Lowell City Council Meeting: February 23, 2016

Public hearing on rezoning along Pawtucket Blvd for benefit of Hamil Automotive, a longtime, family-owned business, presented on behalf of the business by Atty George Eliades. Sounds like a preliminary proposal was rejected by the planning board. Proponent wants to make its case to city’s DPD and to the city council zoning subcommittee. Neighbors speaking in opposition. First one says Hamils have always been good neighbors but he’s concerned about the long term consequences. Chair of Pawtucketville neighborhood group speaks in opposition. She says that despite this being a responsible business, the zoning change would change more than just this business but a larger part of the neighborhood. Councilor Milinazzo supports referring the change to the zoning subcommittee. Councilor Mercier pressing Atty Eliades on the reasons for the Planning Board’s negative response (not sure how she’ll vote). Councilor Rourke says he’s ready to vote on it tonight. Councilor Leahy says he’ll vote to send it to the subcommittee because they’ve been a good business and a good neighbor. Councilor Leary concurs with what Leahy just said, although he values preserving suburban areas. Councilors Elliott, Belanger, and Samaras all say they’ll support sending it to the zoning subcommittee. Councilor Mercier now says she thinks it should be sent to the zoning subcommittee. Motion is to recess the public hearing pending a recommendation of the zoning subcommittee. Motion passes unanimously.

Public hearing to create grant-funded position of crime analyst for Lowell Police Department. Passes unanimously.

Public hearing to create grant-funded position of victim advocate for Lowell Police Department. Passes unanimously.

Public hearing on ordinance to expand number of members on city’s Veterans’ Commission. Passes unanimously.

Vote to transfer $40,000 to election department to staff polling locations for presidential primary. Passes unanimously.

Vote to transfer $240,000 to provide increased surgery costs for Police/Fire Dept (presumably worker’s comp since the city is self-insured). Passes unanimously.

Amendment to ordinance on nuisance postings and a second ordinance regarding minimum maintenance of businesses. It’s a comprehensive ordinance based on actual problems that have occurred around the city such as business postings on public spaces like telephone poles. Also includes minimum maintenance for all properties for weed and overgrowth. Also mandates business owners responsibility for the cleanliness of alleys, sidewalks, etc. Sent to a public hearing.

Report from Councilor Elliott on finance subcommittee meeting from earlier tonight. Discussed FY15, FY16, and independent audit. FY15 had surplus that went to free cash that went to pay off last year’s snow and ice bill and also went into reserves. FY16, revenue is on target; snow and ice might have a surplus; discussed school teacher contract and its potential impact on future budgets. The independent audit had a good result but there are always ways to improve.

Resident of 494 Bridge Street makes a presentation regarding water runoff/plumbing issues. Manager Murphy says the city is not forcing any changes; it’s a new tenant that wants to make the changes, not the city. Seems to have been a misunderstanding which gets cleared up and everyone seems happy.

Motion by Councilor Elliott to form an Ad Hoc Subcommittee to address numerous charter/election issues that have been recently raised. He explains that there is no existing subcommittee that is charged with election issues. He doesn’t envision a standing subcommittee but one that just deals with the most recent issues that have already been sent to the personnel subcommittee. Motion passes.

Motion by Councilor Elliott that city council discuss changing to ward representation. No one seconds it. Motion fails for lack of a second.

Motion by Councilor Rourke to establish a preventative maintenance program for city school buildings. Ben Opara, chair of citywide parent council speaks in favor of the motion. He says many parents support this motion to help insure school facilities are repaired in a timely manner.

Motion by Councilor Rourke to have the Lowell Memorial Auditorium inspected for maintenance issues. Says that while at Auditorium events, other patrons have pointed out defects and problems.

Motion by Councilor Rourke for an update on events scheduled at Lowell Auditorium. Several councilors are critical of the lack or variety of events at the Auditorium. Councilor Milinazzo comments that the former management group (Mill City Management) got a percentage of the concession sales which may have given them an incentive to do more than just manage the building. The current management group doesn’t have the same incentive.

Motion by Councilor Rourke for a report on 58 Mammoth Road.

Motion by Councilors Rourke and Belanger for an update on old water department building on Hampshire Street. Councilor Belanger says he brought this up a year ago but recently neighbors approached him and Councilor Rourke with complaints about the lack of upkeep of this building.

Motion by Councilor Belanger for an update on development plans for former Jeanne d’Arc Credit Union headquarters at Merrimack and Cabot.

Motion by Councilor Leary for report on status of city dog park. The existing one is going to have to be moved. He’d like there to be more than one so people throughout the city can use it.

Motion by Councilor Leary for report on feasibility of a new crosswalk on Stevens Street between Midland and Westchester Streets.

Announcements: Councilor Leahy says he received much positive feedback on this year’s Winterfest. Heard nothing bad. Congratulates Manager Murphy and his team.

Council adjourns at 9:15 pm.