The rezoning of two dilapidated properties on Independence Avenue in Braintree has been approved by town councilors this week after months of debate about what to do with the area.
In a meeting on Tuesday night, councilors voted 7-to-1 to affirm the rezone the 16,739- square-foot area at 7-11 Independence Ave. from a residential zoning to general business.
The move was done in an effort to kick-start a change of the property, which is blighted with old vehicles, overgrown brush, a decaying warehouse, a house, and notable ground contamination from a gasoline station that one stood in the area.
Although there are no concrete proposals on the table for what to do with the site, previous plans showed some type of large-scale residential use, which would require a general business designation. Residential zoning allows only single-family homes.
Developer Thomas Fitzgerald is said to be in line to buy the property, showing neighbors plans for a multiunit housing development, though no plans have been submitted or filed with the town.
While there are ideas of a possible development with residents, the lack of certainty over what might go in the space proved troubling to some. Thirty neighbors signed a petition requesting further information on what would definitively go in the area before a rezoning should proceed.
But Council President Chuck Kokoros said that without a rezoning, the property would remain in its poor condition and the contamination present in the soil would probably spread.
“There is always risk of any type of reward you get. For the town to get this property back online in a positive way through some sort of change, we needed to take the first step and rezone it,” Kokoros said. “It was not a decision made easily, and most members said it was a tough decision because there are uncertainties, but I felt we had to do something to move forward with this property.”
In voting on the rezoning, the council cannot stipulate that it be developed in a certain way.
Kokoros added that any type of development would require cleaning up the site. According to Kokoros, although there has not been a complete analysis of the contamination, from what engineers know now, that cost alone would most likely be in the $100,000-$250,000 range.
Additionally, $158,817 in back taxes would have to be paid on the property before any plans could move forward.
“The council did a thorough job and all the members participated greatly and asking the right questions in regards to contamination and back taxes and what could be built there,” Kokoros said. “There was a pledge by the council to stay on top of this and make sure if it’s reached a point of development, when the Planning Board hears any proposal, the council will be there to make sure they build something that benefits the neighborhood.”
Regardless, Councilor Paul “Dan” Clifford voted against the rezoning due to concerns from neighbors, who fear that many uses under the new zoning, such as a restaurant, would not fit in with the neighborhood.
While most residents were wary of the proposal, one person who lives directly across from the properties praised the change, Kokoros said.
In the past, owner Scott Palmer said he inherited the property from his father, and has done a considerable amount of work on the property, though more needs to be done.
Palmer was not immediately available for comment, but according to Kokoros, there will probably be activity at the site within the next several months.
“We do run the risk under general business zone for something else to go there that is a use by right. It appears financially there isn’t anything else they want to build there that would make it feasible to clean up the site…in order to make it worthwhile,” Kokoros said. “We have to monitor it.”
Police officers, local officials, and town government employees came out in force on Wednesday afternoon as Braintree’s newest police chief, Russ Jenkins, was sworn in to his new position.
The ninth police chief for the town, Jenkins is a 29-year veteran of the Braintree Police Department.
He came out on top of a thorough and difficult selection process that lasted a little over two months, a process that started with 22 initial applicants that were slowly reduced to 12 to six to three, with Jenkins being the lone standing man at the end.
“Russ said to me…this was no gimme. And it’s true,” Mayor Joseph Sullivan said during the ceremony. “Yes, he was the second in command, with day-to-day operation, served second in command for eight years, but he had to compete. We had to make sure that the person we wanted to elevate to become our chief of police…was one we felt could do the job.”
Jenkins has served as deputy chief for the last eight years, and prior to that served as a lieutenant from 1987 to 2004, moving from the Patrol Bureau until 1997 when he was moved to the Detective Bureau.
Jenkins, a lifelong Braintree resident, holds a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University and has a certificate in Public Safety Leadership and Management from Suffolk University.
In 2001 he also attended Session 207 of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.
For the new chief, Wednesday’s ceremony was overwhelming, he said.
“I can’t begin to explain how proud I am, how overwhelmed I am with this response,” he said. “I look forward to the challenges and look forward to improving our services, even a little bit. Although we have a great department now, as the mayor often says, we can do better.”
Already the new chief has taken actions to improve the department, talking with various parts of the department to implement changes.
“There are some great ideas out there and I’m hopeful we can work together with the town, with the department, to make some of these improvements a reality,” he said.
The area in front of Braintree’s Town Hall is looking a little different these days, after four old benches were replaced with donated ones.
Jim Regan, an employee of the Braintree Electric Light Department and a member of Sustainable Braintree, donated one bench. Three more were donated thanks to a $4,000 contribution from Sustainable Braintree.
Located in the area where Sustainable Braintree holds its weekly Farmer’s Market, the benches take the place of several decrepit benches, and are intended to serve as a reminder of Sustainable Braintree’s mission: smart living through sustainability and environmental awareness, organizers said.
“We have a plaque on the benches that says they were donated by Sustainable Braintree, and we hope that’s a sign of our commitment to the community. But this is our intent, to continue to make an impact on the town in an environmentally responsible way,” said Sustainable Braintree’s president, Cheryl Edgar.
Funding for the Sustainable Braintree benches mostly came from the organization’s Green Gala in March, the organization’s major annual fundraising event.
Once the organization contacted Town Hall to do the project, Sustainable members learned that Eagle Scout Liam McQuire was looking for a project to do for his Eagle Scout badge.
“So we coordinated with him to help him facilitate his project ... It was a win/win for everyone,” Edgar said.
The benches are made from recyclable material and purchased by the town, so as to look consistent with other benches elsewhere in Braintree.
The benches were placed directly in front of the Old Thayer Library, in the town mall, with two concrete patio areas and benches situated on either side of both.
In a statement, Braintree Mayor Joseph Sullivan said, “Braintree is extremely grateful to Sustainable Braintree for their donation of these benches. I thank Sustainable Braintree’s President, Cheryl Edgar as well as her steering committee for partnering with the town to get these benches installed…Liam [also] worked tirelessly to see that these benches were placed. He has worked hard to earn his Eagle Scout Badge.”
According to Edgar, this is the first of many projects Sustainable Braintree is working towards in the town, though other projects are still in the discussion phase at this point.
Wellesley woman charged with selling cocaine to undercover cop
A 28-year-old Wellesley woman was arrested on Wednesday afternoon after allegedly selling seven bags of cocaine to an undercover police officer outside a Skyline Drive apartment building.
Police said that the officer exchanged money for the drugs and the suspect drove off, but she was followed by Braintree and Quincy drug detectives.
The suspect was stopped near Commercial and Elm streets and placed under arrest.
A search of the suspect’s vehicle uncovered seven additional bags of cocaine, police said.
Erika Pimentel, 28, of Wellesley was charged with distribution of cocaine and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
Police arrest man with cocaine,heroin
A 28-year-old Boston man was arrested Tuesday after allegedly being involved in a drug transaction in a Braintree neighborhood.
According to police, drug unit detectives received complaints from residents of drug dealing activity in their neighborhood, and subsequently observed the suspect and another man in separate vehicles in the neighborhood.
The men briefly met and then drove off in separate directions.
One suspect was stopped near Peach Street and made statements to detectives regarding past drug activity. No drugs were found on his person or in his vehicle, however, and he was sent on his way.
The second suspect was stopped at the intersection of Mount Vernon Street and Robinson Avenue. Lucky, the police department’s Labrador Retriever narcotics dog, located a plastic baggie hidden behind the steering column, police said.
Inside the baggie, detectives reported discovered 13 bags of cocaine and seven bags of heroin.
Ricardo V. Garced was arrested and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and possession of heroin.
“Arresting individuals selling drugs in our neighborhoods is a priority for our drug unit," stated Police Chief Russell Jenkins. "If you suspect drug activity in your neighborhood, please call our drug unit at 781-794-8665."
Braintree officials can take the next steps in putting flood-relief plan in place for North Braintree, after town officials approved an updated plan for flood control for the entire town.
The project, estimated to cost $245,000, calls for installing two culverts designed to alleviate flash flooding in two neighborhoods in the dense residential area of Dickerman Lane and Staten Road.
Although the town initially applied for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) several years ago, and received word that FEMA would cover 75 percent of the project cost, no work could be done until Braintree updated its Hazard Mitigation Plan.
The plan details what initiatives the town should undertake to mitigate the impact of natural disasters, and lists several projects the town hopes to do.
“What we did is we identified an area we wanted to do work in. So they looked to our hazard-mitigation area to see if it was in there, and realized it wasn’t up to date. So we had to update it to get this grant,” said Christine Stickney, director of planning and community development.
Town Council voted to unanimously adopt the updated plan at its meeting on Oct. 2, enabling the town to move forward with procuring the funds for the work.
Although the culverts are still necessary to help deal with the fallout from larger storms, according to town engineer Bob Campbell, the flooding has been much better as of late.
“Its in the middle of a very developed area, so if we get a hard downpour for a short period of time, then that brook would flood…and get into basements and stuff like that. Some of the rivers would never even see a blimp out of it,” Campbell said. “So we worked with Archbishop Williams High School and the masons when they were doing the field to put in a huge retention basin behind the field. That’s ended up reducing the effects of the sudden downpours.”
Regardless, the added culverts should lessen any future flooding in that area.
Although it has taken over three years from grant application to now, Campbell didn’t feel the process was longer than normal.
“When you file for these grants, they get revived, there are a few iterations of making changes and getting everything in the best light to be able to get the grant, because they are competitive. So we went through that process and the Mass Emergency Management people concluded that they were going to support our application with FEMA, and FEMA weighed the cost benefits of doing the project…
“In the meantime, our Hazard Mitigation Plan expired…so that was another thing we had to overcome, to get that passed. And that’s where we are now,” Campbell said.
Stickney said she hadn’t heard much reaction from residents about the updates, but said that come a big rainstorm, people would appreciate the work.
Although the town can move forward with the project, it might be more costly than expected, Stickney said, as prices have changed since when the town initially applied for the grant.
Regardless, FEMA has committed to pay for 75 percent of the project cost.
Braintree’s deputy police chief, Russ Jenkins, was elevated to police chief on Wednesday after an intensive process that lasted a little under two months.
Jenkins, who joined the Braintree Police Department in 1993 as a general officer and became deputy chief in 2004, beat out 21 other applicants for the job that provided some stiff competition, Mayor Joseph Sullivan said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s good to have a level of competition that requires you to perform and meet the challenge, and I think [Russ] did that,” Sullivan said. “The fact that he knows and understands the department, the fact that he’s very passionate about the department, about the town, about his work, and that he gives a daily effort, that he’s performing well, I think there are some positive differences. I think we made the right choice today.”
Jenkins was picked by Sullivan after a resume review by police chiefs in other communities narrowed down the applicant pool to 11. From there, city officials interviewed the applicants and selected the top six. An evaluation exercise conducted by Wayne Sampson, the executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association; and interviews by Mayor Sullivan helped bring the list down to three.
All three finalists then had public interviews in Braintree, and the winner was chosen by the mayor.
Jenkins beat out Craig W. Davis, deputy chief in Framingham, and Richard Rudolph, a commanding officer and lieutenant in the Detective Bureau of the New York City Police Department, both of whom had decades of experience in their departments.
The process began after previous Chief Paul Frazier retired in May after more than 30 years on the job.
Jenkins said he was overwhelmed by the ascension to chief, which he has been working toward his entire career.
“I’m very excited about it. [There is] a little trepidation of what it will lead to, but I’m looking forward to work with the department, the mayor, and providing that level of services we expect and deserve,” Jenkins said.
But he added that he already has a list of things to do.
“We have a great department, we can do better. I’d like to continue the work we’ve been doing for several years now and emphasize the need to increase personnel, training, our policies and procedures, our supervision and discipline,” he said.
According to Sullivan, over the next few weeks, Jenkins will perform an analysis of the department, look at possible reorganization, adding personnel, and reestablishing the canine program more fully.
Community policing will also play an important role, Sullivan said.
Part of that reorganization will also look at whether the department should have one or two deputy chiefs, and who will replace Jenkins in that role.
“In terms of the reorganization…we did have two deputy chiefs in place at one point, Russ has been handling those responsibilities now…in both position for the last three to four years,” Sullivan said.
“We’re going to look at the organization, see if we can make steps to improve it, and will also include the addition of personnel. We’re going through the civil service list, we’ve have had some transfers. We’re trying to get our numbers higher.”
Braintree's deputy police chief, Russell Jenkins, was named police chief Wednesday night after a search that lasted nearly two months.
Jenkins has been a Braintree police officer since 1983, serving as the deputy chief since 2004. He was one of three finalists for the Braintree chief's job, beating out Craig W. Davis, deputy dhief in Framingham, and Richard Rudolph, a commanding cfficer and lieutenant in the Detective Bureau of the New York City Police Department.
"The fact that [Jenkins] knows and understands the department; the fact that he's very passionate about the department, about the town, about his work, and that he gives a daily effort, that he's performing well, I think these are some of the positive differences," said Mayor Joseph Sullivan, who made the final decision on the appointment.
About twenty years ago, a father and son brought their leopard gecko to me because its eyes were cloudy and it had stopped eating. They were sure the ‘leo’, as the owners of these pets refer to them, was blind. There was a thick crust of material that resembled dried skin on top of each eyeball. I wasn’t sure whether this came from the skin around his eyes or whether this was a primary eye problem.
In veterinary parlance, if just one eye is affected it suggests one set of diseases and if both eyes are affected it suggests a different set of diseases. So I wondered whether this was a genetic defect, a nutritional disease, some physiological event, or a body-wide infection. I didn’t know, so I treated the leo with topical ophthalmic ointment and a systemic antibiotic. In the end, the gecko remained blind.
A year goes by, and another client, a young couple, brings me a leopard gecko with exactly the same problem. “Well, hey,” I say to them. “I’ve seen this before and we did such and such, but unfortunately it did not work.” In this case, the gecko got a little better. The eyes were permanently damaged but there was some sight so the patient could eat on his own, with just a little help from the nice couple.
I kept seeing this disease about once a year for 15 years or so. Every once in a while a client would bring me a gecko with crusty, caked-in eyes. I began to refer to it as the ‘your gecko might go blind syndrome.’ I learned more about it each time I treated it, and got more successful at getting the geckoes to see.
Here is the conundrum: This was a once a year disease in my practice. Now, today, I see this disease every other day. What? I see this sometimes as many as two to three times a day. If you figure I see patients about 220 days a year, this is approximately a 100-fold increase in the incidence of this disease in my practice.
So what is going on here?
What I know now is that this is triggered by dysecdysis, which liberally translated means, the little leo is having trouble shedding its skin. Conventional wisdom says that all reptiles periodically shed their skin as they grow. Sometimes the growth is so minimal that the shedding probably can be triggered by some other physiological events.
To understand this process you have to first know that the skin (our skin, their skin, any skin) is made of layers and layers of different kinds of cells. So even though it seems thin, it is layers and layers of cells that loosely act like sheets stacked on sheets. The bottom sheet is one kind of cell, a couple of layers up is a different kind of cell. When you get to the surface, that last couple of layers out acts like a tight ‘spandex body suit.’ When a gecko sheds an ‘old skin’, a ‘new outer skin’ is ready to take its place directly beneath it.
When it is time for the shedding to commence, lymph fluid leaks from the body through the skin cells and accumulates between the old skin and the new skin. The old, outer skin absorbs some of this wetness and its spandex-y self gets all loose and stretchy. This old skin looks loose, worn and almost see through. The new, deeper skin uses this wetness to shine itself up, lubricate its surface and make itself expand to the reptile’s new buff body.
Then wham, in the case of the leo, she sticks her tongue up and out and licks this loose older skin off her face. And she eats it, all of it, nose to tail. Eats the shed skin right off her body! It is good protein, and when you live in the deserts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where leopard geckoes come from, it is a ‘waste not, want not’ environment.
By the way, snakes and lizards generally shed their skins by the same process. Most do not eat their skins, though. Instead they leave them lying around the fields and woods for those kids who still play outdoors to find them. We, too, (us people) shed our skins, but in a flake by flake, too-little-to-eat set of daily events.
So what’s happening to the leo that is losing its eye sight? Most likely this is being triggered because there is not enough lymph fluid to separate the outer old skin and the new inner skin. So instead of the old skin is being peeled off the buff but lubricated inner skin, a gooey lymph fluid that has too little water in it is sticking the two skins together. In the case of the eye, the skin that resides right up to the eyeball, even to the inner surface of the eyelid is getting stuck where it accumulates.
Ultimately, the gecko is dehydrated. When its shedding is interfered with because there is too little moisture in the body, there is also too little moisture on the inside of the eyelids. So, the shed gets stuck. Not all is lost, because leopard geckoes clean their eyes, believe it or not, by licking them with their tongues. But when the water count is way down, even the saliva gets dry. Once this old shed skin sticks to the inner surface of the eyelid, it is just a matter of time before a new old shed happens. Shed by shed these skins build up, and in short shrift this mess sticks directly to the surface of the eyeball.
This series of events creates an artificial, albeit pathological, eye cap that if untreated will rot the eye socket and the eye beneath it, leaving the gecko blind.
Gecko owners, by and large, can prevent this disease by bathing their leos in warm (it should not feel hot) neck deep water two to three times a week for 15-20 minutes. I have read and heard lots about complicated set ups: heat gradients, humidifier and drip systems, mazes, tunnels, timed light systems and such.
My suggestion: keep it simple. Keep your leo on paper towels, in a container (plastic tub, glass aquarium) with a heating pad under half of the container. Give it a hidey-hole (a tissue box on its side with a side cut out) and a mild, low power UVB screw-in, clip-on spotlight. Feed it once a day or every other day (crickets, roaches, meal worms) and supplement it once a week directly into its mouth with calcium and Vitamin D3 powder mixed in water. Bathe it three times a week. It is a great time to interact with your pet.
Now, let’s get back to the point of this article. Why am I seeing this disease 100 times more often than I used to? Are there that many more gecko owners than there used to be? Is it something genetic that predisposes leos to dehydrating more than they use too? Are gecko owners doing something today that they didn’t do way back when? Is it an infection that triggers dehydration? I have no idea. I am, though, interested in what you have noticed or what you think might have changed over the past twenty years. Feel free to email me at email@example.com.
Dr. Greg Mertz is a veterinarian and CEO of the New England Wildlife Center. He is also the author of two new e-novels: “A Field Guide to Wildflowers” and “®evolution.” They are available at most e-outlets like Kindle, Nook, Apple, Brio, and Smashwords. This blog post is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe. The author is solely responsible for the content.
View pictures here of some of the wild animals that the center has rescued