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