For the second straight week the Lowell City Council zipped through its meeting tonight, sticking to the agenda and not wandering too far afield on any particular issue (although the buzz on Facebook speculates that as the city election draws closer, the meetings will get lengthier). Old favorites made their inevitable appearance: double telephone poles, dog licenses and snow plowing among them.
The big issue tonight from my perspective was the sale of the old Butler School parcel on Gorham Street. That building, abandoned as a school many years ago, was insufficiently buttoned up to prevent fatal deterioration, so the only possible future use would be to tear down the structure and redevelop the parcel.
The city issued a request for proposals and received three. In a January 18, 2013 letter to the city council, City Manager Lynch conveyed the recommendation of an RFP Review Committee which met on October 31, November 8 and November 19 to review the three proposals. Two proposals were close. One by Mr. Chou Huynh offered $325,000 for the property and proposed building a single building containing a supermarket, a restaurant and a function hall. The other proposal, by J&K Realty Trust, offered $265,500 for the parcel on which it would construct two structures containing food service, office and retail uses. While the Huynh proposal would pay the city more up front and more in taxes going forward, the RFP Review Committee recommended the J&K proposal, mostly because it included the construction of an access road across the property that would connect a 16 acre parcel to the rear of the Butler site to Gorham Street. According to the committee, this adjacent parcel, known as 2 Prince Avenue, “represents one of Lowell’s greatest opportunities for additional industrial and commercial redevelopment.” The Huynh proposal included no such road.
Accompanying this explanatory letter on the council agenda was a proposed vote for the council to act on this evening. Several councilors decried a “lack of information” provided to aid them in their decision until the mayor pointed out that the explanatory letter had been in the packets received by all councilors at the start of the weekend. That cut short the “lack of information” councilors – perhaps they missed the report or maybe they forgot reading it.
Councilor Nuon did speak in favor of the Huynh proposal, suggesting that the vote be put off and the entire matter be sent to a subcommittee for further inquiry. Vesna did say that if the vote were to be taken this evening, he would grudgingly support the J&K proposal since he thought it essential that the project get underway. No one supported a subcommittee diversion so the vote was held and it passed by an 8 to 0 margin with Councilor Bill Martin voting “present” due to a legal conflict.
The meeting adjourned at 8:20 p.m. The sale of the Butler lot was a big deal. Once construction begins it will take 9 months to complete the project. Even more exciting is the prospect of this project jump starting a far larger project on the adjacent Prince parcel.