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Massage therapy now allowed commercial district

May 23, 2013
By Chris Maza


EAST LONGMEADOW — Residents voted to allow a bylaw change that would allow massage therapist to operate their businesses in the commercial district at the Annual Town Meeting that took place on May 20.

Christopher Buendo, Reminder Publications co-publisher, sponsored the article on behalf of Virginia Levine, owner of Be Here Now Therapeutic Massage, who had operated her business in the building located at 280 North Main Street. The building is owned by CDB Realty LLC, which is operated Buendo.

"We are kindly asking the town to approve Article 32 so that practitioners like Ginnie Levine and others can continue to operate," Buendo said. "Ginnie has been in our building since she passed her National exam for massage therapy in May 2010. She is a respected member of the business community. She has many venerable clients in town and she wishes to continue to operate her business in The Reminder office building."

Levine was notified in January that she would have to close her business after the Planning Board discovered that her business was operating in a district where massage therapy was not an accepted use, despite the fact that she had been granted a waiver of site plan review in May 2010.

Massage therapy businesses were previously only allowed in business and industrial districts.

The error came to the attention of the board when Levine applied for a special permit as required through a bylaw passed at town meeting designed to cease illegal activity at massage parlors, such as the Korean Massage Therapy Center on North Main Street, which has been the subject of illegal immigration and prostitution stings.

While the use is now legal, the Planning Board will still have the decision-making power regarding the placement of massage businesses, according to the article.

"Please be aware that every massage therapist facility will still need to come before the Planning Board to apply for a special permit in order to operate," Buendo said.

Residents also voted not to adopt a bylaw proposed by resident Joseph Townshend that would require all Appropriations Committee meetings be recorded by East Longmeadow Cable Access Television (ELCAT) and aired regularly.

Currently, only meetings of elected boards are required to be taped and broadcasted.

Townshend explained that his proposal was not an effort to expand the open meeting laws and failure to tape a meeting would not have brought the legality of that meeting into question. It was his hope, he said, to allow an opportunity for residents to better understand the budgeting process.

"The reason I brought this before you is many people don't have the time to attend the Appropriations Committee meetings and the minutes are limited," he said. "The Appropriations Committee had influence on many articles on the town meeting warrant. It's a powerful committee that is very influential."

Appropriations Committee Chair Russell Denver told residents his committee opposed the article.

"First of all, there are 21 other appointed boards that are not asked to be filmed," he said. "Secondly, About 80 percent of what we deal with are 'what-ifs' ... We do hypotheticals every time we meet. The information we have at one meeting may be different than the information we have at the next. Our concern is if residents watch a meeting, but aren't following the discussion, there could be concern in the streets ... We don't need confusion when it comes to finances."

Denver added that he welcomes visitors to all Appropriations Committee meetings.

Resident Peter Cokotis rebuked Denver, stating his concerns of confusion were misplaced.

"If you step back and look at the big picture, you are insulting the intelligence of the people of the town," he said.

When the question of ELCAT's physical and manpower limitations was presented, ELCAT Director Don Maki said the station "would fulfill its responsibilities" in spite of challenges it may present.

"If people feel this is an issue of transparency, we would do what we were asked to do by the town, but it would put a strain on our resources," he said.

An article that would establish a Personnel Policy Committee, an issue Selectman Debra Boronski addressed extensively during her election campaign, was also voted down.

The proposal would require that a member of the Board of Selectmen, Board of Public Works, Planning Board, Board of Assessors, Board of Library Trustees, Recreation Commission and Council on Aging, plus two at-large community members appointed by the moderator and a non-voting member from the Appropriations Committee be included. The committee's charge would be to develop policies for compensation and classification of the town's non-union employees. School Department employees would not be under the purview of this committee.

Several members of the community said they supported the idea of a policy that for performance reviews and compensation, but the structure of the article needed work.

George Kingston, Community Preservation Committee chair, as well as a member of the Planning Board and Conservation Commission, also criticized the article because other boards and committees were not consulted when the article was drafted and it specifically addresses an extremely small number of town employees, pointing out that only 18 people in the employ of the town would qualify under the guidelines in the proposal.

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