Lowell City Council Meeting: April 5, 2016

Mayor Kennedy introduces Bryan Perry, the new city auditor.

Councilor Leahy asks for a point of personal privilege, then moves that the council demand an apology from the government of Cambodia for statements by a government spokesman that were critical of Councilor Rita Mercier. Motion passes unanimously.

Lowell National Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo with Linda Sopheap Sou to speak to the council about the Centennial of the National Park Service (which is this year). She says from its inception, the Lowell Park was intended as a “partnership park” and one of the prime partners was and continues to be the city of Lowell. She commends the work of the Lowell Historic Board for its work on historic buildings and on the design of new ones. The federal historic tax credit program is administered by the National Park Service so the Lowell Park has assisted local developers in many new projects. The Park has also invested $51mil in the city’s canals, rivers, and adjacent walkways. She thanks the city for lighting up the canals this year. Linda Sou now talks about all the programing in place for the Centennial.

Public Hearing – Amend ordinance to change the name of Green Building Commission to Lowell Sustainability Council. Yovanni Baez Rose of DPD speaks in favor of it. Says name change will better reflect the mission, especially implementing the city’s Sustainability Plan. Jay Mason of the Commission also speaks in favor of the change and of the important issues the commission addresses. A number of other residents speak in favor of the change and highlight the importance of the work of the commission.

Public Hearing – Amend ordinance regarding traffic on Park Avenue East near the Pyne Arts School. [Quite a few residents of Park Ave East are present]. Neighbors want to keep it the way it is, one way at drop off and pick up. Many neighbors speak in favor of the ordinance, which makes the road one way for 90 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the afternoon. A number of Lowell residents who are parents of students at the Pyne School urge the council to reject the proposed ordinance and revisit the temporary plan that made the street one way throughout the school day. Councilor Elliott suggests enforcement is a big issue. He says he will support the ordinance because it is a quality of life issue for the neighbors, but safety of children is critically important, but that can be addressed through better signage and more aggressive police enforcement. Councilor Samaras agrees with Councilor Elliott about better enforcement. Councilor Milinazzo moves to adopt the ordinance as presented. Passes 8 to 1 with Councilor Rourke voting against.

Police Feasibility Study – Consultant gives a presentation on the study conducted on a new police station and a new DPW facility. Councilor Milinazzo asks about the central fire station. Manager Murphy says the fire station would stay where it is but the maintenance facility would be co-located with the police and DPW facility. Also says the first estimated cost was $150mil, so they’ve pared back this request (to $96mil). Says city will come back with a financial analysis of the different scenarios. Says you cannot build a new high school and this facility without raising taxes. Councilor Elliott talks about the problems with the existing police station and says just “kicking that can down the road” is not a good idea. Says we can’t be jeopardizing public safety and it is at a point where we have to do something with our police station, but I don’t think we can afford or need what is proposed here. Manager promises the council a financial analysis that projects debt service for a new high school and other major projects including police station, DPW, etc, to help the council make its decision. Councilor Mercier says these are great proposals if only we had the money. Council votes to accept the report.

Votes authorizing city manager to execute various labor agreements with several city unions. Council supports unanimously.

Councilor Milinazzo motion to install motion activated pedestrian light at corner of Andover St and Arbor Rd.

Councilor Samaras requests report on sewage issues on Ludlam St

Councilor Samaras requests report on benefits of residential vs commercial uses at Connector Park. (Also takes up similar motion by Councilor Leary). Councilor Samaras says his concern is that this is the only high rise commercial property left in the city. He’d like to see a projection of what benefits would come for retaining it for commercial uses rather than allowing this proposal which calls for all residential. He says in years past, Lowell had to take whatever it could, but we are in a position to look long term at what is best for the city. Councilor Leary points out the importance of the UMass Lowell business incubator program that will help create new, high tech companies that might be seeking parcels like this one. City Manager says under current zoning code, Planning Board alone can issue a special permit to allow residential housing. However, if council wants the manager to tell the planning board to slow down the process until the council provides its input, he will do that. Leary makes a substitute motion to change the zoning in the high rise commercial district to eliminate the ability of the planning board to allow residential uses by issuing a special permit. Councilor Rourke says we should proceed cautiously with this since the developer of this proposal is already well into it and we might not want to make a big change now. Councilor Belanger says planning board might want something better, but they have to address what’s in front of them now. He predicts it will be young professionals with disposable income living there due to the highway access to Boston. City Solicitor says council can change the zoning code at any time and since this project has not already been granted its special permit, then this project would be bound by the zoning change. Mayor Kennedy says he was on the council long ago when this district was created. It does not allow residential use except by special permit. He says this is one of the last pieces of industrial land available for commercial development and with it adjacent to the highway it is extremely valuable for commercial use. He doesn’t think we should give it up for residential. He says there is no harm in passing the substitute motion because that would head to a public hearing. In the interim, the manager can give us a report on the best use for the parcel. If residential is the best use, we can vote against the change at the public hearing. The apartment building might seem good now, but you don’t know what it will be like ten years down the road. We do no harm by voting for the substitute motion and putting everyone on notice that we might change things. He says it’s important for this council to act promptly on this. Councilor Leahy says “I couldn’t have said it any better myself.” Says with the city’s recent track record, we should hold out for a commercial or industrial use. Councilor Rourke says this sets a dangerous precedent of allowing a land owner to proceed with a plan and then have the council “pull the rug out from under them.” Councilor Elliott says both motions asked for reports. Says he’s not comfortable moving forward with the zoning change; does support the request for a report. Says this seems like a knee jerk response. Maybe this is a good project. He would like a little more information. Councilor Leary asks how much time we have regarding the planning board? He says, “look at Kronos” and consider the potential it has to draw similar companies to that neighborhood. Councilor Milinazzo says we should discuss this further. Says he was disappointed by the nature of the proposal. Still, we shouldn’t act impulsively. We should wait for the report. He says moving too fast tonight risks the land owner/developer suing the city. Adds that we have plenty of land in Hamilton Canal District and on Tanner Street. Mayor Kennedy says that district does not allow residential use except by special permit. The developer may have spent money but at no time should the developer have expected to build residential by right. He says the issue is, do you support economic development or not? Vote is Leary’s substitute motion to change the zoning. Defeated 5 to 4 with no votes from Milinazzo, Rourke, Belanger, Elliott, and Mercier. Yes votes were from Leary, Leahy, Samaras, and Kennedy.

Councilor Mercier requests report on Lowell House re-development plan

Councilor Belanger requests report on future disposition of District and Superior Courthouses once Judicial Center is completed for possible use by Lowell Police Dept or School Dept.

Councilor Leahy requests report on cleanup of homeless camps around the city.

Councilor Mercier requests information from Career Center regarding OSHA training as it is done in Lawrence.

Mayor Kennedy requests and estimate of cost to extend Clay Pit Brook culverts to below the Pawtucket Dam.

Meeting adjourns at 9:46 pm

5 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: April 5, 2016

  1. Hans Hammermill says:

    What is most interesting about the Pyne traffic debate is the final outcome beginning to end — it began with a number of documented issues, it was discussed in a total of four city council meetings, two engineer reports and three ordinance revisions and the Pyne walked away with nothing in the end (effectively nothing was changed in the traffic pattern and although things like crossing guards were discussed no commitments/motions were made).

  2. Brian says:

    Residential or commercial high-rise is a false choice for the parcel on Wellman St. The reason it hasn’t been developed for so long is because it’s in a weird location. We don’t need more traffic inducing, low returning, capital draining, near-the-highway development.

    Sprawling multi-story apartment complexes are being built up and down route 3 and 128. The big banks, insurance conglomerates, and pension funds must be looking to dump their money somewhere. If the market were there for an office tower it would be there already.

    Lowell is in a position of strength in that we have an authentic, walkable urban downtown next to the Hamilton Canal District. There’s great opportunity to attract high returning development and if ‘mixed-use’ the “professionals” won’t have to drive to work. Let’s keep focused on that area.

    If an acre to acre tax generating comparison is done between the Cross Point property and same sized area in DTL I guarantee DTL would bring in more revenue. Especially after TIFs.

    The Wellman St parcel should be storage units if anything at all.

  3. Hans Hammermill says:

    Thinking about it more, in the Pyne/Park Ave East debate might be a stark example of “Belvidere bias” in the City Council and the unintended side-effects of it.

    The Pyne school has documented unsafe traffic conditions. The city studied it and a number of recommendations were made — one of which was to modify Park Ave East. Option 1 of the analysis Sgt. Peaslee and City Engineer Bosonnetto read:

    “Park Ave East should be turned into a one-way street at all times from McGee Way to the entrance to the tennis courts. New larger signage should be installed to more clearly alert motorist of this restriction. The accompanying CMVI fine should be posted as well to show the consequences of ignoring this restriction. Two new signs should be added at both exits of the Shedd Park parking lots indicting that only a right hand turn is allowed.”

    Generally the idea was to separate flows of cars and busses as well as make the situtaion more clear. Very straight-forward. After four city council meetings and three ordinance revisions this was the final ordinance change approved last night (please read it carefully):

    Added: “Between the hours of (8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m and 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.) Monday through Friday, on the days only when school is in session, upon the streets or portions thereof vehicular traffic shall move only in the direction indicated below: Park Ave East From Francis McGee Way northerly to Knapp Ave”

    Deleted: “From Francis McGee Way northerly to Knapp Avenue (between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.)

    Notice the final change was the exact opposite of the initial recommendation. And there was no motion for any other recommendation in the report. Why?

    This is the part that confused me last night. The city engineer, the police department and the Pyne administration all clearly defined the problem, studied it, quantified it and documented it in a clear and unbiased manner. They gave several clear formulas to alleviate the situation and the City Council had several options to explore.

    The key is the Belvidere residents in opposition were not able to quantify what, exactly, the impact to their neighborhood would be. In addition the City Council was not interested in exploring the impact. I am still interesting in learning what problem this would have creatd for them; as best as I can tell they did not like the fact they would loose a shortcut through the park to get around the light at Boylston and Rogers Street.

    That is the issue here; Belividere residents unquantified and nebulous “not liking” something won over unbiased, studied and quantified school need. This was not a case of over-dramaticized “save the children”; it was pretty straight-forward.

    Moreover not only did the Pyne not get anything in the recommendations, zero steps were taken to make the traffic situation better and morever the city council went the exact opposite direction and made the ordinance even more confusing thus making the situation worse — half of Park Ave East is now one-way only during certain hours and certain days. . .who the heck is going to understand that signage and follow it?

    As one Belvidere resident said during the hearing: “I just ignore the signs.”

    And that is the problem with the “Belvidere bias” of the City Council; Belvidere residents unquantified feelings slowly wittle away and win over a school’s quantified, documented and studied need for on a very basic safty issue.

    I have to say that this example was pretty extreme — not only did the City Council not implement any recommendations of the report, they went in the complete opposite direction. There was no compromise here; the Pyne got nothing and it felt like the City Council went even farther and slapped them down hard for even trying.

    In 60 days the Park Ave East ordinance change will come up for reveiw again at the city council. I hope there will be another lively debate on this topic.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The owner and the potential developer of the parcel only wants to build residential because the only return they can get. The rates for Commercial do not lead to a viable commercial project. When see firms like Kronos coming into the city they aren’t building an entirely new building they are taking over or refurbishing and old site (as is the case with the Date center in spaghettiville). The decision is new residential or nothing, not new commercial or new residential. If commercial could have been done it would have been done already.