Lowell City Council Meeting: July 26, 2016

Regarding the report on the new garage for the Hamilton Canal District and whether he is alarmed by the slippage of the construction date, Manager Murphy says that it will take some additional time for the MassWorks grant to bring the infrastructure to the site for the new garage and the city got news of the funding for the “Signature” Bridge which will also help with construction. He believes all of those things will come together at the same time so he is not unduly concerned. Manager Murphy adds that he will be coming to the council in the near future with a proposal for an additional garage for the HCD to provide spaces for the Judicial Center and Lowell Community Health Center.

Questions by Councilor Milinazzo about what appears to be weak penalties imposed on repeat offending bars by the Lowell License Commission. He says that because bars will tend not to appeal shorter suspensions, so the Commission tends to impose these shorter penalties. Milinazzo asks if the city has ever revoked a liquor license. The commission administrator explains the preference for “progressive discipline” and a desire to avoid a license holder filing an appeal. Councilor Elliott says the report (which Councilor Milinazzo also referred to but which wasn’t included in the public packet for this meeting) is “eye opening” and says it shows that repeat offenders continue to skirt the law. He says the license commission should get more aggressive and deal with the appeals as they come. Councilor Samaras says in light of all the problems, he is now in favor of cutting back on the hours of liquor establishments. Councilor Leary says we should not penalize “good” bars because of “bad” bars. Councilor Leahy sounds a similar note, saying the license commission needs to get tougher on bad bars. (Manager Murphy had said earlier in this discussion that he thought the long term approach to this problem was to cut back on the hours of service across the board, but the council either did not hear him, or is ignoring him).

Report on Smith Baker Center. Yun-Ju Choi of Coalition for a Better Acre briefs the council, saying the project will cost about $16 million. She expects 40% of that will come from tax credits; the rest will come from grants and donations. She mentions the October 7, 2016 benefit concert during Jack Kerouac weekend.

Report on cost of out of district students in Lowell schools. Council has a lengthy discussion on this because the cost of these students is estimated at $180,000 this year for the 36 students in this category. [This is a decades-long practice that allows teachers in the Lowell public schools who do not live in Lowell to have their children attend Lowell public schools. It is a perk for employees that was never bargained with the teachers union nor the focus of an official policy. It just was always done that way. I believe it arose this year during school committee budget deliberations because some of these students were attending some of the more popular public schools and parents of children who wanted to go to those schools but were turned away because of no spaces complained about the practice. The council has some standing to discuss the matter because it votes on the funding for the schools, however, as Mayor Kennedy points out, it is a matter for the school committee and before the school committee, which is addressing it]. Councilor Belanger pivots into “refugee” students in the city and the “high cost” of educating them. He says the city needs relief from that.

Twin ordinances amending the zoning code on mobile, manufactured, and modular homes. Referred to public hearing.

By Councilor Milinazzo, request City Manager have the Human Resources Department prepare a report highlighting the changes in health care benefits between 2011 to 2016, i.e., co-payment amounts, referral requirements, generic prescriptions.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent update council on status of charges brought against the 22 individuals arrested for drug distribution offenses in Operation Triple Play.

By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager have Police Superintendent provide a report on enforcement procedures for vehicles with out of state plates stored on local property.

[Motion that did not make it on the agenda, but which was timely filed]. By Councilor Belanger, request City Manager to investigate COPSYNC-911, a security communications system for the Lowell Public Schools. It allows teachers to instantly communicate with law enforcement. Says the school committee acted on it last year but nothing has been done. Says a friend of his, Brendan Flanagan, told him about it (the cost is less than $100,000) and he asks that Flanagan be allowed to speak. He does. It’s his company that sells the product. Councilor Belanger would like the manager to follow up with the School Superintendent on this.

By Councilor Leahy and Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager provide an update regarding traffic control and corsswalks on Andover Street.

By Mayor Kennedy, request City Manager instruct Traffic Engineer to develop a traffic scheme for the Mammoth Road/Pawtucket Blvd intersection, that will relieve morning traffic congestion.

Councilor Elliott asks for a suspension of rules to ask the City Manager about the agreement he is negotiating with UMass Lowell. (Councilors have a copy of a document but it wasn’t/isn’t available to the public). Moves that this matter be sent to a subcommittee. Mayor Kennedy recommends it be a joint subcommittee (finance and educational partnerships).

Council adjourns at 8:15 pm.

6 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: July 26, 2016

  1. Brian says:

    Here are some comparisons of cities and the number of municipal parking garages they operate.

    Somerville- 0
    Portsmouth- 1
    Manchester- 1
    Cambridge- 2
    Burlington VT-3
    Portland ME- 4
    Worcester -4
    Lowell-5 with now 2 planned

    Might there might be a correlation between the number of parking structures and the vitality of the city?

    Building additional garages in the HCD will make congestion worse in Lowell. Yet most motions and proposals are ideas about reducing congestion. It’s crazy nobody sees the connection.

  2. Brian says:

    Instead of over-regulating bars there should be more parking regulation. When parking enforcement ends at 6pm on Friday and Sat nights the curbside spots fill up for the night. This discourages diners from venturing into downtown. The restaurants then pivot to becoming nightclubs to attract customers who are typically young and full of piss and vinegar. Debauchery ensues.

    I’m not against nightclubs but don’t think every restaurant should have to become a de facto nightclub to make a buck. Extend meter enforcement to 9pm and we might see more restaurants, less clubs, and less debauchery.

  3. Brian says:

    Here’s a comparison of those cities we compete with and their meter enforcement end times.

    Cambridge- 10pm
    Burlington VT-10pm
    Somerville- 8pm
    Manchester- 8pm
    Worcester -8pm
    Portland ME- 7pm
    Portsmouth- 7pm
    Lowell- 6pm

    Lowell is at the bottom of both of my comparisons. We are seriously Podunk.

  4. Joe from Lowell says:

    Corey Belanger is an embarrassment. Xenophobia and cronyism, in just one meeting!

    Hey, Corey, how about the “high cost” of that doomed lawsuit against the drug treatment clinic, which you dragged out for months at city expense to help your Council campaign?

    Anybody in Lowell who bad-mouths refugees ought to have his head examined. If it wasn’t for refugees, Cupples Square would still look like the first scene of The Fighter.

  5. Paul Early says:

    Brian, I agree with your sentiments on both accounts. We are a suburb, I meant to say “city”, obsessed with parking. It is my understanding that the developer of the private dorms off French Street wanted to develop the parking lot between the canal an French street as an urban mixed use building. Apparently they were dissuaded from this idea at some point in the process so that they could have enough parking,

    Lowell should be allowing developers to determine how much parking they will need, Developers are in the business to make money and if they need parking, I am sure that they will arrange for it. Amherst, MA has done this with a development on Triangle Street on the edge of its downtown area. The developers have provided no extra parking, in fact they have removed some parking spaces.

    Parking garages with first floor shops, like the Early Garage are bad enough, but paved land used for parking is an eyesore. We should be charging those lots more property taxes: A) because they are eyesores and detract from the neighborhoods and B) because they create more storm water runoff without paying for the extra sewer capacity needed and they are gigantic heat islands in the summer (not to mention that the owners of these parking lots almost never properly clear their sidewalks).

    We should be encouraging drivers to park on the street (not the sidewalks) to slow down traffic instead of off-street. We can do this with paint (like Westford Street) or with bump-outs at corners like at Cuples Square and elsewhere. I am sure that there is grant money out there for the bump outs if the city were to also include rain gardens there. This would help or storm water run off problem here.

  6. hhammermill says:

    A few notes:

    * For runoff, many municipalities are adopting storm-water management policies; this usually involves a water absorption layer under new parking lots. I don’t believe Lowell has yet adopted such a policy (it would make sense given our combined water/sewer system)

    * Lack of parking combined with lack of alternate transportation does create problems; classic case was UML prior to the new garages; people used to park everywhere in the surrounding residential neighborhoods at a rate that was tough to enforce.

    * It is wise to require parking for new development unless there is adequate public transit; in Boston and Cambridge buildings near T stops have smaller parking requirements. This is the key. If there is not adequate transportation parking becomes an issue (people park where they should not). If there is adequate transportation then the pressure to park is reduced.

    * There is a correlation between parking and congestion

    * Many parking lots are eye-sores; this could be alleviated by, for example, requiring fencing or shrubbery

    * On-street parking is absolutely horrible for cyclists, is generally less safe then off-street parking and contributes to congestion. Most places are moving away from on-street parking.

    I believe the reason the city pursues parking garages is they’re attempting to compete with places like Westford for residents and businesses (where there is ample free parking).

    Near the Lowell Connector this makes sense to me as it will not contribute to congestion as there is ample inflow/outflow.

    The parking garages at UML North and South Campuses I always thought was a bad idea — there is no direct access to them so they directly contribute to city-wide congestion. Transportation would likely have been better served by other means (extending the commuter rail, integrating with the LRTA, etc).