Lowell City Council Meeting: October 7, 2014

Disability commission will now provide close captioning of city council meetings on LTC.

Council recesses regular meeting and resumes special meeting to elect a member of the Regional Vocational School Committee to fill the vacancy that occurred when Erik Gitschier resigned after being hired as head of the Lowell Water Department.  The selection is made jointly by the city council and the school committee.

Each candidate will make an opening statement and then field questions.  First is Lee Gitschier.   He’s a graduate of the school.  Talks about his passion for vocational education.  Some councilors/school committee members ask questions.  Second candidate is Curtis LeMay.  Has worked for the Middlesex Sheriff’s Department for 30 years.  Formerly served on Lowell City Council for several terms.

All city councilors plus school committee members Conway, Ross-Sitcawich, Duggan, and Martin vote for Curtis LeMay on the first ballot.  Steve Gendron and Jim Leary vote for Lee Gitschier.  LeMay elected 13 to 2.  (Gendron and Leary then change their votes to LeMay to make it unanimous).

Council Meeting Resumes

Public Hearing on ordinance to enhance penalties for riding bikes and skateboards on sidewalks in downtown Lowell.  The ordinance allows police to seize skateboards.  Rita Mercier recommends seizing bikes too.  Manager Murphy says the police recommend not seizing bikes because of the logistics involved.  Rita pushes back against this pretty aggressively saying she never had trouble getting a bike in a car trunk.  The chief says he was concerned about liability if the bikes are lost but if the will of the council is to seize bikes, they’ll seize bikes.  Ordinance passes in amended form (allowing seizure of bicycles).

City Manager responses

The specialized electricity provider service that allows city residents to opt out of power from National Grid was praised because the increases in cost will be much less than will the price increase for National Grid customers.

Rourke Bridge update – Repairs are a Mass Dept of Transportation project.  Project will last until October 31.  The work commenced as the result of a complaint from the mayor’s office this summer.  DOT commenced work in September by tightening bolts.  That’s done.  Now they are repaving the bridge with specialized substances.  No way to avoid major traffic tie ups near bridges.

Council accepts gift of an automatic defibrillator from Trinity EMS for placement in City Hall.


Councilor Rourke – CM explore options for a grant writer position in the fire department (or at least getting other city grant writers to pursue grants for fire department).

Councilors Rourke and Belanger request report on parking.  Belanger says “some of us were enlightened by Jeff Speck last Thursday.”  He says there’s plenty of parking downtown.  It’s a perception problem.  It’s how we advertise it.  He’s researched what other cities are doing.  It’s a problem everywhere.  Would like CM and parking director to compare how Lowell compares to other cities.  He speaks favorably of premium pricing for curbside parking.  Says on weekend nights parking garages have plenty of space.  We perhaps should raise price of onstreet parking and extend the hours of enforcement and then lower the cost of garage parking.  Councilor Rourke says that now that we have two way traffic, it’s a good time to look at parking enforcement.  Says there’s a lack of parking spots on weekends which he assumes is due to downtown residents parking curbside on weekends.  Says maybe hours of enforcement should be extended from 8am to 8pm.  Also suggests outright parking ban overnight to aid in cleaning and snow removal.  Would balance this with discounts at parking garages.  Thinks such a comprehensive approach would aid businesses.  Motion passes unanimously.

Councilors Belanger and Samaras that City Manager meet with John Power of Farley White to find ways to place Christmas lights on downtown smokestacks.  Councilor Belanger thanks the Lowell Plan for having “nationally renowned urban planner” Jeff Speck come to Lowell to review our progress.  Now it’s up to us.  Cites photos of Wannalancit smokestack lit up as Christmas tree.  Asks the City Manager to meet with “Mr. Farley” and then approach other smokestack owners.  Says doing this will help make Lowell a winter-time destination.  Councilor Samaras concurs, says council wants to assist downtown businesses.  This would make Lowell a “city of light.”  Motion passes unanimously.

Councilor Belanger requests mayor re-establish substance abuse subcommittee.  Belanger cites appearance of Bud Caulfield at last meeting who recalled a substance abuse subcommittee that did a lot of outreach and education.  Also cites Tom Golden’s efforts on substance abuse prevention and treatment.  Passes unanimously.

Councilor Belanger requests CM establish a “merchant association” for downtown businesses.  Says most of the members of the downtown task force were at the Lowell Plan Breakfast and all thought Jeff Speck’s recommendation to receive a downtown merchant’s association.  Passes.

Councilor Leahy have Inspectional Services report on how many properties have been closed due to illegal activities.

Councilor Leahy request list of street signs that need replacement.

Councilor Leahy requests information on Comcast rates.

Mayor Elliott requests city explore putting city logo on street signs.

Mayor Elliott request CM give report on the cost for a feasibility study for a new police station.  Councilor Belanger says he supports it.  Says the high school has dominated discussion but the police station is in far worse shape.  Wants to amend the motion to consider placing the police lock up in the new judicial center.  Councilor Martin says he’s skeptical of this.  He says conditions in the lock up should be made safe and secure but given the public safety needs of the city the money would be better spent putting police on the streets and perhaps even dispersing police to substations or to making (new) fire stations public safety hubs.  Says building a new police station in downtown may not be the model being embraced in the public safety field today.  Says he’ll support obtaining the cost estimate but doesn’t want people to get too excited by it.  Mayor Elliott responds by saying no one is getting excited but that councilors should take a tour of the current station.  We’re not talking about luxurious offices but just basics like evidence rooms and lockers for the officers.  Says the lesson is to be careful about the wording of motions because they will be twisted.

Mayor Elliott requests a meeting be arranged with Lowell Community Health Center and the Youth Subcommittee (requested by the “Teen Block” group at LCHC).  Passes.

Mayor Elliott requests appointment of a blue ribbon committee to explore future use of Smith Baker Center.  Says the building can be a great asset to Lowell’s Cultural Economy.  Knows it would be expensive to renovate but says there are plenty of funding sources available.

Meeting adjourns at 9:56 pm

8 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: October 7, 2014

  1. Anonymous says:

    We need a 4 lane bridge to replace the Rourke bridge. When Lynch was the CM he said a plan was in the works. Does anybody know its current status?

  2. Joe Smith says:

    The Rourke Bridge study has been completed, with a few options on the table, all of which are for a 4-lane bridge. The next step is the environmental impact review which should conclude with a single recommendation. The actual design and construction of the bridge is beyond that, so most likely it will not be completed before 2020. It is rated as a 5, one step above the “structurally deficient” grade, so lower rated bridges (such as was the Textile bridge) will probably get funding first. However, for traffic reasons, there should be a press to get this bridge up on the priority list.

  3. Brian says:

    I can’t explain how much shock and relief I felt when I heard what C Belanger had to say about on and off-street parking. Did Jeff Speck have a one-on-one with him?
    Looking at what other cities are doing was mentioned. Lets look to cities we strive to be like, not our peers. Burlington Vt and Ashville NC come to mind.

    Building a new 4 lane Rourke bridge would be a HUGE mistake for Lowell. Adding capacity would just induce more traffic to go that route making things worse. The only people who would win would be the bridge builders, paving companies, and a few home builders to further sprawlify the outskirts of Pawtucketville.

  4. Anonymous says:

    There is a Fourth Amendment Right for seizure of property like bikes and skateboards do we have the Constitution in Lowell.

  5. Gail says:

    In addition to Christmas lights, the council should look at ways to put lightening rods on the smokestacks.

  6. Brian says:

    This video is timely with council encouraging seizure of property. My sense is Lowell police want to build bridges with people not burn them. Council didn’t think this one through.

    Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Civil Forfeit…: http://youtu.be/3kEpZWGgJks