Lowell City Council: February 10, 2015

City Manager gives an update on snow removal costs.  January was the snowiest month ever in Lowell.  From Jan 21 to Feb 10, about 70 inches of snow fell on Lowell.  DPW did a heroic job.  The city has 275 miles of streets in addition to schools, city parking lots, the Lowell Auditorium, City Hall and sidewalks in downtown, the River Walk and all the bridges.  Now, they’re concentrating on sidewalks near schools so that children can walk safely.  The inspectional services department is contacting homeowners about removing snow from sidewalks.  $1.17 million was spent prior to the big storm at the end of January.  There have been three storms since with an average cost of $300,000 each so the total to date is approximately $2 million.  The city hopes to receive state emergency funds for the blizzard snow cleanup (reimbursement petition was filed today).  Various councilors commend city workers for fine response to storm.

Motion Responses: Regarding exchange of parcels between city and National Park in Hamilton Canal District, have entered into an agreement to transfer those parcels but estimate that it should be done a year from now.

Proposal to sell a parcel of land on Queen St.  This involves the Branch Street fire building.  There’s an intent to rebuild what was there in a modern way.  Mayor Elliott raises question about parking, especially given what happened there.  The parcel to be transferred would add some parking.  The owner is grandfathered in under the old zoning.  The architect of the project explains that the new building will be constructed in accordance with the latest safety codes.  Many councilors express concern.  The matter is referred to Planning Department for a report.

Councilor Belanger gives a report on the Economic Subcommittee meeting from earlier tonight.  Discussed potential of enforcing the parking ordinance as it is written, not as it is currently enforced.  Downtown residents who spoke at the meeting supported enforcing the ordinance but were opposed to the idea of an overnight parking ban.  They recognize this is a problem but it’s going to require further study, so the subcommittee recommends referring it to the city manager to do an in-house study and make a report and recommendation.

Discussion about late fees for excise tax payments.  Excise tax bills are due out soon.  If you don’t pay on time you have to pay a late fee even if you never received the bill.  Councilors agree it is unfair but understand it’s a state law.

Councilor Rourke motion to have city manager review city’s loading zone ordinance.   Passes.

Councilor Kennedy motion for a report from City Auditor on amount of money spent on snow removal.

Councilor Samaras motion for traffic report on benefits of stop sign on Rosemont Street.  Requested by neighborhood association.

Mayor Elliott and Councilor Samaras joint motion for a report on the status of land transfer between the city and the National Park.  Samaras acknowledges receiving a report earlier tonight on this but is concerned with the time line established in that report.  Concerned it might drag on for an unreasonable amount of time.  Mayor Elliott says he spoke with National Park Superintendent about this and thought having her speak to the Economic Development Subcommittee would be helpful.  Passes.

Mayor Elliott and Councilor Milinazzo motion to create subcommittee to discuss Lowell’s participation in the 2024 Olympics.

Meeting adjourns at 8:11 pm (Councilor Milinazzo was absent this evening)

3 Responses to Lowell City Council: February 10, 2015

  1. Brian says:

    What year is it? 1985? 1995? Oh right it’s 2015 and the council is spewing the same old crap about parking, turning a city strength into a weakness.

    I only caught some of the meeting last night and couldn’t believe what I heard regarding 79 Branch St. I went back today and watched it again. The fire that happened there was tragic and hopefully something like that never happens again in Lowell.

    To recap: The building owner wants to purchase a vacant parcel next to his lot from the city to allow for a dumpster and loading zone for the package store. The owner then wants to rebuild, putting a package store on the 1st floor with around 9 units on the 2nd and 3rd floors.

    This is where it gets crazy. C Elliot has “serious reservations about putting the same # of units on that lot”… “we need to change the zoning”
    C Belanger says “a reduction to 2-3 units would be a win”

    The architect then says they’ll replicate the building with steel, concrete, sprinkler systems, latest codes etc.

    C Elliot- “where is the parking?”
    Architect says across the street at a corner lot, there’s not a real congested parking issue in that area.

    C Elliot then became condescending saying it’s one of the most congested parts of the city and the notion that residents would walk to a lot doesn’t make sense.

    The building owner then says there would less bedrooms than before the fire and he has 10-11 parking spots across the street.

    C Kennedy then says there should be a covenant marrying the parking lot to the building so the owner can’t build on the parking lot in the future!

    C Rourke wants “dedicated parking…would be a positive”

    C Elliot then caps it all off with this doosey: “If zoning allows that many units we need to change the zoning, putting that many units in that part of the city is a mistake. It’s not a good fit for the neighborhood. We need development that will make it less dense.”

    Where to begin???? The building owner has a proven business model that he and the bank knows can be replicated. He had no trouble renting out the units with limited parking spots before the fire so why try and make him provide more spots that in reality aren’t needed? Mandating minimum parking spots will reduce the # of units he can build thus reducing his income and reducing tax revenue for the city! The guy lost his building(his livelihood) and C Belanger thinks 2-3 units would be a win. So if Wicked Irish burns down should we reduce the occupancy to 25 people or make him provide parking? Of course not!

    Marrying the parking lot across the street to 79 Branch St makes no sense. The owner should be able to make his own decisions about his property. It’s all about supply and demand. As long as his tenants have cars he won’t build on the parking lot because that will make the proposed units less desirable, increasing the vacancy rate, and he’d have to lower the rent to attract tenants.(not in his best interest)

    But if all his tenants don’t have cars and he wants to put a tax generating building on the parking lot then GREAT! Why would the council want to prevent that scenario from ever happening??? People in dense neighborhoods don’t mind walking and many can’t afford a car. Mandating more parking will increase building costs which will increase the rent and attract more people with cars to the neighborhood, causing more congestion. Making Cambodia Town less dense will just guarantee nobody will want to visit it. We could rename it Suburban Town?

    The number of units, a lack of parking, or denseness of the neighborhood didn’t cause the fire.
    An electrical issue, in an old wooden building without sprinklers, caused the fire. Let’s not punish the owner for non-existent issues or decrease the amount of tax generating property in the city. Last I checked we aren’t exactly swimming in it.

  2. Chris says:

    In reply to Brian: Most new apartment buildings I’ve seen built in dense cities have a parking in the basement. It is certainly not a free solution but it also would not require another lot. . .

  3. Brian says:

    @chris It’s very expensive to put parking underground and requires curb cuts through the sidewalk which is dangerous for pedestrians. Many buildings in dense cities have underground lots that go unused because walking or public transportation is the better option. Cost is less of a factor because the tenants are typically upper income.

    I could be wrong but I think the tenants that lived at 79 Branch might be called the “working poor”. Living above a liquor store probably isn’t the best place to live but if the rent is cheap and the neighborhood is walkable with dozens of stores nearby, why mess with that?

    If the goal is public safety wouldn’t adding more cars to the neighborhood make it less safe?
    If the goal is economic development for Cambodia Town or Cupples Square wouldn’t guaranteeing more parking give residents more incentive to drive to Target or Nashua?
    If the goal is balancing the budget wouldn’t having an increase in taxable properties make sense?

    This is death by a thousand paper cuts. 60 yeas of zoning and city officials fighting for parking and not even realizing they’re digging Lowell’s grave.