– Lowell Politics and History

Richard Howe Register of Deeds 2018

Richard P Howe Jr
Register of Deeds

“I have used technology to make the Registry more efficient and customer-friendly, but much remains to be done so I seek re-election. I ask for your vote on November 6th.”
Learn more about Richard Howe

Lowell City Council Preview: Oct 15, 2018

Mimi Parseghian previews tomorrow night’s Lowell City Council meeting:

This week City Council has a relatively light public agenda. However, the Executive Session portion which is held in private has three areas of discussion:  “Provide an update to the Council on contract negotiations with the Lowell Police Association and Local 853 International Association of Firefighters, the disclosure of which would have a detrimental effect on the City’s Bargaining Position as well as pending litigation with Local 853 International Association Of Firefighters V. City of Lowell, public discussion would have a detrimental effect on the City’s position.”

Under the City Manager’s Communication Items, there are only 3 Motion Responses and 2 Informational Reports and requests for votes on new contracts with 3 different City employee group.

  1. City Engineers
  2. Local 2532 AFSCME Council 93c
  3. SEIU Local 888 Ch. 159 Water And Wastewater


15 minute parking at 435 Market Street Motion (8/28/18) by Councilor Rita Mercier “Request the City Manager have proper department install (2) 15 minute parking signs in front of the Olympia Restaurant at 453 Market Street.”

The response memo informs the Council that “The Transportation Engineer recommends installing a single 15-minute parking spot in the location of parking spot 1236. A 60-day trial for one 15 minute parking space will be implemented.”

Suttle Street One Way Motion (8/28/18) by Councilor Rita Mercier “Request the City Manager have proper department explore the feasibility of making Suttle Street/Avenue one-way at the discretion of the neighborhood.”

According to the response from the Administration: “Suttle Street will be designated as One-Way from the intersection with Carlisle Street to Gorham Street. The Transportation Engineer recommends a 60-day trial be implemented to determine if this is a suitable change and doesn’t create an undue burden of traffic on Devine Avenue.”

Upkeep of Grounds at School Buildings Motion (9/25/18) by Councilor J. Milinazzo “Request City Manager to prepare a report on who is responsible for the upkeep of the grounds at all of our school buildings including staffing levels by shift.

The response prepared by Jim Donison, DPW Commissioner was a one page memo indicating that “DPW has investigated this request. The School department and specifically the school custodians are responsible for the upkeep of grounds at all school buildings. This work is performed by the day shift custodians as confirmed by Mr. Ricky Underwood, Director of Operations and Maintenance of Lowell Schools. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding this motion response.”


Relocation Plan Approval City Manager forwarded the e-mail her office received from the Massachusetts of Housing and Community Development, Bureau of Relocation’s Urban Renewal & Relocation informing the City that the Bureau has approved the relocation plan [regarding 75 Arcand Drive] for Lowell High School. They also stated that “It is understood that an addendum with updated relocation cost estimated will be submitted to the Bureau at a later date.”

Markley Generator Operation The memo was prepared by R. Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services. It stated Senior Health Inspector Shawn Machado, Local Building Inspector Jose Negro and Mr. Slagle visited the Markley facilities on September 12th to observe their generators in operation. At the site, Markley described their generator schedule, which involves running a single generator for 5 minutes, once a week, to ensure it is in working order.  Mr. Slagle wrote that the Lowell inspectional staff “does not believe there are any grounds for a claim of a public health issue, and not even for a nuisance from any abutting neighbor, based on our investigation and observation.”

He added that there are plans to install 4 more generators and that” the generator operation, permitting and oversight does not fall within the purview of the City of Lowell, but rather they are permitted at the State and Federal level. “

Councilor D. Conway Request City Manager have the proper department supply safety flags to school crossing guard personnel.

Councilor V. Nuon  Request City Manager invite Justice Jay Blitzman of the  Juvenile Court to the  Public Safety SC to provide an overview of the “Restoring Justice Program.”

Councilor V. Nuon  Request City Manager have LPD and LFD provide a report regarding officer time spent responding to any incidents at existing medical marijuana cultivation or retail facilities.

Councilor  E. Kennedy Request City Manager instruct Transportation Engineer to report on feasibility of establishing “No Parking” Zones at certain intersections along Pawtucket Blvd. 

Lowell Week in Review: October 14, 2018

Mayor Samaras receiving American Planning Assoc award for Canalway Cultural District

Canalway Cultural District recognized nationally

Lowell’s Canalway Cultural District was recently recognized by the American Planning Association (APA) of as one of five 2018 Great Neighborhoods in America. The others were the Village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts; the Guthrie Historic District in Guthrie, Oklahoma; Historic Downtown Georgetown in Georgetown, Texas; and Ghent in Norfolk, Virginia.

For the past eleven years, the APA has recognized great neighborhoods, public spaces and streets across America to draw attention to the importance of great planning in strengthening communities and bringing people together.

The APA website has an extensive write-up on Lowell. About the Canalway Cultural District, it says, in part,

Lowell’s Canalway Cultural District is defined by a thriving arts community, daily cultural activities, and an array of dining and shopping destinations. Through partnerships between the city and private developers, the district’s revitalization has resulted in the creation of over 80 new jobs and a total investment of over $4 million. Lowell continues to value its rich natural and cultural treasures, honoring its past while looking ahead towards a more sustainable future.

So what is the Canalway Cultural District? A “cultural district” is defined by the Massachusetts Cultural Council as “a walkable, compact area that is easily identifiable and serves as a center of cultural, artistic and economic activity.” Lowell’s district includes most of downtown, running from the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and Middlesex Street in the south to the Merrimack River in the north. To the east, the boundary is the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and the Concord River while the western boundary is the Whistler House and Dummer Street. Included in the district are most of the city’s art galleries, museums, performance spaces, public art and downtown parks and plazas.

The Cultural District designation comes with tangible benefits such as targeted grants and tax breaks. It also means that Lowell will be listed more prominently on many travel and tourism websites.

This past Tuesday night, Angela Cleveland, the president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Planning Association presented the award certificate to Mayor William Samaras at a ceremony in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall. In her remarks, Cleveland said that the APA received hundreds of applications for this year’s awards and that Lowell was one of only 15 chosen for recognition. In accepting the award, Mayor Samaras recalled how Lowell suffered economic paralysis for decades after the major mills left and that it was only when Paul Tsongas and Pat Mogan stepped forward in the late 1970s with a vision of what Lowell could become that the city’s renaissance was launched.

Mill City Grows Harvest Festival

Despite some rain, the seventh annual Mill City Grows Harvest Festival was a big success yesterday on the North Common. The event featured live music, games, food trucks, garden tours and a farmers’ market. The theme this year was “healthy food access” with more than 15 organizations having booths and displays on that topic.

North Common community garden

Through the years as I have researched Lowell’s history, it became clear that so many of the immigrants who ended up in Lowell came from rural regions around the world. Although most of them worked in Lowell’s mills, as soon as they could obtain the smallest patch of ground, they planted a garden. Its purpose was to supplement that family food supply but it also served as a link to the life left behind and the individual’s cultural heritage. Today, all you have to do is walk through some of the city’s most densely packed neighborhoods, the places where so many newcomers first locate, to see that this practice continues. And because it is a practice that transcends ethnic groups, it is something that links us all together. For that reason (and for many others), gardening should be celebrated and recognized across the city. Thanks to Mill City Grows for helping to do that.

Lowell Talks

Today at 2 pm at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum Event Center, 115 John Street, Lowell National Historical Park launches Lowell Talks, a new initiative featuring community conversations on a wide range of historical and contemporary topics.

Today’s program is Mill Girl #MeToo, a community conversation on gender and violence in workplaces and communities. It’s presented in partnership with the Center for Hope and Healing. The program will discuss how mill girls and other workers have historically dealt with harassment in and out of the workplace.

Two other programs have also been scheduled:

Lowell Talks: A Conversation with Benjamin Butler
Sunday, November 4,  11 a.m.
Boott Cotton Mills Museum Event Center, 115 John St., Lowell, MA

Lowell Talks: Remembering the 1918 Armistice and a Century of Conflict
Sunday, November 11, 10 a.m.
Boott Cotton Mills Museum Event Center, 115 John St., Lowell, MA

23 Days until Election

The long-awaited state election is just 23 days away. Absentee ballots are now available and early voting begins next Monday (October 22). Lowell will have early voting available mostly at City Hall, but also at a few sites around the city. Here is more information about where Lowell residents can vote early.

Whenever you cast your ballot, I ask for your vote for Register of Deeds. –Richard Howe

Lowell City Council Preview: Oct 8, 2018

Mimi Parseghian previews tomorrow night’s Lowell City Council meeting:

Mainly due to the return of weekly meetings, this Tuesday’s City Council agenda is light in items but it will be a significant evening in that a major vote will be taken.  At the conclusion of the scheduled 7:00 p.m. meeting, the Councilors will vote on the loan order for the costs of the property to be taken by eminent domain for the renovation/expansion of the high school.

“To borrow $2,600,000 to pay costs to acquire, by purchase, eminent domain or otherwise, the following property [75 Arcand Drive, Lowell, MA] to serve as the site of the new High School, and for the payment of any other costs incidental and related thereto.”

I expect that representatives of the owners of the building and adjacent land will be in attendance to present their clients’ views.  Perhaps other concerned citizens will also be speaking in favor or against the proposal.

Based on the election campaign and the subsequent results, the vote should be 7 in favor and 2 against.

In addition to this vote, there are two items under the “informational” heading.  They both pertain to the High School issues.   The first is an update on the contract between the City and the Arcand Drive relocation specialist. The second is an update on the Ancillary Costs at Cawley Stadium for LHS Project.”  That figure is $17.42 million.

As for the rest of the agenda, there are two motion responses:
Problematic Areas: Motion (9/27/18) by Councilor V. Nuon/Mayor B. Samaras “Request City Manager to instruct Superintendent of Police and all involved to identify any problematic areas in the City and plans to address the situation.”

The report submitted by Superintendent of Police Kelly Richardson provides a graph and a map detailing the crime analysis from June 1 – August 31st.  In his opening paragraph Superintendent Richardson writes “After review it was discovered that crime has decreased across all neighborhoods with the only exception being a slight increase in Back Central. Both gun shots fired and gang involved incidents have increased during this time period when compared to last year.”

Perry Street Motion(5/23/17) by  Councilor E. Kennedy “ request City Manager instruct traffic engineer to analyze the feasibility of making Perry Street one-way.” The response submitted by the Department of Planning and Development states “The Transportation Engineer has performed a field investigation to view the parking availability and traffic flow on Perry Street. The motion arose from resident concern about the width of the travel lane if vehicles are parked on both sides of the road in the first block of Perry Street north of the intersection with Rogers Street…Perry Street will be designated as One-Way for the first block of Perry Street from Rogers Street to Sherman Street, but will remain Two-Way for the remainder of the street. The Transportation Engineer recommends a 60-day trial be implemented to determine if this is a suitable change and doesn’t create an undue burden of traffic on Concord Street.”


There are only 2 Council motions this week.

Councilor J. Leahy Request City Manager have DPW provide a report regarding the repaving, sidewalk repair and curbing on Inland Street.

Councilor R. Mercier Request City Manager find ways and means to increase safety measures for pedestrians crossing in front of City Hall on Merrimack Street.

Lowell Week in Review: October 7, 2018

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at Lowell Plan Breakfast

2018 Lowell Plan Breakfast

This year’s Lowell Plan Breakfast was held on Friday, October 5, 2018, at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center. The theme of the event was “collective vision” for the city.


The morning began with remarks from two recent graduates of the Public Matters program. Hillary Clark relocated to Lowell to work at UMass Lowell and Maria Clark came to the University as a student and stayed. (She now works at Middlesex Community College). They are both homeowners in Lowell and have become very involved in the community.

City Manager Eileen Donoghue was next. Here message was on the importance of getting city residents, both longtime and newly arrived, involved in civic life. She spoke from experience, recalling how back in 1988, she and her husband both purchased a house in Lowell. Despite both working in Boston, they were drawn to Lowell by its architecture and appearance.

On the first day on their new house, their unpacking was interrupted by a knock at the back door. It was Paul Tsongas who introduced himself (although Donoghue immediately recognized him) and invited them to an upcoming neighborhood block party. They attended the party and soon found themselves participating in non-profits and other volunteer activities in the city, a level of involvement that never would have occurred but for that knock at their door.

Donoghue said that Tsongas reached out to her again in 1995 when he urged her to run for the Lowell City Council. Politics was something she had never considered, but Tsongas’s comments caused her to contemplate running for office which she did successfully that year. She said she would always be grateful to Paul for launching her on a path of public service.

Donoghue shared these stories as emblematic of how the city sometimes works, but also how it can work for many others. Lots of people are interested in becoming involved in the community, she said, but just don’t know how. Just inviting them to participate gets them involved. She closed by urging everyone to reach out of their circle of acquaintances and get others to participate in the civic and public life of Lowell.

Next to the podium came Lowell Plan Executive Director Jim Cook who introduced this year’s Lowell Plan video which will soon be available for viewing on the organization’s website.

Following Cook was Diane Tradd, the city’s Assistant City Manager and Director of Planning and Development. Diane said it was an exciting time in Lowell and inventoried all the projects now underway. Here included:

  •        The Lowell Justice Center in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District (HCID). Opening Fall 2019;
  •        HCID North infrastructure installation; two roads, a bridge over the Pawtucket Canal and utilities. Work underway now with completion expected in 2019;
  •        Riverwalk II – this extends the current Riverwalk across Bridge Street and behind Mass Mills to the confluence of the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. A pedestrian bridge will then span the Concord to the grounds of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium;
  •        HCID Parking Garage – 930 spaces for $35mil with January 2020 completion date;
  •        Tiger Grant-funded canal bridges replacement and upgrade. Estimated completion in 2021;
  •        Lord Overpass remake – construction begins in spring 2019 to be finished in 2022;
  •        Lowell High School expansion and renovation.

Congresswoman Niki Tsongas spoke next. She said cities need an engaged Federal partner to succeed. Federal funding may be only a small piece but it often plays a “catalytic” role that helps cities achieve their vision for themselves.

Mayor Bill Samaras then introduced the keynote speaker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Walsh said he was a big believer in regional collaboration. What happens in Boston affects Lowell and what happens in Lowell affects Boston. Both cities are part of the global economy and we can benefit from collaboration rather than completion.

Walsh said that when he became mayor in 2014, the city did not have an established strategic plan. In fact, the last time such a plan was created was in 1965. Much of what that plan has envision has been accomplished, but the process of development set out the plan is outdated. Back then, the Boston Redevelopment Authority was all-powerful and dictated which developments would or would not be undertaken. Many residents felt left out.

Early in his tenure, Walsh reorganized the BRA and changed its process and culture, making it more transparent and collaborative with members of the community. The resulting master plan, Imagine Boston 2030, didn’t just look at development opportunities. It looked at everything that makes a city – schools, open space, climate resiliency and transportation, for example.

Mayor Walsh closed by saying that planning is no longer a bunch of smart people huddled around a drawing board; it’s now relentless collaboration and engagement with all members of the community. The end product should be a plan that’s capable of evolving as circumstances change. An inflexible plan is doomed to obscurity.

ARToberfest at Western Ave

Western Avenue Studios drew a big crowd yesterday for its October “Open Studios” which was combined with a Lowell Celebrates Kerouac event at Navigation Brewery (which is on the ground floor of Western Ave Studios). The artist studios at Western Ave will also be open today from noon to 5 pm.

View of Judicial Center and HCID from Western Ave Studios. Railroad track and Pawtucket Canal in right foreground

Connecting Western Ave and Hamilton Canal District

At one point yesterday, I entered one of the upper floor studios at the eastern end of the Western Ave Studios building. The window was open and it presented a great view of the new Lowell Judicial Center and the rest of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District (see photo above).

The view was also a reminder of how crucial it is that we find a way to allow people to get to Western Ave from the Hamilton Canal District. Getting across Dutton Street at that point, which now is illegal and life-threatening, will become legal and safer soon after the Judicial Center opens. Part of that project includes extending Jackson Street to meet Fletcher Street where they both intersect with Dutton. There will be crosswalks and pedestrian lights there.

That challenge that will remain is getting people safely over the railroad tracks that cut across Western Ave and the Pawtucket Canal and continue under Chelmsford Street to the Gallagher Terminal. A year ago, there was some energy on the city council for dealing with this problem, but the preferred solution seemed to be a pedestrian bridge over the train track. That would be hugely expensive and not very practical, so the momentum faded away.

I’m convinced that the most feasible solution flows from a Lowell National Historical Park project that is now in the very preliminary planning stages. This project is called the Pawtucket Canal Walkway. The Pawtucket Canal leaves the Merrimack near the Lowell Motor Boat Club, passes under Pawtucket Street and curves around School Street hill to reach the Hamilton Canal Innovation District and eventually flow into the Concord River behind the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. Along that way, the Pawtucket Canal flows behind Western Avenue Studios.

In concept, this pedestrian walkway would run along the bank of the Pawtucket Canal, allowing people to walk from Pawtucket Street to Dutton Street. This walkway would intersect the currently impassible train tracks, but because the tracks are elevated several feet above the top of the canal bank, it would be feasible for the walkway to pass underneath the train tracks with only the minimum amount of digging. Once under the train track, the walkway would continue another 50 feet until it ended at Dutton Street.

Unfortunately for the cause of access to Western Ave Studios, the proposed walkway is on the other side of the Pawtucket Canal from the Studios. But, installing a pedestrian only bridge across the canal at that point would be relatively affordable, certainly far less expensive than a bridge over the train tracks.

Western Ave Studios is a hive of innovation and economic activity. Allowing pedestrian access to it from the Hamilton Canal Innovation District would only make the HCID a more desirable place for businesses to locate and people to live. Solving the access to Western Ave riddle should be a top priority for all interested in the economic development of the city.

Richard Howe for Register of Deeds

The election is 30 days from today. Please consider volunteering to help my campaign for re-election as Register of Deeds. If you are unable to contribute your time, please consider making a campaign donation.

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