Lowell City Council Meeting: November 15, 2016

Communications from the City Manager

Plain Street realignment: Manager says city has negotiated an agreement suitable to the VFW. With that agreement, the design of the intersection can move forward.

Joanne & Drew Weber Way: Councilor Mercier was disappointed that UMass Lowell opted not to rename UMass Lowell’s right of way next LeLacheur Park. Councilor Mercier expresses her displeasure with UMass Lowell, considers asking Lowell’s state representatives to overrule that decision. Says “so much for harmony” and says next time UML comes before the council looking for something, she plans to be “reluctant” to support UML’s request. Manager Murphy says there is an entrance way that the city will name for the Webers with a ceremony at the start of the baseball season.

Planning Board Communication in support of change of zoning of parcel on Industrial Ave. Placed on file. (Public hearing on this matter later in this meeting).

Councilor Mercier, have Traffic Engineer find a solution to the parking of cars on both sides of Perry Street near Rogers Street. Explains that it’s a safety issue. Asks that it be referred to the traffic engineer for a report. Says when the condominium complex on that corner was constructed, it was supposed to have adequate parking for its residents onsite, but now all the residents park on the street. She adds that many times developers go before boards like the planning board, agree to conditions like onsite parking, get permission to build, sell off the units, then no one follows or enforces the limitations set by the city boards.

Councilors Rourke and Leahy, request City Manager instruct Lowell Police to issue citations to vehicles that block intersections throughout the city. Councilor Rourke says this motion arose from a prior discussion about backed up traffic at city bridges. Says the chronic blocking of intersections is a big contributor to our traffic problems.

Public Hearing to Amend Zoning on north side of Industrial Ave.

Speaking in favor: Sandy McNamara says she is thrilled that someone wants to use this lot for parking cars rather than building a high rise apartment building. Ken Harkins lives around the corner. Asks the council to approve it. Sam Poulten asks the council to change the zoning to benefit an excellent business (Gervais Auto) which does great charitable work for the Salvation Army. Says he also understands concerns for a future bike bath. He says he has confidence that a solution that accommodates the business but also preserves the bike path.

Speaking in opposition: Kristen Sikes of Appalachian Mountain Club. Also director of operations of Bay Circuit Alliance which runs from Plum Island to Kingston which is south of Boston. We are on the cusp of closing the last remaining gaps of this 230 mile trail. Is hopeful that if the zoning change is allowed it will include an easement for the trail. Laurie Weed who works at UML as environmental chemist instructor. She and her students have done work along River Meadow Brook. Recognizes great beauty of Lowell. Says Lowell is here because of its geography and geology. Hopes that we’ll be able to keep the natural beauty alive by preserving this trail. Also concerned about industrial runoff into River Meadow Brook by nearby businesses. Asks councilors to keep that in mind. Sharon Calpin representing Friends of Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. Goal is to connect it to the Concord River Greenway. Hopes rail trail continues from Cross Point along this abandoned rail line. It would be a great link and a safe way to go from Chelmsford to Lowell and back and forth. Bruce Freeman group is voting tonight to decide if it can help fund raise to purchase the parcel if necessary. Paul Marion, president of Lowell Heritage Partnership, want to see Gervais dealership grow and prosper. Says Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust is an amazing organization with more than 1000 members. He is here not to oppose this, but to ask for a time out to allow all of the parties to balance the interests of the business and a recreational trail which has been a community aspiration for a long time. Jane Calvin of Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust. Ambivalent about speaking in opposition because she thinks it can be a win-win situation that benefits the business and the trail Gives some history. Says big community meeting back in 2008 to try to preserve it for recreational purposes. That type of activity has continued. River Meadow Brook drains 28 acres and is a significant tributary to the Concord River. Some of the earliest industry in this region was long this Brook. In 2014, city council voted to support the Tanner Street Economic Plan and the concept of a River Meadow Brook Greenway trail. There’s a history of the city taking votes to make this greenway happen. Says she hopes an agreement can be worked out. Says the Gervais family have been great community members. Is anxious to hear the details of an agreement that’s rumored to be in the works. Mindy Dopler Nelson, a public health specialist, says it is important for public health to get people moving. Best way to do that is to provide safe trails. Shouldn’t create barriers to that.

Public hearing closed. Councilor Leary asks to hear from Attorney Nyman who represents Gervais. City Manager Murphy goes to a map that shows the parcel in question and the vicinity. Gervais proposes an easement on a portion of the parcel but because of space requirements they say they can’t grant an easement all the way through to Industrial Ave. There is an adjoining entity named Avcar. I have not talked with that entity but I will ask them to grant us an easement that would get to Industrial Ave. It would be a way to try to resolve this impasse.

Councilor Leary thanks city manager, also thanks Gervais family for granting the easement over a portion of the property. Asks what Gervais’s timeline is. Attorney Nyman comes to the microphone. Gives the history of the Gervais business. They just bought a Volkswagen dealership a year ago. Got an agreement with VW to get the franchise conditioned on them building two new buildings on their property and to have larger space for parking new vehicles. Has been negotiating with the railroad which agreed to sell 2 acres of land on the abandoned rail line. Found that the zoning of the railroad track needed to be changed. If he can’t get this zoning amendment, says VW will force them to move the dealership elsewhere. Nyman says time limit is December 18 to purchase the property. Says the Planning Board voted to recommend that the zoning change should be allowed. Says Gervais has offered the back part of the parcel to be used for the trail. Has also spoken with City Manager about alternatives. Have agreed to contribute some additional money towards the acquisition of rights over an adjacent parcel.

Councilor Leary says there’s no question that Peter Gervais is a great Lowell citizen, but the next step is to reach out to that abutter to see about the likelihood of an easement, so Leary moves to continue this to December 6, 2016. Seconded by Councilor Leahy. Councilor Mercier supports this. Says taking some time to try to work it out is the best action to take tonight. Praises Gervais but also thinks there is a need for some balance. Councilor Samaras says there are two issues. The first is economic development, especially with existing companies. But the second is about quality of life and this walking trail would do that. Asks if there is another means of access. City Manager says it would require crossing the brook. Councilor Rourke asks how long that trail has been there. Asks why hasn’t it been bought by someone who wants to use it as a trail? Murphy says people are using it right now for a trail. Councilor Milinazzo says he’s troubled by delaying this because the Gervais’s don’t have any control over the negotiations. He understands the spirit of the delay but feels we’re holding them hostage on this. Says we should vote on this tonight. Manager Murphy says he will contact Pan Am to ensure that this delay isn’t Gervais’s fault. Councilor Belanger says delaying this will hold the Gervais’s hostage. Says they want to produce a tax paying business. Holding them up for this makes no sense to me. He agrees with Councilor Milinazzo that we should vote on this tonight. Says this connection to the Freeman Trail is a wish list item. It’s not worth impeding a business. Councilor Rourke says if it is delayed, the Manager should come back to the council before December 6. Councilor Leary agrees, the quicker the better. He says the way he heard it, delaying it will not impede the Gervais’s. He says this council has supported these trails because it is an economic development strategy too. Councilor Belanger wants to ask Atty Nyman if they can live with the delay. Asks “Would this delay be detrimental to this deal?” Nyman says if we could be back here in two weeks, it would be better. Says he has confidence that the manager can help extend the deal with the railroad. He can’t say it’s going to kill us; hopefully we’ll be able to work it out. (The council meets in one week and three weeks, but not two weeks because of Thanksgiving).

Council votes to continue this matter to December 6, 2016 meeting.

Councilor Leahy, request City Manager extend yard waste pick up for this year if necessary.

Councilor Leary, request City Manager provide a preview of the new city government website before the Technology Subcommittee.

Councilor Leary, request City Manager provide an updated financial analysis regarding the effect that the new high school will have on debt service. The report should include a point in time analysis of prior school building projects that have recently been removed from debt service. Manager Murphy says this is a timely motion because we’re reaching a timely point in our decision making about the new high school. Says the report will be ready for next Tuesday. Asks the finance subcommittee to meet next Tuesday night for a full presentation.

Councilor Leary, request City Manager work with appropriate department in order to determine feasibility of placing four way stop sign at corner of Oak St and Fort Hill Ave.

Councilor Leary, request City Manager review the feasibility of allowing payments of required license and permitting fees to be completed online.

Meeting adjourns at 8:04

3 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: November 15, 2016

  1. hhammermill says:


    Thank you very much for highlighting the Gervais land purchase and the fact that even is an easement were granted the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail could not be connected to the Concord River Greenway (as proposed today).

  2. Paul Early says:

    hhammermill, I am not sure that I understand. I don’t read in Dick’s post that even if an easement is granted that the Concord River Greenway cannot be connected to the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail. I am not sure to which easement you are referring. There are two easements being discussed, other than the rest of the Pan AM property. One easement is in the back of the property which would not easily connect up to Industrial Avenue unless Gervais grant a full access easement all the way (the second easement). According to what City Manager Murphy says, the easement that Gervais proposes to grant would be, coming down from the north to just southwest of the Lowell Connector. In other words it would allow access from Ayres City across the Connector. There we would need to figure out how to gain access to a city street.

    I am not sure whether Gervais is proposing that the city could use land adjacent to River Meadow Brook on the east side or not? This would entail a bridge across the brook. I have a hard time imagining what the Gervais can do with the land that they hope to acquire on the west side of the brook as it is extremely narrow and right up against (or perhaps in) a wetland and the brook. Are they planning on bring shuttling people between the parcels via Industrial Ave or are they thinking that they can use what looks like in Google Map to be an old bridge running diagonally across the brook. Or perhaps the narrow strip of Pan Am property allows Gervais access to some other parcel of land closer to the Connector that they either own or hope to acquire. No matter what the answer is, it seems that there is more to this issue than meets the eye.

    I also wonder about a comment that Attorney Nyman made. As I understand it he was suggesting that the Parks and Conservation Trust or the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail people had not made any attempts to buy the Pan Am property, but is this true. Perhaps he was talking about one particular organization, but I find it hard to believe that none of the interested parties have not made attempts to buy the land.

    No matter what the answers to these questions are, this piece of land is very important. What Lowell needs are more paths to move from point A to B. The city has already shut down a set of streets at the old Prince Spaghetti Factory so that Carter Street no longer connects to Prince Avenue, Western Avenue is cut off from Dutton, Dutton Thorndike and the Lord Overpass make a pedestrian barrier and other urban renewal projects, like Fr. Morrisette have shut down many other connections. Don’t forget that Sal Lupoli, via the city and the state (with our tax dollars), is proposing to widen Thorndike. I am sure that this will be at the expense of park space at South Common, for there is not space on the west side of Thorndike to use.