Pittsfield Health Officials Uphold Demolition Order; Tobacco License Suspension
Thing or Two Variety on Francis Avenue will have its tobacco licenses suspended for seven days following a number of violations.
Health Director Gina Armstrong said on May 10, inspectors from the Tri-Town Health Department found flavored tobacco products in stock. Such products were banned dating back to sweeping new tobacco regulations crafted in 2014.
Armstrong said that fine still hasn't been paid. On Aug. 2, Tri-Town Health performed a second inspection to ensure compliance and found three more violations -- state and city licenses were not properly displayed, signage required by the state Department of Public Health was not displayed, and the clerk sold products to two customers without verifying age.
That is the second violation within a 24-month period, which calls for an additional $350 fine and a seven-day suspension. Armstrong said that in total, owner Saurin Shah owes $700 in fines and he had called to establish a payment plan and then missed the first payment.
Shah recognized he "messed up" when it came to hanging the license. He said all of his licenses had been paid in full but just never got around to printing them out from the online permitting program.
"I just forgot to print them and put them on the wall," Shah said.
He contested the allegation that he was selling flavored products and said the inspector found an unopened package of flavored cigars under the register that he was sending back to the vendor, adding that he doesn't sell in any of the three stores he manages. To the sales of tobacco allegation, he said he terminated the employee who sold tobacco without asking the customers for identification.
Armstrong, however, said it had been nearly a month since the citation for not displaying the licenses and the Department of Public Health required signage and when inspectors were there on Tuesday, they still weren't displayed. Shah said he did it last night after the inspectors had left.
"There is an apparent disregard for the requirements of the Board of Health to maintain a tobacco sales permit," Armstrong said.
Shah recognized where he had gone wrong on some of the violations and said he'd correct it. He said he'd pay the fines but he asked that the board overturn the suspension. He cited his record of managing multiple stores in the city for years without much for violations - though Armstrong contended there had been violations at other stores in the past.
"I messed up and I hope not to have a suspension for it," Shah said.
Shah added that during a suspension not only will he lose money but, being a neighborhood store, his customers' needs would be affected.
Board of Health member Alan Kulberg responded that his customer's convenience isn't the board's concern -- public health is. And Kulberg hasn't seen a strong effort to comply with the city's tobacco requirements aimed to ensure public health.
"You have not shown good faith. There is a repeated pattern of disregard for the code," Kulberg said.
In other business, the board upheld its order to tear down a blighted property on John Street.
In June, the board issued an order that the building at 49-55 John St. be razed. The owner would either have to pay for it or the city would and bill the owner and place a lien on the property. Owner Raymond Supranowicz asked for another six months to find a buyer.
"I stopped working on it because it was broken into and they stole all of the copper," Supranowicz said, adding that he is hoping for somebody to purchase it and rehab it.
He said the roof is nine years old and that there have been some leads on potential purchasers. Code Enforcement Inspector Mark Blaisdell, however, said the property has been in code enforcement since 2016 and has been in disrepair for years before that.
He said the property doesn't have proper lighting at night or security to keep people out of it, there is a lack of utilities, and fire alarms are not connected to alert the Fire Department. It has sat vacant for a number of years and has substantial structural issues.
Armstrong added that she had spoken with Supranowicz when he contacted the city asking for an appeal and stressed the importance of at least maintaining the exterior. She said as of Tuesday, even the lawn hadn't been mowed.
"During this period of time there has been no maintenance on the property," Blaisdell said. "This house has been dilapidated and a blight to the neighborhood."
Supranowicz contested that he had hired somebody to take care of the exterior but it either hadn't been done well enough or at all.
"I hired a kid to do this stuff and I get a bill and it is not done," he said of the exterior maintenance.
Supranowicz had also missed two prior appeal hearings the Board of Health scheduled since the June 6 order. Supranowicz said he was out of town dealing with family issues much of the year and was unable to make it to those two hearings.
"Nobody is looking at this property saying 'I want this property,'" Blaisdell said, pointing out that the leads for a sale Supranowicz presented were places the city referred him to.
The Board of Health felt Blaisdell had long documentation of the issue and made a clear case as to why the building should be torn down and upheld its previous decision. Supranowicz now has the option of appealing the order in court.
"This board is about ensuring public health," Chairman Stephen Smith said.
The demolition of the property is not only an effort to combat blight but a symbolic one at that. It is the same property Mayor Linda Tyer had stood in front of when she was just a candidate and promised to be more aggressive in tackling blighted conditions in the city. In 2017 it was finally condemned and now it is on pace to be razed.
Tags: blight, BOH, demolition, tobacco regulations,
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