After being AWOL the past two Tuesdays, I resumed note taking just in time for this marathon council meeting. There were important presentations on two new development projects in the city but most of the rest was anti-climatic.
Bagshaw Mills – Recycling Site
Mark Regan speaks on Bagshaw Mills (128 Warren St). At 126 Warren St is a city-owned site. There is a sewage overflow “siphon” building on that lot. This lot has become a gathering space for people drinking, using drugs. At the end of this January, the city deposited eight dumpsters on this parcel. Many residents of Bagshaw Mills speak against this.
CM Lynch apologizes to Bagshaw Mills residents. Staff was “too enthusiastic” with this. It was talked about as the viability for small scale recycling. He is sending it back to the recycling committee for revision. He says any final decisions will come back to the city council. Several city councilors speak on this.
New Position on Elections Director/Hearing Officer
Public Hearing to amend position of Director of Elections to Director of Elections/Municipal Hearing Officer. (Ed. Note: Municipal Hearing Officer Eta Matchak, has been filling both the position of head of the elections office and hearing officer. This amendment would combine the two positions into a single one with a slight salary increase. Presumably, Ms. Matchak would be hired for the position). Patrick McCartin speaks for fellow election commissioners in support of this change. CC Kennedy asks CM Lynch for the rational for this. It combines two into one and therefore represents an overall savings. CM points out pending legislation that will drastically change the way elections are conducted so the position won’t be as “seasonal” as it had been in the past. Elections are far more complex and probably were more complex than the city had been treating them. Says it should be more of a professional position than the city has had in the past. It’s a position that is constantly being utilized but certainly just before and just after elections or the census it is extremely busy. The hearing officer position is a similar professional position and scheduling and duty-wise it is compatible. The hearing officer position requires only two to three days per week. The hearings involved are parking, dog related. Non-criminal matters are handled by the hearing officer. Passes by a 9 to 0 vote.
Economic Development News
Sal Lupoli and John Power will address the councilors on their new projects. CM Lynch highlights how well the city has done during and after the Great Recession with economic development. Sal Lupoli speaks on the Thorndike Factory Outlet project. Mr. Lupoli: Started company in 1990. Now has 50 retail stores and 1000 employees. Started from scratch with plans developed while in school. Realized power of owning own real estate. It gives you equity in the community. In early 2000, they needed a second building to supply food products to retail outlets. Went into Lawrence. Wanted to make an investment in a parcel close to the highway. Took over a former mill complex of 1.5 million square feet. By 2007 reached 70% investment with 120 new companies in the facility with 600-800 jobs in less than 4 years. It could not have been done without the assistance of the city of Lawrence. Now it’s 200 companies and 5000 new jobs. That gives us the opportunity for the Thorndike Factory Outlet. It took more than 3 years of negotiations to do it. Exciting potential. Sees potential for market rate rental housing, also a destination point such as a restaurant like Salvatores. In the back, there’s a full lower level with full window. A possible cafe/pub site. The other wing of the building (perpendicular to Thorndike St) is good for business/office space. These should be new jobs, not transplanted jobs. This can duplicate the success of the Riverwalk in Lawrence. He sees an “entrepreneurial center/incubator” that makes use of the UMass Lowell potential. Thinks this will all have huge potential because of proximity to transportation hub. Says the Gallagher Terminal garage is mostly vacant at night so that could be used for parking for residents and visitors. On the first floor he sees “high end” retail of 6000-8000 square feet. This is all “phase one”. Phase Two would add a free standing tower (looks like 8 stories) on the Keith Academy side of the parcel. This would contain market rate apartments. Sal just got his MBA from MIT. Points to an innovation center adjacent to MIT (called the CIC center) so he’s seen it in action. Councilors take turns praising Mr. Lupoli.
Next is John Powers from Farley White. First involved in Lowell with Cross Point then Wannalancit. Recently purchased old Wang manufacturing facility on Pawtucket Boulevard. Once people get to Lowell, they like it. The new building is 900,000 square feet. Cross Point laid on its side. Today it’s half occupied. It’s had many recent improvements. It’s on 46 acres of land with 2000 parking spots. This could accommodate approximately 3000 people working in it. Some of the most advanced companies in the region (with military and radar research) are already working there. The focus here is very big companies. “This building can’t live without the University.” Says the city council has made very good decisions over the past 20 years and asks this council to keep doing the same thing.
CC Kennedy to set salary for acting city manager and acting city clerk. Recommends finance committee meet and recommend something to full council. Unanimous on voice vote.
CC Belanger request mayor appoint downtown economic development task force. CC Belanger cites WCAP’s “Lowell Looks Ahead” segment. “Historically we send out for studies that cost $20,000 or more but we have the talent right here in the city of Lowell to make the downtown vibrant once again without spending that amount of money. We have people willing to share ideas and help out.” Recommends a round table to get something done immediately. Says we have enough long term plans. “We can see results in months rather than years.” No comments from councilors. Passes on voice vote.
CC Mercier wants report on plans for Mill No. 5. Randy Matthew, 240 Jackson St is registered to speak. Mill No. 5 is across the street. Claims many of the neighbors are wondering what the plans are. “First big concern” was is it a concert venue that will draw large crowds. They suddenly started having rock concerts on Sunday nights. Has concern about massage establishments that might be placed in the building (board of appeals granted a special permit for a massage therapist last night). CC Mercier says she was called by Mr. Matthews. She found his concerns troubling. She called Mr. Lichoulas (building owner and developer of Mill No. 5). She had a tour today. She’s troubled that work was done without abutters knowing about it. According to CC Mercier, he said he should have been more open with the plans. She does say that the JAMBRA group meeting tomorrow night at the health club on Middlesex Street will host Mr. Lichoulas who will show her plans. CC Mercier and CC Belanger had a tour today and she thinks it’s wonderful. It’s an “old mill building that’s being transformed bit by bit” into a wonderful space. CC Mercier turns her remarks into a positive infomercial for Mill No. 5. Says the purpose of her motion is to let everyone know how wonderful the space is. CC Belanger says he and CC Mercier “unraveled a gem” with this motion. He says there was “some rumblings and some rhetoric” going on about the building so it was important to go right to the source. Goes on to praise the project but criticizes the developer for not sharing enough information with abutters. CC Milinazzo tactfully criticizes the speaker for misleading comments he made during his presentation so that the “full story” is shared with the public. CM Lynch says this is one of the more exciting projects going on in the city. Lots of creativity and innovation.
CC Mercier request inspection of all downtown windows. Recounts story from the Khmer Post USA luncheon that a man who lives in Tewksbury but who loves Lowell and has a business in Lowell (Ed. Note: I was there and he said the reason he moved from Lowell to Tewksbury was that he was concerned about the quality of the schools in Lowell). Says the man said it happened twice. (Ed. Note: Yes, the man did say this and it seemed like he was describing the Sun building at Prescott and Merrimack which has been under renovations forever). CC Martin says “why don’t we check that building”. The guy who complained about Jackson Street jumps up and says that glass fell out of another building on Jackson Street just a few days ago and urges the city to inspect that too. CM suggests sending a letter to building owners to check their windows. That passes.
Mayor Elliott relinquishes the chair to CC Leahy. Motion about accumulated annual sick leave policy. Wants to look at policies about sick time and vacation time, particularly that such time is awarded for the year in a lump sum at the start of the year. Says when people leave in mid-year they get all their vacation time and it becomes a big cost. Recommends that it be changed to be pro-rated for the year. Referred to personnel subcommittee.
Mayor Elliott request report from auditor on the cost estimates of resignations/retirements for vacation and sick time payouts for those who left as of January 1, 2014. Passes by voice vote.
Mayor Elliott raises an issue not on the agenda. It was a communication regarding net school spending. He only got it on Friday. He wanted to bring it to the attention of the council. Says the letter says the city is $3.8 million below its requirement on net school spending amounts. CM Lynch explains that from 1993 to 2008 the city never met net school spending. Since then, the city did meet it and continue doing it. The city is just now getting the state’s calculation for the last fiscal year. The city says the year in question, FY2013, was the first year of savings due to health insurance renegotiations. That spending counted a lot towards net school spending so when we saved it in health insurance amounts, it put us in a hole for net school spending. He says the FY13 number is accurate but that the FY14 estimate probably is an overstatement of how much we’re behind. CM Lynch says we need to put more money into the school budget. We’ve held the line on spending because the city council wants to hold the line on taxes so this is the result. CM Lynch points out the dilemma that increased state aid means increased net school spending by the city. He again cites the council’s requirement to “hold the line on taxes” as contributing to putting the city in the hole on this issue. In response to questions from CC Kennedy, CM Lynch says city spending on schools this year should go way up to make up for the short fall. He says in his opinion we should be spending even more on the schools but we can’t do that while still holding the line on taxes. Says it will be difficult to get the information to the council without Mr. Moses being around. The auditor says that Jay Lang does the report so he’ll be able to provide the analysis to the council. CC Milinazzo has questions about health insurance. CM Lynch says the city has saved $12 million due to changes in health insurance.
Two items left on the agenda both involve going into executive session but since they are not urgent and the meeting has already gone beyond 10 pm, the council continues them until the next meeting. Meeting adjourns at 10:17 pm.