Lowell City Council meeting: September 13, 2016

Motions taken out of order:

By Councilor Rourke. Request city council name the intersection of Fox and East 6th St after the Cullen family for their generations of service in the United States military. Passed.

Presentation by Architect of Judicial Center. Ground breaking for new courthouse will be on September 22, 2016. Construction begins this October and will be completed in November 2019. The building is big with 250,000 square feet, seven stories, 17 courtrooms plus the registry of deeds. It sits on a 3.5 acre site and faces the Hamilton Canal. In front is a “civic plaza” but there is landscaping all around – “there is no ‘back’ to this building.”

Motion Responses

New Panhandling Strategy. City Manager suggests sending it to a subcommittee. Council also takes up Councilor Elliott’s motion to learn more about “There’s a Better Way Program” which Albuquerque, New Mexico, uses to help address panhandling/homelessness. Both items sent to downtown subcommittee for further hearing.

Discussion about the Sullivan School being rented on Sunday mornings to a church group and its effect on the neighborhood and traffic. Councilor Leahy urges the school department to take such things into consideration when renting school space. Council also takes up following motion now: By Councilors Mercier and Rourke. Request city manager revisit the process for permitting after school programs and focus on whose authority it is to issue permits, what is the appeal process for denial of permits and if needed establish an ad hoc committee to oversee the permitting. Councilor Mercier wonders why groups with no connections to the Lowell Public Schools get permits year after year but youth baseball leagues are denied such permits. Councilor Rourke says this has come up before. Would like to know how the process works. Councilor Samaras says it’s a very good motion. Says when he was LHS headmaster, the school was much-sought-after, sometimes by groups with no connection to the schools. Keith Rudy speaks on the motion. Says he’s been part of Acre Youth Organization for 30 years for baseball and basketball. He says the school department has given ecumenical league a preference over the Acre group. Says one year there was “an incident” at the school. The following year they were denied their permit. Both matters sent back to city manager for a report and recommendation.

Report on “CopSync Alert System.” Councilor Belanger critical of school committee for not hiring this company to install the system. Asks that it be referred back to city manager for a further report.

Fire Department Management Review is referred to public safety subcommittee.

Council takes another motion out of order: By Councilor Mercier. Request city manager find ways and means to honor our Gold Star Families with a plaque on a memorial stone at Blue Star Park. Bonnie Dineen, president of local garden club, speaks in support of the motion.

Public Hearing

Mobile Food Vendor ordinance. City Manager explains says this ordinance would expand locations where food trucks may operate and that the city is not trying to ban them from the entire city. He wants to promote food trucks and lift some of the restrictions. This ordinance retains the existing ban on food trucks in central business district, but removes the existing ban from area around Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Tsongas Arena, Lelacheur Park. He says if the council wants to remove the ban on the central business district, that’s fine with him. Allison Lamey speaks in favor of the ordinance on behalf of the city’s DPD. Mindy Dopler Nelson speaks in favor of the ordinance, but says she would like the ban on downtown removed. Speaking in opposition is Joe Quinn (who owns the two Jimmy John’s restaurants in Lowell). Says food trucks are great in Charleston, SC and Austin, TX, but Lowell isn’t at that level yet. Says food trucks create unfair competition for fixed-site restaurants. Cites all the challenges faced by established restaurants in downtown Lowell and reiterates that because of their mobility, food trucks pose unfair competition. Another person who doesn’t live in Lowell but who comes here often says more food choices would bring them here more often. End of public comment.

Councilor Leahy says using a parking spot for a full day should cost a lot more than $10 (which is a rate set by another ordinance). He says he doesn’t want to restrict competition, but we should regulate it by charging more for renting a downtown parking space. Councilor Elliott believes in competition, however, a vibrant downtown is vital to the city. We’ve worked hard to bring restaurants downtown. They are there all the time. They should be protected from another food-seller who comes and goes at will. Councilor Milinazzo supports most of the ordinance but is concerned about the ban on the central business district. He asks that the emails received by the city be made part of the record of the public hearing. Suggests imposing the ban but then staying its implementation for a year to see if there is indeed harm done to downtown businesses. He makes a motion to approve the ordinance as presented but to waive the downtown ban for a period the administration deems is reasonable to assess its effect. Councilor Mercier says it’s a balance between supporting existing businesses but also providing citizens what they want (which is food trucks). She makes some suggestions of places downtown where food trucks might locate without taking up parking spaces. Councilor Belanger supports Councilor Milinazzo’s suggestion to try this out. Councilor Rourke says he will support the proposed ordinance, but not Councilor Milinazzo’s modification. Councilor Samaras says he supports the Milinazzo review idea but he doesn’t want food trucks near Lowell High during school hours. Councilor Leary says the manager’s proposed ordinance is reasonable and a good starting point so he’ll vote for it, not for the amended motion. Thinks for downtown, it would be better to have specific places like Lucy Larcom Park for them to locate, but that should come later. Councilor Milinazzo says based on the sentiments expressed, he’ll withdraw the amended motion. Councilor Elliott then moves to adopt the ordinance as proposed with the caveat that the city manager will report on its effectiveness in 9 months so the council can reconsider the downtown ban. Passes unanimously.

Apply for Mass Works Grant to widen Thorndike Street to create left turn lanes at Highland Street and at entrance to Gallagher Terminal. It will also allow a left turn from Highland Street onto Thorndike St.

Subcommittee report by Ad Hoc Subcommittee on elections and compensation for councilors and school committee members. Councilor Leary gives report. Entire council attended the subcommittee meeting. Moves that the council ask legislature for a home rule bill to increase nomination signatures from 50 to 150, but first to have a public hearing on it this motion on September 27, 2016. That passes. The proposal to increase salaries will require an amendment to an ordinance, so that must also go to a public hearing (which would also be on Sept 27).

Vote to accept various parcels on YMCA Drive from MBTA (for National Park tour bus parking). Passes unanimously

Ordinance to increase salary of city councilor and school committee members. Must go to a public hearing. Councilor Elliott says he will not support sending this to a public hearing because he doesn’t believe that the salary is what motivates people to serve on the council. Passes on a voice vote.


Councilor Mercier asks that all of these motions be taken as a group. The Councilors pass all the motions on a single voice vote. Councilor Elliott asks to speak on the Airbnb motion. Says they have caused a problem in Worcester. There needs to be some regulation for compliance with codes but also so residents know what is going on in their neighborhoods.

By Councilor Elliott. Request city manager address noise complaints at Sampas Pavilion.

By Councilor Elliott. Request city manager look into ordinance to regulate Airbnb room rentals.

By Councilor Elliott. Request city manager report on effectiveness of police officers patrolling on bicycles.

By Councilor Mercier. Request city manager have proper department work with resident abutters along the Concord River Walkway on Merrill St to purchase remaining city land.

By Councilor Rourke. Request city manager and city solicitor develop a new ordinance to largely increase the penalties for illegally dumping.

By Councilor Rourke. Request zoning subcommittee look into information defining in-law apartments.

By Councilor Leary. Request city manager have the police and engineering departments review the traffic patterns at Parker and Powell Streets.

By Councilor Leary. Request city manager provide city council with an update on the Lowell High School building project including a time-line for the project and actions needed by both the school committee and city council.

By Councilors Leary and Leahy. Request city manager investigate the feasibility of creating a walking/biking trail along the River Meadow Brook rail trail connecting Industrial Ave and Plain St.

By Councilor Leahy. Request city council dedicate the square at Rumford and Crystal Streets in memory of Victor Cote.

By Mayor Kennedy and Councilor Mercier. Request city manager take necessary steps to provide pedestrian lighting on the walkway that passes by the Swamp Locks Canal and connects Canal Street to Broadway and Dutton Streets.

By Mayor Kennedy. Request city manager have the traffic department provide a report relative to installing 4-way stop sign at High and Rogers streets and any other signage that will reduce traffic speed near the Moody School.

By Mayor Kennedy. Request city manager look into increased signage at intersection of Powell and Parker streets to prevent illegal turns onto Powell St.

5 Responses to Lowell City Council meeting: September 13, 2016

  1. Brian says:

    A cringe worthy meeting indeed.

    Jimmy John’s opening was hailed as a signal that Lowell is on its way to becoming a college town. Bus drop-off for UML students was altered to be right in front of Jimmy John’s. Now the council votes to restrict competition and ban food trucks downtown because Jimmy John’s thinks it’s unfair. Jimmy John’s is no different than McDonald’s or Subway. It’s a freaking fastfood chain restaurant.

    UML students are not waiting in line for Jimmy John’s. Suburbanites are not coming to Lowell for Jimmy John’s. Jimmy John’s is a decent option to get a bite to eat when in DTL. Allowing food trucks in DTL would attract people with money to come downtown and spend it. More competition means more opportunity for everyone, including Jimmy John’s. More people walking around might buy sneakers, visit a museum, or yes- buy a sub at Jimmy John’s.

    How could a food truck stay in the same metered spot for 10 hours? Meter feeding is a ticketable offense. The number of food trucks that would waste their time searching for a metered spot would’ve been small anyway so it just makes this motion all the more ridiculous.

  2. Liz says:

    Food trucks serve a different audience than a sit-down restaurant. While take-out sub places may be affected, people will patronize the locations with the best food and the best prices. If the food trucks are beating out the brick and mortar, perhaps the brick and mortar needs to take a closer look at what it offers for the price.

    I would like to see the city designate several “food truck” spots in the central business district. It allows locals to know exactly where a food truck might be on any given day, and it allows those of us who promote the city to be able to point to a map and say, “If food trucks are in downtown on a particular day, they are in one of these spots”. They should be locations that are not smack in front of other food establishments (Examples: in the block on Merrimack Street where Santander and Enterprise Bank are located, or on Market Street where the Market Mills building is located or by Align Credit Union). The meeting commenter from Methuen was correct – with more food options, more people will be drawn to DTL, and that will work to the benefit of ALL businesses in downtown.

  3. Paul Early says:

    Brian, it was my sense that Jimmy Johns did not want the ordinance change passed at all. They wanted a more restrictive law. I also would like to see more food options in downtown aside from the restaurants already present, especially more affordable options, which by the way many food trucks are not. It was my sense that Jimmy Johns wanted to keep the food trucks away from special events as well since they get Sunday and Saturday business from them.

    From the subtext of the meeting, it seemed to me that a reason for not allowing the food trucks on Merrimack, Central and Market streets is to leave parking spaces for the current brick and mortar businesses. I also think that the city has demonstrated goodwill toward Jimmy Johns by having parking cleared out so that UML could have a shuttle stop there. I have never eaten there but, I am not surprised that a sandwich shop’s business is not booming in a city whose national cuisine seems to be pizza and sandwiches.

    It is also my understanding, from a conversation I had with a food truck vendor and from the city council meeting, that food trucks rent/license parking spaces per day. Mr Murphy said that this costs $10 a day. I think at least one city councilor spoke a raising this fee. Rita Mercier seemed interested in having a designated area, either Lucy Larcom Park or the Kennedy Center for food trucks to be closer to Merrimack Street. Both these ideas were shot down by the City Manager since they have plans to make even more Lucy Larcom pedestrian attractive and oriented and out of concern for the Kennedy Center Plaza\s structure.

  4. Gail says:

    Although I have heard of cities in which popular food trucks tweet out their location for the day, I don’t follow the hypothesis that food trucks would attract people to downtown. Most people I know get a half hour maybe an hour for lunch, assuming they get a lunch break. I have a difficult time envisioning someone leaving where ever they are, getting in their car, driving 15 minutes to downtown Lowell, find, and pay for parking, walk to the food truck, and then what: stand on the side walk and eat, walk back to their car and drive back to work, home or where ever, or wait in line a second time, to get a seat at a park bench in one of the few open spaces downtown? Perhaps that is one of the reasons why JFK and Lucy Larcom were suggested because they have open space where space could be created for eating. Or will there be people who drive downtown, double park to let one person out of the car with the orders and then continues to drive around, and then double parks to pick up the person and the orders? As far as competition with brick and mortar restaurants goes, I cannot help but feel that the overhead (e.g., rent, which contributes to the tax base) would be higher than for a food truck.