Lowell City Council Meeting: January 30, 2018

MAYOR’S BUSINESS

Recognition – African Cultural Association’s distinguished guest, Professor Plo Lumumba (legal educator, anti-corruption activist). Lumumba praises US for its willingness to take people from all over the world and bring them together. He says Africa struggles with Democracy. He thanks the Council for allowing him to come here and speak. Mayor Samaras presents Lumumba with a key to the city (explaining that the keys with his name aren’t in yet, so he’ll get one with Mayor Edward Kennedy’s name on it). Group photo.

Recognition – Lowell Sustainability Council Green Award winners. UMass Lowell wins a number of the awards. Group photo. Another award to Daley School Climate Change Club. Group photo.

Announcement: This Saturday from 11am to 1pm is African-American flag raising at City Hall.

CITY CLERK

Minutes Of City Council Meeting January 23rd, For Acceptance.

GENERAL PUBLIC HEARINGS

Order-Abandon Portion Of Newell Street. (Cont.) – This came before the council previously but neighbors had concerns about its intended use. City DPD has mediated the dispute. However, one family/residents continues to have concerns, especially about snow removal. Neighbors make detailed presentation to illustrate their concerns. Public hearing is closed. Council refers it to the city manager and the city clerk.

COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER

Motion Responses: [For summaries of the documents provided to councilors in response to these motions, please see Mimi Parseghian’s “City Council Preview” post from yesterday. The notes here reflect any comments made by councilors at tonight’s meeting.]

Deferred Maintenance Issues in All Municipal Buildings – Councilor Kennedy moves to refer this to the appropriate subcommittee. Councilor Cirillo says it was a great report and asks the City Manager to review it. Conor Baldwin answers. Says funding for $25,000 or less would be funded in Public Works operating budget. Larger items come from the capital budget which is voted on by the council in the spring. Manager Murphy says they just received the draft report from the Collins Center. Also, the city is doing a comprehensive tour of all city buildings starting next week to inventory maintenance that needs to be done.

Pedestrian Crossing at School and Branch Streets. Councilor Leahy asks if this intersection is scheduled to be redesigned. CM Murphy: No.

National Grid Tree Trimming. Council Nuon asks CM to explain the report for viewers. CM calls on Tom Bellegarde to explain, and points out that it is Bellegarde’s last meeting before his retirement. Both the city and National Grid take care of trees. They work closely together and have a good relationship. Councilors all praise Tom Bellegarde for his 41 years of service to the city.

311 App. No discussion.

Western Ave Studios Tax Assessments. Councilor Milinazzo moves to refer it to Finance Subcommittee for further discussion.

Stedman Street Sidewalk. No discussion.

Traffic Signal at Intersection of Mammoth Road and 4th Ave. No discussion.

East End Club Handicap Parking. Related matter later in meeting.

Stop Sign at Intersection Havilah and Remington Streets. No discussion.

Foch Street. Councilor Leahy asks for an update on which streets are being accepted by the city.

School Street and Laurel Street Traffic Signage. No discussion.

Report of Abandoned Homes in the City. Councilor Elliott says he wants to know how many abandoned homes there are in the city and that’s not contained in this report which is otherwise excellent. CM says this is a response to an earlier motion and the response to last week’s CC Elliott motion will come next week. CC Mercier brings up an older report on fire damaged properties. Says she would like the same report to be updated and presented to the council since it was such an excellent report. CC Elliott asks why aren’t banks moving on these properties? CM says banks don’t seem to know what to do with them. CC Elliott asks if the city can do anything to speed this process. CM says the banks pay the taxes so the city can’t take them for non-payment. The city does impose a steep registration fee they thought would motivate banks to move the properties but the banks just absorb the costs. Eric Slagle says the increased fees only went into effect last winter. CM says they will look at what other communities charge for similar fees.

Update on 29 Frothingham Street. CC Leahy asks some questions about the property which had received past complaints.

Plans to Revitalize Business Corridors. Mayor asks CM to speak about High Street and Mammoth Road. CM says in past years city has used CDBG funds on Cupples Square and Bridge Street. This year, a lot of city money is going to Thorndike St and the Hamilton Canal District, but he doesn’t want to disregard neighborhoods, so they are trying to accumulate funds for several neighborhood corridors.  (Mammoth Road, Aiken St, Gorham St).

Informational:

Inactive Voter List. CC Nuon asks this report be referred to Elections Subcommittee.

VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Vote-Appropriate $752,000 of Water Enterprise Fund Certified Retained Earnings. This is to pay interest on loans previously obtained for infrastructure upgrades. Approved.

ORDERS FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Order-60 day trial (various). Approved.

ORDINANCES FROM THE CITY MANAGER

Ordinance-Amend C. 56 Personnel Ordinance. Referred to a public hearing on Feb 13 at 7pm. CC Elliott asks for an explanation. This ordinance would allow the city to indemnify city employees who are sued individually. Many union members have this already by contract. This would provide the same coverage to other city employees.

REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)

PETITIONS

Claims – (3) Property Damage. Referred to Law Dept.

CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS

Elliott – Req. City Mgr. apply for funding from Greening Communities Program from the State for planting of trees program. CC Elliott says this is for Gateway communities. Trees are free.

Elliott – Req. City Mgr. have proper department remove sign infrastructure at police garage on Middlesex Street. Old signs on buildings. CC Elliott says they are eyesores. Should be removed.

Elliott – Req. City Mgr. initiate street/sidewalk/parking plan for Branch Street business corridor to coincide with Overpass construction. CC Elliott says especially area near down ramp from Lord Overpass.

Elliott/C. Leahy – Req. City Mgr. provide a report to the Finance SC regarding FY18 property valuation assessments; 3rd Quarter tax bills and abatement process; and budget impact on tax bills. CC Elliott said councilors got inquiries after last tax bill went out. Wants a discussion about valuation process. Also, makes note that deadline for filing for an abatement is at the start of February. Instructions on city website.

Leahy – Req. City Mgr. have DPD provide a report regarding the progress on finding a new location in the City for the Merrimack Valley Food Bank.

Leahy – Req. City Mgr. work with Downtown Redevelopment SC to identify and enhance the types of businesses that DPD is attracting to the City. CC Kennedy brings up an email councilors received from a visitor to the city who complained about the lack of cleanliness in city parking garage stairwells and elevators. CM has already asked for a report and investigation. CC Elliott says this has happened before. Asks who is responsible for cleaning. That’s what the report will say.

Leahy – Req. City Mgr. work with DPD to establish and enhance marketing campaign for City of Lowell.

Mercier – Req. City Mgr. provide update regarding prior motion for Utopia Park including the status of it as well as the status of the Utopian Park Public Art Hydro Sculpture Project. CC Mercier reviews background of this park which is in the Hamilton Canal District at the split of the Pawtucket and Merrimack Canals. The park was formerly named Point Park but the council renamed it Utopia Park. Referred to Parks Subcommittee for update.

Milinazzo – Req. City Mgr. take all necessary steps to reinstate the Article 97 restrictions on the parks and open space land which had been removed during the Lowell High School/MSBA site selection process. CC Milinazzo tells CM it would make sense to take steps necessary to reimpose the Article 97 actions that were taken last fall. CC Kennedy asks about the process. City Solicitor says the legislation has a sunset clause of 5 years. To speed it up, there would have to be like legislation. However, the Article 97 removal was only for the purpose of building a school there. It could not be used for any other purpose. Solicitor will report back next week.

Nuon – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding the scope of the project and parking proposal for the FI William Fidelity Investment dormitory project on Merrimack Street. Patty Coffey is registered speaker, speaking on behalf of UMass Lowell. UML supports further study of this proposal and of overall regulations governing these kinds of structures. UML doesn’t believe there is demand for these kinds of private dormitory beds in Lowell. The experience of Edge on Merrimack having trouble leasing is evidence of that. UML itself is lagging behind its projected dorm usage, largely due to students not being able to afford it. Regarding this resubmitted proposal, UML says it’s largely the same project as was opposed previously. UML would likely support the development of this parcel as a mixed use complex, however, the permitting of this project to meet a market that doesn’t exist is unwise. Planning Board is to take this up February 5. It will also need a special permit from Board of Appeals. CC Nuon says he understands the role of the other boards but says the council should take an interest in the overall situation of parking in the Acre. CC Nuon also is concerned about the lack of supervision for the students living in these private dorms and the impact it will have on city police resources. CC Mercier wonders what input the city council may have on planning board’s scheduling of this hearing (thinks it should be delayed because too many questions). She says she doesn’t trust what this company says. The company incorrectly said CBA supported this which CBA denies. Company says it will contribute $800,000 to an Acre parking facility that no one knows anything about. Asks Solicitor if appropriate for a city council to speak at planning board in capacity as a citizen. Solicitor says councilors may speak to any regulatory board as long as they make it clear they are speaking in their individual capacity. CC Lahey says this is not a good project for the neighborhood and he’s surprised Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union is involved in this.

Nuon – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding the status of the voting rights litigation against the City. CC Nuon quotes former university president (Marty Meehan, I believe he is referring to) who said every community deserves representation. CC Nuon knows it is in court and that the council will get an update in executive session, but he’d also like to get a report on the council’s ad hoc subcommittee, on community meetings that have been held. He says we should work to resolve this. The longer it lingers, the more it harms the reputation of the city, the more it costs the city.

Conway – Req. City Mgr. work with proper departments to ensure pedestrian safety and walk-ability at the intersection of Pawtucket Blvd. and the Rourke Bridge. CC Conway says some residents of Pawtucketville have made clear that it is not a pedestrian-friendly area.

Kennedy/C. Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. meet with representatives from the OFO Bike Sharing Program and provide City Council with a report regarding the feasibility of establishing a bike sharing program in Lowell. CC Kennedy says a few weeks ago at the Mass Municipal Assoc and attended a workshop on economic development. All the discussion was about Amazon applications. One of the panelists was from Worcester. That person explained the bike-sharing program they have. It is a dock-less system. It allows someone using the bike to just leave it wherever they want. Worcester now has 400 bikes. There is no liability to the city. The charge is $1 per hour. There is a crew that goes around and maintains the bikes, comes and picks them up as needed. CC Cirillo spoke with Worcester Chamber of Commerce who spoke very highly on the program. People used the bikes both downtown and in outlying neighborhoods. The bike company also partnered with other businesses in the city. CC Cirillo says this is part of being a healthier community and that more people riding bikes into downtown will help businesses. CC Milinazzo says the city of Revere has a similar system that began last year. It’s caught on very quickly. You pay for the bike and unlock it with an app on your phone, you ride the bike, then you leave it. CM Murphy says he’s already met with OFO and is meeting with another dock less bike company soon. After that he will report back to the council. Community Member Speakers registered to speak: Rep from Lowell-based branch of Sierra Club. Supports this motion. Explains the many benefits of increased bike usage in Lowell. Lisa Arnold on behalf of Lowell Bike Coalition (400 members). Supports this motion. This program will work as long as pricing and location is equitable. Also cites health and economic benefits of bike use.

CITY COUNCIL – EXECUTIVE SESSION

Executive Session – Update on matters of litigation public discussion of which could have a detrimental effect on the City’s position. Council votes to go into executive session and then adjourn from the executive session (at 8:57 pm)

One Response to Lowell City Council Meeting: January 30, 2018

  1. Liz Stewart says:

    Thanks for the update, always a useful read from you.

    Hoping maybe you know – The city’s website hasn’t updated the subcommittee members since the new council took office. Any idea how we can find out who is on a particular subcommittee?

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