Lowell City Council meeting: May 10, 2016
Capital Plan – City Manager Murphy says the final Capital Plan will be presented to the council along with the budget, but here are some of the highlights; $11.1mil in FY17 will be spent on Capital Plan which will leverage state and federal funds so city contribution will only be $6mil. First priority is infrastructure improvements including $3.2mil in paving sidewalks and curbing. $1.3mil will be spent on Hamilton Canal parking; $1mil for design of a garage and $300,000 for a temporary surface lot that can be used in the meantime. Concrete walkway on Lucy Larcom Parkway will be replaced with a more durable surface. On JFK Plaza, a third island will be added (adjacent to the two already in front of city hall) with the expectation the new island will be the site of new ethnic monuments. There will be some repairs to police station and to three fire stations. The next priority is economic development. Repairing the restrooms at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium is a priority. On the South Common, the plan previously presented to the council will now be implemented. The library will get new carpeting and several new pieces of equipment for DPW will also be purchased. Murphy describes it as a “cautious endeavor” that includes most of the capital items requested by councilors over the past year. He invited comments and suggestions from councilors on this preliminary plan prior to the presentation of the final plan.
Vote to approve TIF Agreement with MA/Com – MA/Com gives a brief presentation. MA/Com is a semiconductor company serving aerospace, telecom, and others. Founded in 1950. Corporate HQ in Lowell with 373 employees in Lowell. Global presence with 1200 worldwide employees and 5000 products that are components in other products like cell phones, airport radar, MRI machines, and many others. Two buildings in Lowell: Chelmsford St building is 173000sf; at 123 Hale St is 63000sf. They need more space. They are looking at sites in Mass and NH but one site is at 144 Chelmsford St, adjacent to their current building. They would like to build a new building there, creating a 3-building campus. Plan a 50000sq corporate HQ. Project will be about $15mil. Will add 47 fulltime jobs over the next 5 years in many fields. Display artist rendering of new building – lots of glass with some brick-colored material. It’s intended to “honor the history of Lowell.” They estimate that MA/Com employees spent about $1mil per year in Lowell.
Manager Murphy says this is exciting news; that it’s been a pleasure working with MA/Com on this. It’s a great corporate entity in Lowell. He also congratulates DPD leadership and staff for negotiating this TIF. Under the TIF, MA/Com will continue to pay their existing taxes but there will be a reduction on the new construction for a set period of time. Also, the agreement calls for Lowell residents to get preference in hiring for the 47 new jobs and that if those jobs are not created within 5 years, there is “claw back” of the tax break.
Councilors are united in their praise for this. Councilor Belanger emphasizes how the just-described Capital Plan shows the city’s commitment to infrastructure that supports businesses like MA/Com. He also mentions how the city’s plans to make the Lord Overpass more walkable will work well with the MA/Com expansion which is just a short distance down Chelmsford St.
TIF approved 9-0.
Council goes on record opposing cuts to the Mass Cultural Council in the FY17 state budget.
Personnel Subcommittee recommends full council submit individual performance evaluations of city manager to city clerk no later than May 20. Once results compiled, council should meet again to discuss a merit pay increase for the city manager based on the performance evaluation and on a survey of city and town manager salaries conducted by the mayor’s office.
A company offers a petition to rent space to erect a telecommunications tower on Gage Field. City Manager says the first he heard of this was when it appeared on the council agenda. Councilors are dubious of putting anything like this on that site. Even though the normal procedure is to send such a petition to the Law Department for legal evaluation and then it would come back to the council for a public hearing. Councilor Rourke makes a motion to deny the petition outright. Motion to deny petition passes unanimously.
By Councilors Leary and Leahy – Request City Manager send a letter on behalf of the city council to the Lowell High Headmaster and school community, congratulating them on successfully receiving accreditation. Councilor Leary explains the importance of this accomplishment and all the hard work that went it to it. Motion passes.
By Councilor Leahy, request zoning subcommittee meet to discuss the application of zoning by-laws throughout the city. Councilor Leahy says this is prompted by questions/suggestions from neighborhood leaders. Passes.
By Councilor Samaras, request City Manager budget an amount of $2000 for Sustainability Commission funding for upcoming fiscal year. Passes.
By Councilors Samaras and Belanger, request City Manager prepare a request to MassDOT to prioritize the need for the Rourke Bridge replacement. Mayor Kennedy relinquishes chair to Vice Chair Rourke. Councilor Samaras explains that the Secretary of Transportation spoke last week about this and said a replacement “was not on the horizon.” Based on that, Samaras says the city should create a commission or a committee of business and neighborhood leaders to advocate for making the Rourke Bridge replacement a priority with the state. He says the main concern is safety; the amount of time an ambulance or fire truck takes to get across the bridge at peak traffic times. Councilor Belanger concurs that it was discouraging to learn that the state does not see this as a priority. He says it should be up to the Lowell legislative delegation alone because people from many other communities depend on this bridge. Mayor Kennedy says that Lowell has wanted a permanent bridge for 30 years. This will stay on the backburner for the state unless we continuously push it at all levels. Says the state is holding a public hearing tomorrow in Andover on its capital plan. Lowell should have representatives there urging the state to include $1mil in its current capital plan for the necessary environmental study which is a precondition to getting anything further done. Predicts that the $500,000 bridge feasibility study from two years ago will be obsolete soon unless it is acted upon soon. This bridge has an impact on the entire region. Councilor Milinazzo agrees with everything that’s been said and then suggests what he describes as a radical idea of adding a third temporary lane to the bridge that would reverse direction with rush hour. Councilor Elliott says he sits on that bridge every day and agrees it needs to be replaced. He does point out that we won’t get a 4 lane bridge unless there’s a plan to widen Westford St to Route 3 to four lanes as well and the acquisition costs of doing that are very high.
By Councilor Rourke, request city council name the playground at Father Maguire Park in honor of Henry J. (Mickey) Corcoran Jr.
By Councilor Rourke, request City Manager bring Supt Taylor and UML Police Supt Brashers before council to speak of the partnership between the city and the university
By Councilor Elliott, request City Manager have Police Supt look into training available police officers to be able to identify counterfeit drivers licenses.
By Councilor Elliott, request City Manager report on the amount of revenue received from Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
By Mayor Kennedy, request Zoning Subcommittee discuss potential changes to current abutter notification requirements regarding variance and zoning changes. Mayor Kennedy withdraws this motion because it duplicates Councilor Leahy’s already-passed motion on the same topic.
Suspension of rules; Councilor Elliott brings up issue of loud, late night parties on Pine Street. Says he wants citizens to know that the city is aware of the problem and is trying to address it. Councilors go into a general discussion on loud late night parties.
Meeting adjourns at 8:23pm.
8 Responses to Lowell City Council meeting: May 10, 2016
The Rourke bridge madness continues. Why are our leaders so fixated on a new bridge? It’s really simple: congestion and growth. They look at a new bridge as easing congestion and creating new jobs- a new Market Basket.
What they fail to realize is that after the initial easing of congestion it will revert to bumper to bumper congestion once the word gets out. If a bigger bridge gets built traffic on Stevens St, Pine St, Westford St in Lowell, Steadman St, Middlesex St, Wood St, and Drum Hill will be atrocious.
Developers up river will build subdivisions in Tyngsboro and Hudson. Isn’t the Merrimack River listed as of the 10 most threatened rivers in the US?
Latent demand -people that normally don’t go over the bridge during rush hour will now make the trip.
Market Basket has clearly not redone the Wood St store as it waits for a new bridge. They have several vacancies on Wood St and could break ground tomorrow. The jobs will just move across the river. How is that growth?
Councilor Elliott makes a good point about widening Westford St. The chain stores would never give up their parking so hopefully that will help to stop the madness.
I’m surprised the smart people of the Highlands aren’t pushing at all levels to STOP THE NEW ROURKE BRIDGE.
Thank you Dick for this report. I would like to bring up two issues pertaining to tonights City Council meeting. Both Mr Leahy and Mayor Kennedy would like to have the Zoning Subcommittee meet. Such a meeting if the agenda were set up correctly would be a perfect opportunity to address parking issues. It would be a good idea to tackle this issue before the student housing gets too far. If enough people voice their support, it might be possible to allow for less parking with development, especially in downtown or in traditional neighborhoods. It seems to me that the market should be able to address parking issues. If a company wants to invest 3 or 5 million dollars in new housing or new commercial space, they will make sure that they have enough parking. If enough people show an interest in this, the council should listen. I think it would be a shame if the proposed housing development were to be surrounded by a sea of parking spaces as so many other developments in Lowell have had to do. We should employ the same tactics that Mayor Kennedy was suggesting in regards to MassDOT and the Rourke Bridge replacement, namely that the city and its representatives (city manager, city councilors, state reps, and our state senator) should press and keep on pressing the state on this issue,
My second issue is with the MA Com development. I am glad to hear them talking about making their land more attractive and developing a new building and bringing more jobs. But, with all the talk about promoting Chelmsford St as a gateway to Lowell, I heard no talk about MA/Com’s proximity to the Gallagher train station and the fact that there is absolutely no pedestrian access from the terminal to Chelmsford St. If I were on the MA Com commission working on this project, I would be working with the city to get a pedestrian bridge/access from the station to my MA/Com property. This would be a great perk! I am sure that people in the city would work with them, if Lowellians were somehow able to access such an amenity.
Brian, it’s “madness” to replace a temporary bridge that was installed 33 years ago? Is it also “madness” to build a better bridge so emergency vehicles can safely pass? Is it “madness” to build a bridge so pedestrians and cyclists don’t literally fear running into each other?
There already is direct access to Gallagher from the M/A-Com parking lot via a badge-access gate leading to a rear entrance to the garage. Obviously it’s only for employees to prevent commuters from using the parking lot as free parking. M/A-Com encourages employees to use the commuter rail instead of autos whenever possible
I’m not against replacing the bridge if it is structurally deficient(it’s not that I know of). I’m against adding capacity to the bridge. More capacity will also mean more Pawtucketville traffic on the Boulevard, Mammoth Rd, University Ave etc. Someone once said you can’t cure obesity by getting a bigger belt. It’s a great analogy for the Rourke bridge.
Just because something is called temporary doesn’t mean we should dispose of it. We should be thankful that we’re able to pay less on upkeep than what we would pay for a new bridge. I believe a new bridge would cost 66 million. I’m not sure how much the city would have to put up but when teachers are being laid off and we can’t afford a new police station we need to have priorities.
If emergency vehicles have been able to maneuver over the bridge for the last 33 years they can handle another 33 years. Pedestrian and bike access is vital for reducing congestion but given the location of the bridge on the edge of the city we’ll never get the return like we would if Jeff Specks plan for the Lord Overpass comes to fruition.
The heart and economic engine of Lowell is downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. Our focus should be on improving non vehicular mobility there so that jobs and growth can multiply. Spending money we don’t have to manufacture more congestion in the Highlands and Pawtucketville is absurd.
Brian, Eileen Donahue somehow was going to fastrack a new bridge if Lowell was an Olympic venue. If the money could be found for visitors why can’t it be found for residents that need to use that bridge? Pawtucketville has LGH, D’Youville and other medical facilities, a new computer company is coming to the MA/COM building and Market Basket wants to build a new store, UML has expanded. You say don’t build a new bridge because people will use it. They need to cross the river. Should they drive to cross the Tyngsboro or maybe the Aiken street bridge? We’ve made do for 33 years. If you think downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods matter more than Pawtucketville I disagree.
Is Belanger advocating expanding Westford street to four lanes ? Or am I misinterpreting ? Turning a dense walkable neighborhood into a freeway to accommodate faster vehicular commutes for residents on suburban style lots in Pawtucketville. Wow!
After everything we’ve learned about planning the last ten years; we’re circling back to the ” freeway through the city idea”.
Really makes my head hurt
Brian, are you suggesting some neighborhoods are more deserving than others and emergency vehicles should make do for another 33 years? Is the Lord Overpass structurally deficient? Not that I know of. It’s getting redesigned to accommodate increased usage due to development and to make it user-friendly for cars, bikes and pedestrians. The same can be said about the Rourke bridge.