Selectmen Chair Jim Williams in mocked horror.

Clancy said there had been a long history concerning the Selectmen and whether they need to know every sign Clancy and the Traffic Advisory Committee installs. In fact, the Ernest Road restrictions were only brought before the Selectmen because the Belmont Police said they would not enforce the new signs unless that the board approved their placement.

It was the majority opinion of the Selectmen that this iteration of the board would like to be informed of all signs and new regulations on town streets.

 

Heat, Age Caused Transformer Explosion Blacking Out Belmont

Photo: (from left) Belmont Light’s Jim Palmer, Belmont Selectmen’s Chair Jim Williams and Selectman Adam Dash at the emergency meeting of the Belmont Board of Selectmen to discuss the June 12 blackout.

The timing of the widespread power outage that affected between a quarter to a third of town residents during the hottest day of the year “was like our worst nightmare,” said James Palmer, general manager of Belmont Light, as he spoke to an emergency meeting of the Board of Selectmen held at Town Hall on Tuesday, June 13,

Palmer said a 90 degree plus afternoon in June when electrical demand had peaked with the town schools in session limited how the municipal utility could attack the equipment failure at one of the aging substations in town, requiring Belmont Light to rush in mobile generators to get the lights back on.

“We really had no other choice,” said Palmer.

The meeting, called by Selectmen Chair Jim Willams, brought the chiefs of police and fire, department heads to discuss their response to the incident and any further impact of the large-scale outage that left some neighborhoods without power for nearly 10 hours.

Highlights of the meeting

  • The town’s and the utility’s contingency plans developed to meet such an emergency received relatively good scores from town officials, said acting Town Administrator Phyliss Marshall. “I think I can honestly say that … we are very well prepared [for incidents such as these],” said Police Chief Richard McLaughlin.                     
  • It was the heat and the age of the equipment that lead to the single transformer in the Hittinger substation to “explode,” said Palmer. Luckily, the transformer did not catch fire due to safety systems that worked as a circuit breaker and cut off the electricity entering the substation. Had a fire started, the impact of a subsequent oil-based fire would have stretched fire resources and would have likely created havoc for months for the Light Department.
  • Three generator trucks were used to supplement the utility’s substation until repairs were completed. It’s suspected the cost of renting the trucks from Sunbelt from Hyde Park will be covered by insurance. 
  • Belmont Superintendent John Phelan and Belmont High School staff and educators decided to end the school day around 1:20 p.m. since power was not expected to be re-established until after the end of the scheduled classes. Students at the Chenery and Winn Brook who also lost power were kept in their buildings for the remainder of the day for safety and logistic reasons.
  • The Chenery Middle School was closed on Tuesday as a 400 amp transfer switch on the school’s backup generator malfunctioned, despite passing inspection just two weeks previous. According to Fire Chief David Frizzell, this switch has a tendency to act erratically if not used regularly. When he reinspected it Tuesday morning, Frizzell said it was working as expected. But the switch is now scheduled to be replaced.

Letter to the Editor: Carbone No Stranger to Smart Governance

Photo: Guy Carbone

To the editor:

I urge you to vote for Guy Carbone for Selectman on April 4.     

Guy is a former Watertown resident who served two terms as Selectman and three terms as School Committee member. Because of this, he is no stranger to what it takes to have smart and efficient town governance. 

Belmont faces many capital project needs, including a new high school, police station, and library. Guy has the engineering and legal experience, knowledge, and resources to help Belmont tackle these projects pragmatically without overburdening the town any more than necessary. 

Guy is already hard at work exploring creative ways the town can move forward with its capital project needs. His suggestion that the Board of Selectmen explore the use of public-private partnerships to help the town build a new skating rink and library is an example of the creative yet fiscally responsible solutions he can bring to Belmont as your Selectmen. His years of engineering experience applied to actual developments will be a real asset as Belmont deal with projects like Cushing Village.  

Guy has an incredible work ethic. I know he will dedicate every waking moment to serving Belmont.

Of the many reasons I support Guy, it is his heartfelt desire to ease the burdens many singles and families in Belmont bear as a result of high taxes and rents that resonate with me. So many young families and seniors are leaving Belmont because they just can’t afford it anymore. This is truly saddening and not what I imagine most of us want to see happen in our town. 

Guy Carbone is the right person at the right time. Please make sure to vote on April 4 and when you do, vote for Guy Carbone for Selectman.

Silvia Cruz

Winslow Road

Letter to the Editor: Dash’s Experience, Ideas Make Him Ideal Selectman

Photo: Adam Dash

To the Editor:

I write in support of Adam Dash for Selectman and hope that you will support him, too. I’ve heard Adam speak a couple of times about how he sees the role of Selectman and have been impressed on several levels.

  • First, I am struck by his extensive experience on the Warrant Committee, the fiscal watchdog for the town.  We need a selectman who has the facility with the town budget from Day One.
  • Secondly, I am impressed by his recognition that Belmont needs to get moving on its Climate Action Plan, enacted in 2008 but without any pathway to implementing it.  All over the country, action on climate change must now happen on the local level, now that we have an administration that is openly denying its existence.
  • Finally, I like his ideas on local business and how to make Belmont more business-friendly through better-permitting processes, zoning, and working with surrounding neighbors.

As a practicing attorney in the field, Adam has extensive professional zoning experience and has served on the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals.  He also sees underused properties in town as opportunities and has the experience to help convert them into tax paying, successful businesses.

I encourage you to learn more about Adam at his website, electadamdash.com. He will serve Belmont well as our next Selectman.

Debora Hoffman

Goden Street 

Selectmen OK New Restrictive Bylaw on Liquor License Transfers

Photo: Licenses will be coming back the town.

Belmont Town Meeting members will be presented with a new prohibitory retail and restaurant liquor license transfer bylaw after the Board of Selectmen approved the language in the article on Monday, Feb. 13.

But due to delays on Beacon Hill in setting up legislative committees needed to take up and approve Belmont’s home rule petition, the Selectmen will have to wait until the first night of the annual Town Meeting, May 1, before presenting the article for a vote before the assemblage.

The Selectmen rushed to make changes to the licensing laws after a full liquor retail license issued to the owner of The Loading Dock was transferred in October 2016 for a $400,000 “fee” to supermarket chain Star Market which has created a large beer, wine and liquor department in its Waverley Square store. 

With the help of Belmont’s elected state officials, state Rep. Dave Rogers and state Sen. Will Brownsberger, the town was able to get “a feeling” if the legislature would be amenable to Belmont’s request to tighten the rules on the transferability. All cities and towns are required to petition the legislature on alcohol matters who have the last word on changes. 

On Monday, the Selectmen approved the more prohibitive of two versions, requiring the licenses to come back to the town if a business is sold or relocates. If a business moves to another site, it would be required to return the license and reapply for it. 

The second version would have allowed the business to transfer a license only after being in operation for three years. 

“That would show the license has value to the business,” said Paolillo.

But in the end, the board wanted the town to have maximum control over who can obtain a license.

“I want the most restrictive one,” said Selectmen Chair Mark Paolillo, who commented that Town Meeting would have ample opportunity to “ease” the impact of the article if it chooses. 

An earlier pledge by the Board to hold a Special Town Meeting as early as February to pass the new bylaw fell to the wayside as Town Administrator David Kale said even if the town’s governing body voted in favor of the article, the legislature wouldn’t take it up for a vote until May at the earliest. 

Proposed ’18 Town Budget Tops $110 Million, Up 3.6%

Photo: David Kale, Belmont Town Administrator

Belmont’s next budget will see healthy increases in both the town and schools with some hopeful news on “stretching out” the monies that came from the 2015 Proposition 2 1/2 override.

The proposed fiscal 2018 town-wide budget – which begins on July 1, 2017 – is pegged at $110,210,440, an increase of $3.9 million or 3.6 percent, according to outgoing Town Administrator David Kale who presented the budget before a joint meeting of the Board of Selectmen, School and Warrant committees at Town Hall on Monday, Feb. 13.

The presentation consisted of the first preliminary outline – albeit a relatively detailed blueprint – of the town’s financial balance sheet which will be voted on at the annual Town Meeting in June.

When asked by Selectman Jim Williams how complete an outline was before them, Kale affirmed it was more than “90 percent” complete, noting that changes will be coming to the town’s revenue line items. He pointed to state aid to cities and towns coming from Beacon Hill will not be finalized until later in the spring. Kale said it is likely that Belmont will see a small increase in the $600,000 forecast heading to Belmont from the State House.

The biggest component of the budget is, as it is every year, the public schools which will come in at $53.1 million, an increase of $3.1 million from 2017, a 6.0 percent jump. According to Belmont Superintendent John Phelan, the jump in costs are directly related to the continued unprecedented increase in students enrolling in Belmont schools. 

Phelan said annually 100 students are entering the Belmont system straining the district with the number of pupils in classrooms, the need for more teachers and staff as well as requiring the district to purchase a second set of modular classrooms in the coming year just to keep pace. 

Expenses from the “town” side of the budget – town services and public safety – will see a 4.2 percent increase (approximately $1.6 million) from 2017 to $38.4 million.

Fixed costs – debt payments, retirement assessments, road repair – which makes up 16 percent of the total budget will see an increase of $600,000 to $17.2 million.

On the revenue side, Kale said 90 cents of every dollar coming into the town’s coffers were from real estate and property taxes ($88.5 million, 80 percent) and state aid from the State House ($10 million, 9 percent). Total property taxes will see an increase of $3.2 million or 3.7 percent from 2017 figures.

Belmont is expecting to see in fiscal 2018 a boost in other revenue sources including $200,000 in meals, motor vehicle, and payments instead of taxes and another $200,000 in local receipts.

Kale, who is leaving for a position at the City of Cambridge in March, noted that due to favorable increases in “new growth” and state aid, the town will only require $1.3 million from the General Stabilization Fund, the $4.5 million in additional funds approved in a Prop 2 1/2 override in April 2015, to balance the budget.

Kale said through belt-tightening and a jump in revenue; budget planners were able to cut nearly in half the original $2.2 million they scheduled to take from the line item. He said that figure could be reduced further if added revenues come to Belmont. 

By reducing its reliance on the stabilization fund this year, Kale said the town could rely on it for more than the three years it was originally slated to last.

Smaller Real Estate Tax Bill Jump in ’17 as Property Values Cool

Photo: Belmont’s Assessors’ (from left) Charles R. Laverty, III, Robert P. Reardon, Martin B. Millane, Jr.

Real estate taxes on the average-valued home in Belmont will increase by the least amount in the past four years after the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved at its Monday, Dec. 19 meeting the recommendation of the town’s Board of Assessors’ to up the town’s property tax rate 14 cents in 2017.

The annual tax bill for the average assessed valued property – currently $941,700 – would increase by $311 to $11,960, less than half of last year’s hike of $717 under the new tax rate of $12.70 per $1,000 of assessed value. The current rate is $12.56 per $1,000.

Under the new rate, the annual tax for a property assessed at $750,000 will be $9,525, or $2,381.25 per quarterly tax bill.

The increase in the tax rate “is a result of a slight increase in real property values with an increase in the tax levy capacity,” wrote Assessors’ Chair Robert P. Reardon in the board’s yearly report to the Selectmen.

Reardon told the Belmontonian the town data showed a significant cooling in real estate values in Belmont this year. After increases of $55,300 ($782,600 to $847,900) from 2014 to 2015 and $79,500 between 2016-15 ($847,900 to $927,400), assessed values increased just $14,300 in 2017 compared to 2016.

After years of five percent increases in average assessed values, “[y]ou expect it to pull back, and it did this year,” said Reardon, who predicts home values will continue to level off in 2017 with two interest rate hikes anticipated by the Federal Reserve.

Under the new rate, Belmont will collect $85.6 million from residential, commercial, open land and personal properties. Last fiscal year, the town raised $82.9 million in real estate taxes.

Reardon noted a healthy increase in new property growth totaling $788,000 from the construction of the Belmont Uplands and the sale of prime properties on Woodland Road provided a “nice” bump into the town’s coffers.

As with past years, the assessors’ recommended, and the selectmen agreed to a single tax classification for all properties and no real estate exemptions.

Reardon said Belmont does not have anywhere near the amount of commercial and industrial space – at a minimum 20 percent – to creating separate tax rates for residential and commercial properties. Belmont’s commercial base is 4.24 percent of the total real estate.

“People always assumes there’s money if you go with the split rate and that’s not true,” Reardon told the Belmontonian.

Cushing Village’s New Owner Seeking Added Concessions From Town

Photo: The current state of the location of Cushing Village.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That 19th-century French saying has a ring of truth to it when the discussion turns to the long-stalled Cushing Village residential/retail/parking development as it appears the new owners are seeking their own set of concessions from the town.

Approved for construction in July 2013, the project suffered through two-and-a-half years of delays and missed opportunities under the former ownership of lead developer Smith Legacy Partners.

So there was hope in the community when national housing firm Toll Brothers purchased the development rights in March of this year that a change at the top would allow the $80 million project – 115 units of housing, 38,000 sq.-ft. of stores and approximately 200 parking spaces – to move quickly to the construction stage.

In fact, representative of the Pennsylvia company said then it would not seek changes to the project which would warrant restarting the process, expressing confidence it would make the Aug. 26 deadline for the firm to sign a purchase and sale agreement with the town to buy a key town-owned land parcel, the municipal parking lot adjacent to Trapelo Road and Starbucks for $1 million, that would allow building to commence. 

For the town, Toll Brothers’ commitment to the site would stop the “endless loop of uncertainty” hampering work from commencing, said Selectman Sami Baghdady in March.

But what was said in the Spring appears to have fallen to the wayside in mid Summer. According to documents from the Board of Selectmen, Toll Brothers representatives will come before the Board at its Monday, Aug. 22 meeting seeking a new extension to the P&S deadline taking place four days later. 

In addition, the firm will request amendments to the Land Development Agreement – which for commercial property is a development plan that typically includes the time frame for completing the project, the property description, design sketches, and other details. 

The details of the changes and why they are being sought by Toll Brothers have not been publically flushed out – both the town and Toll are not speaking on the matter – as both sides appear ready to present their arguments on Monday.

Earlier this month, the board and the town appeared ready to sign all necessary paperwork on the 22nd, with current board chair Mark Paolillo saying that “both sides want this to go through.”