Lowell Week in Review: September 24, 2017

2017 Preliminary Election

Lowell’s preliminary election for the city council is this Tuesday, September 26, 2017. Polls will be open from 7am until 8pm. If you want to vote in the preliminary election but are not sure of where you are supposed to vote, Secretary of State William Galvin’s website will tell you.

The city has placed some temporary signs at a few intersection with a reminder of the election, but other than that and a small notice on the main page of the city website, the city (as in the government of the city of Lowell) hasn’t done much to promote the election.

Sending a postcard to every registered voter would only cost a few thousand dollars, and sending a text, email or robocall but cost nothing. Maybe those will all arrive on Monday, but even if that’s the case, it would seem a bit late in the process.

Consequently, we shouldn’t be surprised when turnout Tuesday is abysmal as it was in the 2015 preliminary election when only 3,952 of 58,878 registered voters (6.7 percent) participated. When voter participation lurks in the single digits, it provides pretty strong evidence that the current system of government just doesn’t work for a majority of people in the city.

That topic – whether to change the city’s charger – was discussed at a city council subcommittee meeting earlier this week. If you didn’t read it already, I wrote a blog post about that meeting. The city charter and the related lawsuit that has been brought against the city under the Voting Rights Act will be the subject of an informational meeting to be held on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 from 5:30 pm to 8 pm at the Lowell Senior Center, 276 Broadway. That meeting is sponsored by Lowell Votes, Lowell Alliance, Coalition for a Better Acre and Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association.

If you do vote in the Tuesday’s preliminary election, as you should, here is the order of council candidates you will find on your ballot (there were not enough school committee candidates to have a preliminary election for that office):

  1. Jeffery S Wilson
  2. David J Conway
  3. Rita M Mercier
  4. Daniel M Flynn
  5. Jose W Negron
  6. Rodney M Elliott
  7. Karen Cirillo
  8. Corey A Belanger
  9. James L Milinazzo
  10. Paul Ratha Yem
  11. John J Leahy
  12. Martin J Hogan
  13. Robert W Merrill Jr
  14. Edward J Kennedy Jr
  15. Vesna Nuon
  16. Daniel P Rourke
  17. Pan So
  18. James Jim Leary
  19. Sokhary Chan Chau
  20. Joseph P Boyle
  21. Matthew E LeLacheur
  22. William Bill Samaras
  23. Robert Gignac

2015 Preliminary Election

While the legal reason for having a preliminary election is to narrow the field of council candidates to 18 and school committee candidates to 12, many see the preliminary as an opportunity for candidates to gauge their strength, sort of a dress rehearsal for the final election in November. We can test that premise by comparing the results from the 2015 preliminary election with the results from the 2015 final election.

2015 Preliminary Results (City Council)

  1. Rita Mercier – 2129
  2. Rodney Elliott – 1778
  3. John Leahy – 1678
  4. Dan Rourke – 1669
  5. Jim Milinazzo – 1562
  6. Ed Kennedy – 1562
  7. Jim Leary – 1558
  8. Bill Samaras – 1533
  9. Vesna Noun – 1303
  10. Corey Belanger – 1273
  11. Joe Mendonca – 1203
  12. Dave Conway – 1138
  13. Raul Ratha Yem – 1125
  14. Jordan Gys – 812
  15. Pan So – 706
  16. Cheth Khim – 697
  17. Martin Hogan – 424
  18. Robert Merrill – 291

2015 Final Results (City Council and School Committee)

City Council

  1. Rita Mercier – 6228
    2. Rodney Elliott – 5420
    3. Edward Kennedy – 4797
    4. John Leahy – 4566
    5. Bill Samaras – 4540
    6. Jim Milinazzo – 4434
    7. Dan Rourke – 4390
    8. Corey Belanger – 4158
    9. Jim Leary – 4011
    10. Vesna Nuon – 3550
    11. Joe Mendonca – 3416
    12. Dave Conway – 3218
    13. Paul Ratha Yem – 3020
    14. Jordan Gys – 2652
    15. Pan So – 1840
    16. Cheth Khim – 1674
    17. Martin Hogan – 1216
    18. Robert Merrill – 824

School Committee

  1. Steve Gendron – 4778
    2. Jackie Doherty – 4186
    3. Connie Martin – 4119
    4. Robert Hoey – 3872
    5. Robert Gignac – 3897
    6. Andy Descoteaux – 3772
    7. Dennis Mercier – 3623
    8. Ben Opara – 2392
    9. Christopher Roux – 2271
    10. Kamara Kay – 2232
    11. Patrick Farmer – 2078
    12. Dominik Lay – 1968

Tuesday’s City Council Meeting

Traditionally city councilors refrained from placing motions on the agenda for council meetings that fell on election day. One reason for that was to wrap up the meeting before the polls closed at 8 pm to get in some last minute campaigning and also to refrain from drawing attention away from the election. That practice has faded in recent years and it has been completely ignored for this preliminary election which finds 15 council motions on the agenda. Here they are:

  1. Belanger – Req. City Mgr. update City Council regarding bids for corporate sponsorship of parks and open spaces.
  2. Elliott – Req. City Mgr. contact UMass-Lowell Engineering Department to conduct study on school busing in the City, similar to MIT study conducted for Boston schools that improved bus times and saved millions in costs.
  3. Elliott – Req. City Mgr. have Supt. of LPD provide a report on efforts to increase enforcement to address drug dealing.
  4. Leary/C. Belanger – Req. City Mgr. review the feasibility of placing a four way stop sign at Liberty and Smith Streets.
  5. Leary – Req. City Mgr. have Verizon or the appropriate utility company remove the steel bar at the corner of Crowley Park and Campbell Drive/Wedge Street.
  6. Leary – Req. City Mgr. provide an update regarding property at 156 Wilder Street.
  7. Leary – Req. City Mgr. review the feasibility of implementing a city-wide ordinance requiring the installation of additional conduit in the public right of way whenever a street opening or trench permit is processed on behalf of telecommunication providers, utility service providers, communication carriers and other similar providers; the review should include if there is an economic benefit to the city/tax payer for creating such an ordinance.
  8. Mercier/C. Ellliott – Req. City Mgr. look into the feasibility of having a USA Flag Drop box located on the grounds of Lowell City Hall; and have City Council support the program.
  9. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department complete work done in July of 2016 at 392 Princeton Blvd. by installing retaining wall as promised to resident before onset of winter frost.
  10. Mercier – Req. City Mgr. have proper department post two (2) “No Parking Here To Corner” signs up at the corner of Bowers and Fletcher Streets on both sides of Bowers Street; in addition address speeding issues on Fletcher Street by placing radar speed display device on that street.
  11. Milinazzo – Req. City Mgr. provide an updated report regarding the number of trash violations issued and funds collected year to date.
  12. Samaras – Req. City Mgr. have LPD set up speed radar display on Beacon, Mt. Pleasant and Reservoir Streets.
  13. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. and appropriate personnel from DPD meet with adjoining Greater Lowell communities to discuss the potential for responding to the recent Amazon request for proposals.
  14. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. instruct the proper department to look into pedestrian crossing signal at the intersection of School Street and Branch Street.
  15. Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. instruct the proper department to look into the installation of speed limit and/or “Slow Down Children At Play” signs on School Street and on Laurel Street.

The agenda is otherwise a light one, with a few board appointments and just two motion responses. However, one of those replies to a Mayor Ed Kennedy motion that asked if the proposed new high school at Cawley Stadium would “trigger a Broad Base Traffic Impact Assessment by Mass Department of Transportation pursuant to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.”

The short answer is that it will, both because of the increase in traffic and because of the Article 97 waiver that will be involved. The memo, from Interim City Engineer Nicolas Bosonetto to City Manager Murphy, extensively describes the process. While the memo is filled with information, I’m not sure of the practical consequences of this environmental study. On one hand, the memo says that it will take at least a year to complete and that all other state action, including by the School Building Authority, will be delayed until the study is done, but the memo also states that the architects are aware of this requirement and its timetable and that design work on the new high school will continue at the same time.

Hopefully, the real-world implications of this state requirement will be clarified at Tuesday’s meeting.

Plan for 5-story structure with donut shop drive through on Hynes’s lot, on Gorham Street near end of Lowell Connector

Honey Dew to replace Hynes’s?

Hynes’s Tavern was for many decades an iconic institution in Lowell. Located on the Gorham Street right next to the entrance of the Lowell Connector, Hynes’s was a popular spot and sponsor of the very popular Irish Feet Are Running road race in March. But it closed a few years ago and has sat vacant ever since.

Now, Gorham Street Development Corporation has submitted a proposal for the property which will soon be considered by the Lowell Planning Board. The proposal seeks to demolish the existing Hynes building that’s right along Gorham Street, and construct a five-story, mixed use building further back on the parcel. On one side of the ground floor would be a Honey Dew Donuts store with a drive through window, on the other side would be office space. On the four floors above would be sixteen one-bedroom apartments.

As much as I’d welcome a coffee and donut shop only a block from the Superior Courthouse, the proposed exit for the drive through lane would only be a few feet from the traffic light at Gorham and the end of the Lowell Connector, a place with frequent traffic backups in both directions. In a written assessment of the project, the city’s engineer expresses similar skepticism about the feasibility of the proposed use given the traffic situation.

Elm Street looking towards Gorham & Highland. Gas station on left.

Sometimes in situations like this, the Planning Board imposes well-meaning conditions or limitations that are intended to avoid predictable problems. Such was the case a decade ago when a gas station/convenience store was proposed at the corner of Gorham and Elm streets, just a block away from the Honey Dew Donut proposal. One of the concerns expressed to the Planning Board was the vehicles exiting the gas station onto Elm Street that were turning left to head towards Gorham would block the traffic coming across Gorham from Highland Street. No problem, the Planning Board said; we’ll just prohibit left turns at that point, and added that as a limitation on the allowance of the project.

When the gas station went up, the owner dutifully inserted a thin metal stake and a small “no left turn” sign at that exit. Within a week, someone had knocked over that sign and it’s never been replaced. So now vehicles routinely make that left turn and just as routinely block the upcoming traffic was is shown in the photo above (which is taken on Elm Street looking towards Gorham and Highland). That sign has been down for ten years and drivers have been violating the Planning Board’s prohibition ever since.

In the context of all the traffic hazards in this city, this is a small thing, but I think it invites the larger question of who enforces the many conditions imposed by city regulatory boards and, if it’s not feasible to enforce them, why do we bother imposing them?

2 Responses to Lowell Week in Review: September 24, 2017

  1. Marty Lorrey says:

    Concerning the election on Tuesday I think there is a potential for at least 7000 voters or more. 1)Both sides of the high school issue have been very effective in their message and I think this will push up the vote.2) Neighborhoods that lose a vote on the council floor come out to vote. Belvidere will come out with a much higher turnout than normal for a preliminary election.In fact This maybe their chance to demonstrate their own ballot initiative on Tuesday. Well with that said Good luck to all the canidates and a well deserved pat on the back to the opposing high school sides for a job well done for getting out their message.

  2. Brian says:

    The design proposal for the Honey Dew is pretty bad. It’s inappropriate to have a drive thru business at such a congested location.

    A more appropriate proposal would be to have a building built up to the curb with ground floor shops all along Gorham st and housing above.

    Parking would be hidden in the back and auto entry and egress would be on South Highland only.

    The ground floor would need to be 70% glass to attract window shopping and be pedestrian friendly.

    Adding metered parking in front of the building would help the businesses and shield pedestrians from outbound traffic.