Lowell City Council Meeting: February 14, 2017

Motions taken out of order

COUNCILOR Rourke – (heard earlier in the meeting) Request City Council approve the naming of the wiffle ball field at Mulligan Park in honor of Calvin Riley. Calvin was a young man who was a random victim of a fatal shooting in San Francisco last year. Several friends and relatives speak in favor of the motion.

COUNCILOR Belanger – (heard earlier in the meeting) Request City Manager have DPD research the impact of property values located near the high school as a result of any renovations of the high school. Councilor Belanger says he would like the report to also include an analysis of the effect of a new high school at Cawley Stadium on property values in Belvidere. Ray Boutin, a real estate appraiser, is registered to speak. He says that people are willing to pay up to 20% above market rate for a home in a community with a “good or great school system.” He says every buyer he has worked with has appreciated buying close to a school, because schools are only used 180 days per year and neighbors would be able to use the greenspace around the school for their own benefit. Councilor Belanger says Belvidere residents have expressed concerns about the potential diminution of the value of their properties due to having the high school in their neighborhood. Councilor Milinazzo says he has great respect for Ray Boutin’s real estate background, but some of what he said is total nonsense. He cites his own experience on Draper Street when the Sullivan School was built. Values there went down. Councilor Milinazzo says in his opinion property values adjacent to the stadium will go down if the high school gets built there. He says having someone come before the council now and say there will be nothing to worry about if the high school is built there is total nonsense.

Motion Responses

Trust Ordinance report – Councilor Leary asks about the origin of the policy. Manager Murphy says it began under Superintendent Ed Davis who was committed to have all residents feel comfortable here. Councilor Mercier explains what is in the police policy for those watching on TV who have not seen the report. Says that based on this report, illegal aliens in Lowell have nothing to fear. She goes on to address the people who came to the council meeting last week, telling them that instead of using your energy to enforce an ordinance we already have, why don’t you use your energy to convince the illegal aliens they have nothing to fear. She also urges them to teach some of their friends who were here last week to have some respect and some courtesy. Councilor Belanger says Lowell is the Plymouth Rock of American immigration. Then he says that the Lowell police will not be an immigration enforcement force. He then says it would be a mistake to declare Lowell a Sanctuary City because Lowell receives up to $7million from the federal government and he wants no part of jeopardizing these funds by declaring the city a sanctuary city. Councilor Samaras asks the city manager to explain his view of the city’s policy. Manager Murphy says he met with the proponents of the Trust Ordinance today and discussed this with them. He explains that the police policy is to not inquire into the immigration status of anyone they deal with. He feels it is the federal government’s responsibility to deal with illegal immigrants. It mirrors the trust ordinance and he hopes he persuaded them that it serves the purpose they desire. Councilor Milinazzo asks the manager if he would consider creating an ad hoc citizens committee to address these issues as they arise. He said the group talked of meetings they have had. Manager Murphy offered to send the police chief and anyone else from the administration to such meetings to keep communications open. Councilor Elliott says Lowell is a leader as shown by this policy being in place long before these concerns arose. He says trust does not arise overnight. It develops over time and is cultivated though relations with the community. He says the council and the city manager understand the importance of trust. Councilor Mercier says she’s not trying to put anyone down. She can’t understand why anyone would fear being deported or why they would fear calling the police or city councilors. She said that unless they commit a crime, they shouldn’t fear being deported.

[Several other motion responses, but no substantive comments from councilors].

Vote to rename Hamilton Canal District to the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. Passes.

Transfer of $492,000 to charter school reimbursement account. The state budget delivered less than what was expected for charter school reimbursement of more than $1mil. When that money didn’t come in, the city had to transfer other funds to make up the loss. This transfer is from FY16 Free Cash. Councilor Elliott suggests the city file home rule legislation to increase charter school reimbursement. Manager Murphy says the legislature would like to make full reimbursement, but fiscal reality means there is not enough money to go around so the city has to pick up the shortfall on charter school funding. Mayor Kennedy urges Councilor Elliott to bring a motion for a home rule petition as he expected because he sees no efforts on Beacon Hill to increase the reimbursement.

Motion to transfer $841,000 to Lowell High project account. Manager Murphy explains that this money will do two things. The first is “curb appeal” for the city overall – to do street paving and curbing, etc. Some of the money will be used for the Lowell High project, but not all of it.

Economic Subcommittee Report by Councilor Samaras. He says Jane Calvin of Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust appeared to give updates on the Bay Circuit Trail, the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail, and the Concord River Greenway. The committee also discussed what kind of businesses were coming into or leaving Lowell. They received a presentation from DPD’s Kevin Coughlin. Councilor Leary makes a motion that city manager assign someone from DPD to work with Parks and Conservation Trust to develop a concept plan for connecting the Concord River Greenway to the Bruce Freeman Trail via River Meadow Brook.

Motions

By Councilor Leahy – Request City Manager work with proper department to revisit the recycling plan for downtown residents. Councilor Leahy says this was explored several years ago, but he thinks it’s time to revisit the issue.

COUNCILOR Samaras/COUNCILOR Leary – Request City Manager have DPD provide a report regarding the economic potential for the Lowell High School site in the event that the school was to be moved. Councilor Samaras says that if the high school leaves downtown, there will be something like 600,000 square feet of space that will become available. He’d like a timeline of what might happen with that space if the high school should move. Councilor Leary says the answer to this motion will influence the decision of where the high school will go.

COUNCILOR Samaras – Request City Manager investigate the possibility of filing a discrimination suit against FIOS/Verizon. Councilor Samaras says the council has repeatedly addressed this issue with FIOS avoiding Lowell. He says it is now obvious that FIOS is just going where the money is and they don’t think the money is in Lowell. He then asks that the city send a letter to Senator Markey who has been very involved with cable regulation.

COUNCILOR Samaras – Request City Manager inform the City Council on steps that will be taken to replace Winn Co. as the developer of the Hamilton Canal Innovation District. Councilor Belanger says he will support this motion but says it is not good news. He says the enthusiasm for Winn was not there from the beginning. He said that is because they were not a good fit because Winn is the nation’s largest supplier of affordable housing and that’s not what we want in the Hamilton Canal District. He says Winn’s interests don’t coincide with ours. He suggests the city hire someone to travel around Massachusetts to promote the project, to say “we have land.” Councilor Milinazzos disputes Councilor Belanger’s assertion that Winn “reneged” on their part of the deal. Minlinazzo says he believes they could see that the council wanted to go in another direction and decided enough was enough. Councilor Leahy suggests we find a commercial developer to advise us. Mayor Kennedy says the council should clarify for the manager what it wants. Councilor Leahy moves to amend the motion to direct the city manager to give preference to commercial developers. Councilor Leary says we should first get some objective evidence that backs up what we think is available. Councilor Elliott says from the start we decided to bundle this all up because we had seen other developments being done piecemeal. He says we put a plan in place in 2008. He understands that maybe commercial is better, but he still thinks that a residential component is important. He adds that market forces will dictate what will go here. We’d like to be choosy, but we can’t always do that. He adds that most of the housing proposed was market rate with some workforce development. He says that the land has been vacant for ten years and we shouldn’t be tying the hands of the city manager. The manager should come back with a recommendation. Councilor Milinazzo says Councilor Elliott is “spot on.” He won’t support the substitute motion because he doesn’t want to tie the manager’s hands. He wants to see what the manager comes back with. He says Kendall Square in Cambridge has an incubator space but it also has housing side-by-side. Councilor Rourke asks City Manager if commercial developers were allowed to apply to be master developers last time. The Manager said absolutely, but none did. Manager Murphy says that the city has many options, adding that the deal with Genesis is very close. Rourke says he will support the original motion but not the amendment. Councilor Samaras agrees with Councilor Elliott. Councilor Belanger says there is inconsistency in what we want. Thirty minutes ago we renamed this the Innovation District. Says we’ve had a “housing renaissance” in the downtown but it hasn’t done much for the economy. 1500 units have done “next to nothing” for the downtown economy. Councilor Milinazzo says that’s a “ridiculous comment.” Says “the fact that Councilor Belanger could not run a business in downtown doesn’t mean the downtown economy doesn’t work.” Says Councilor Belanger doesn’t like affordable housing for some reason and that’s been driving the train for a while but it makes no sense.” Councilor Elliott says there are a lot of good things going on in the city and lists many of them. He says it’s a good thing that people are coming to Lowell. Cites the importance of the train link to Boston as benefiting housing potential. Says we have to recognize that housing is not a bad thing, but we also need jobs and that requires commercial too. Councilor Mercier says imagine if we had businesses that wanted to come to Lowell but we didn’t have space for them? That’s why I want to give the manager some direction. If some businesses come to the Hamilton Canal District it would create jobs and ease the tax burden on homeowners. She says we have quite a lot of housing here. I want jobs created here. I think we have sufficient housing. Plans can be amended. To say we have a 2008 plan, we can change it. We change plans all the time. I just think we should try to get some businesses to come here. Can we just look? Mayor Kennedy says the amendment simply tells the manager that there is a preference for commercial. It just provides a little direction. Roll call on the amendment. Passes six to three with Elliott, Milinazzo and Leary voting against. The amended motion passes on a voice vote.

COUNCILOR Belanger – Request City Manager provide status on the former Luz building abutting the Butler School on Gorham Street.

COUNCILOR Belanger – Request City Manager perform an annual State of the City address.

Announcements: Mayor Kennedy reminds people of the meeting on Lowell High this Thursday night. It’s a subcommittee meeting, not a public hearing, but anyone who wants to sign up to speak will be permitted to.

Meeting adjourns at 8:38 p.m.

3 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: February 14, 2017

  1. Lynne says:

    I was laughing at Rita Mercier’s ‘use your energy to educate’ line. Yes Councilor, we did do that. You seem to have gotten at least a little more educated, considering the difference in tone (other than attacking the activists).

    Except for this: It is NOT an ordinance, as far as I know. It was never addressed by the Council, it’s just a written police policy. So, not the same thing. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085478/

    Also, apparently, not bowing your head during a prayer which has zero business being at a City Council meeting uttered by the Mayor is not respectful. Funny, I find it not very respectful to attend a civic meeting and have to be forced to feel like I’m in a church. So we’re even.

  2. joe from Lowell says:

    There are those who believe that sending the message to members of our local immigrant communities that they needn’t fear the police isn’t just the job of concerned activists. Among those who believe this are the officers of the LPD itself.

    The City Council had the opportunity to join in the effort, but they chose not to. Bravo, Rita! Well done!

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