Lowell City Council Meeting: July 8, 2014

(Rules suspended to take several items early).

Vote authorizing city manager to execute a lease with UMass Lowell for 125 parking spaces on Fr. Morissette Blvd. They will be used by UMass Lowell Monday thru Friday, used by staff people primarily from the University Crossing facility (former St Joseph’s Hospital). They will be used mainly during the day and will be available for public use at night. The rental rate is comparable to that charged at the Ayotte Garage. The city has a 30 day opt-out provision in case a better deal comes along. Councilor Belanger says this is good news because the revenue to date has been much less than anticipated. Asks how UML cars will be identified. They will have decals which will allow them to park anywhere but visitors will still be able to use empty spaces provided they pay at the kiosks. The 125 spaces aren’t specifically designated; instead there are 125 decals to allow parking without paying at the kiosk. Passes unanimously.

Joint motion by Councilors Mercier and Belanger to limit liability of those with water bills issued long in arrears. A property owner spoke saying that when she purchased the property she was given a current water bill by the then-owner which she paid promptly. Shortly thereafter the city replaced the water meter and she then receive a water bill in excess of $50,000 because the water readings had only been estimated for more than 20 years. Councilor Belanger says fairness dictates some limits on the liability of property owners due to the city’s dilatory practices. City Manager states that another item on tonight’s agenda sets a procedure for addressing situations of this type so he recommends this motion like the coming one be referred to the finance subcommittee for further discussion. Unanimously referred to finance subcommittee.

Update on Butler School by Steve Joncas representing the developer of the old Butler School site. There’s been substantial work done already (primarily demolishing the school). The lot has been subdivided into two lots with a new road down the middle. That road will connect Gorham Street to Newhall Street which will provide better access to the Lowell Connector for the Prince Spaghetti property. The developer anticipates constructing two single story retail buildings, one 9000 square feet in size, the other 7100 sf. They are meeting with potential tenants now and really can’t acquire financing until tenants make commitments. They do anticipate commencing construction of the new buildings by Labor Day and having the work completed within 9 months.

Police Chief Taylor reports to the city council on what he terms a successful resolution of recent disputes between the police department at United Teen Equality Center (UTEC). Greg Croteau, Executive Director of UTEC is also present. Taylor says they reached an agreement about UTEC’s involvement in court cases that was of concern to police. Police will built a closer relationship between community policing officers and UTEC’s street workers. Greg Croteau thanks CM Murphy for his leadership and CC Rourke for his involvement and also Chief Taylor (and others). Taylor cites the longstanding relationship between the Chelsea Police Department and ROCA, (Chelsea’s equivalent of UTEC) and hopes to adopt some of their practices here in Lowell.

Paulette Renault-Caragianes reappointed to Board of Health.

Proposed ordinance regarding inflated water bills referred to Finance Subcommittee.

Proposed ordinance that addresses synthetic drugs that are sold over the counter as some other purpose but are widely known to be used for substance abuse. This ordinance would ban the sale of these. Referred to Public Safety subcommittee.

Next is a matter involving the city and the Environmental Protection Agency which is Mayor Elliott’s employer so the Mayor relinquishes the chair to Councilor Leahy. (Although his microphone was off so I didn’t hear what he said). Whatever it was, it passed with 8 in favor and Mayor Elliott abstaining.


By Councilor Leahy that manager determine if Enel is complying with maintenance agreement for the flashboards at the Pawtucket Dam. Passes unanimously.

By Councilor Mercier that cement on concourse inside LeLacheur Park be inspected due to deterioration. Passes unanimously.

By Councilor Mercier, that city demand judges enforce state gun law and its minimum mandatory one year sentence. Councilor Mercier mentions decrease in crime statistics but says shootings and knife attacks are up 100%. Says we need a plan to address shootings. This motion is a small part of such a plan. Says city manager is doing his job by increasing number of police (then goes through everyone else who is doing his or her part). But then all is lost when we have judges who tap offenders on the wrist. She then says she wishes to amend her motion that the District Attorney also be notified and asked to enforce these mandatory sentences. Councilor Belanger says the problem is there are too many guns on the street and nothing is being done about it. The city is doing its part with the police arresting people but the courts are not doing their part. Offenders are laughing at the police because they know nothing will be done about it. Belanger wants to amend the motion to send it to governor too. Says we have to fight fire with fire. Councilor Leahy says it’s a great motion; we have to raise our voices and let them hear it down on Beacon Hill. Motion passes.

By Councilor Belanger requesting report on ratio of low income vs market rate housing in downtown. Says he’s not against low income housing but says it seems like the ratio is becoming unbalanced. Says the “Mills to Martini” campaign has gone by the wayside and that the city has three to four times the amount of low income housing we should have. Says this inflates rents. Says when rents are subsidized by federal government in causes non-subsidized rents to inflate. Says this is going on throughout the Commonwealth. Says New Bedford and Springfield have moratoriums on affordable housing. Says he thought the goal was to get people with disposable income into these units. Now building owners apply for low income tax credits and have to rent to low income people. Says being a business man for 15 years in downtown, he predicts the percentages will be staggering. Wants a report from DPD on this. Councilor Milinazzo says he’ll support the motion but asks it to include the amount of market rate housing as well; says it’s a better balance than it was but many low income residents were elderly. Says putting “low income housing and mills to martinis” in the same sentence is not the right approach. Councilor Kennedy says he’ll support the motion but cautions everyone to wait to get the report before saying too much about the situation. Councilor Martin predicts we’ll be pleasantly surprised by this report. Similar reports have shown a large growth in market rate housing in downtown. Says we want downtown to be a mix of income types. That’s all been done through growth. Since the last report we’ve had a substantial decline in the real estate market so maybe the balance has shifted. Councilor Leahy says if we want people to move into market rate housing you have to give them something to do besides going to bars which is all that’s open after 8pm. Says we have to change if we want the housing mix to change.

Mayor Elliott relinquishes chair to Leahy. Mayor’s motion for a report on physician and nursing costs related to workers’ comp. Says it came up during budget. Passes unanimously.

Mayor Elliott motion for report on workers’ comp costs for past five years. Passes unanimously.

Mayor Elliott motion for report on the revenue and cost of the solar field at the former land fill. Passes unanimously.

Mayor Elliott motion to have police strictly enforce curfew ordinance. Says he filed this motion due to recent violence. This ordinance was adopted back in 1994 for similar reasons, to protect youth of the city. Even though the SJC invalidated portions of it, civil penalties still remain on the books. He says kids on the streets late at night contribute to the rise in violence. He doesn’t think that anything good happens to 16 or 17 years olds after midnight. Says sending it to public safety subcommittee is acceptable to him if the council so chooses. Councilor Belanger says this motion lets residents of Lowell know that the council is serious about tackling crime. Says as a downtown business owner he sees plenty of youths on downtown streets late at night up to no good. He doesn’t care to hear about the SJC invalidating this. It’s in place and now is the time to enforce it. Councilor Mercier says this is another piece of the puzzle. Says gun violence flows from drug activity. Says when you see 11 year olds on bikes at 11pm they’re not going to grandma’s house; they’re running drugs. Drugs are leading to guns are leading to shooting and someone innocent is going to get hurt. Says she’s tired of hearing there’s no room in jail for these thugs. They need to be locked up and let good people out into the street. Cites personal experience with family member being incarcerated which was “the best thing that could have happened.” Councilor Samaras says many parents who want to do the right thing have no control over their kids. This could be helpful to them. Councilor Milinazzo urges chief to see how Chelsea handles these things. Councilor Kennedy says this ordinance has been on the books for many years but is probably ineffective because all the police can do is give a ticket to the kids who break the curfew and they’re unlikely to pay it. Says it should be referred to public safety committee to try to modify it and make it part of an overall strategy. Mayor Elliott concurs. Councilor Belanger says this is a result of poor parenting but we can’t rely on police to do parenting. Says this is on the right track.

Council votes to go into executive session to discuss police strategy and ongoing litigation. Meeting will adjourn from executive session.

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