Lowell City Council Meeting: December 12, 2017

Mayor’s Business

Recognize Mayor’s Holiday Fest Committee. The Mayor’s Holiday Fest was held at the Zorba Room on November 28, 2017. Mayor Kennedy reads list of bands that performed and then introduces all members of the committee.

Unfinished Business:

Council abandons an interest in Montreal Street. Approved.

Manager’s Section

Efforts to Greater Enforce Laws on Drug Dealing. Councilor Belanger commends the efforts of the police department, some of which are regional in nature. Says other parts of government have been addressing treatment but the police have to enforce the laws to cut down on the supply.

Reports on “Change for Change.” Councilor Belanger speaks on council’s concern about “aggressive panhandling.” Says those efforts were “shot down by the ACLU.” But the situation was not hopeless because the City Manager’s office came up with an innovative approach that asks people to donate money to a local charity rather than directly to panhandlers. He predicts this will become a model for the Commonwealth and possibly for the rest of the country.

Problem Activities on Kirk and Merrimack Streets. Councilor Samaras thanks the manager and the chief for the report. He says it addresses an issue that affects every city in America; the homeless. He says the Living Waters facility on Kirk Street attracts 50-60 people every day. They do good work but that might not be the right place for the facility to be located. Asks police chief to address the issue. He says the increase in assaults is late at night. The police have devoted resources to that area during the day. Says they have reduced some of the disorder. He says people who leave Living Waters migrate to Lucy Larcom Park and engage in negative activity. The chief says some of the people who congregate there have mental health and substance abuse issues, so the police end up as assisting with social services as well as enforcing the law. The chief thinks having a meeting of all concerned so they can explain their concerns and share ideas. Councilor Milinazzo says he was part of a meeting with the pastor of Living Waters several years ago over the concerns about Living Waters, but she didn’t care about what was going on outside. She said she had the right to have the facility there and it was up to others to deal with what happened when her visitors left. Councilor Milinazzo also recounts his own interactions with people who use Living Waters. They were not pleasant encounters and they had a detrimental impact on downtown businesses. Councilor Mercier says she has spoken with the director of the Lowell Transitional Assistance Center. He once had funding to have all day programs for the homeless rather than kick them out after meals. He said he would attempt to get the funding resumed.

Public Hearing on Zoning Amendments (resumed from last week).

Eric Slagle of Developmental Services speaks in favor. Says council subcommittee met earlier in the evening and plans to present recommendations on three issues referred to the subcommittee. He favors that motion and then favors the remainder of the amendments. Councilor Milinazzo reports on zoning subcommittee meeting from earlier tonight. Subcommittee recommends removing the item dealing with microbusinesses (allows them without parking). The other amendment was how to measure distance from an education dormitory to a public parking facility. The subcommittee recommends this. The third item relates to payments by nonprofits that would request payment of an amount equal to what would be paid in real estate taxes. Councilor Milinazzo moves to approve the amendments. Councilor Leahy asks about the 1500 foot distance. Councilor Milinazzo says it only deals with measuring the distance. Councilor Leahy moves to withdraw the 1500 foot measurement amendment. Councilor Elliott says his concern is the 1500 foot number. He thinks there is better language that could be used. Councilor Rourke says the 1500 feet is already there and this amendment would enhance the city’s ability to enforce it. Eric Slagle reiterates that this is only deals with nonprofit residential education facilities. Councilor Elliott asks why the 1500 foot distance is in there at all.  A project should have parking onsite. Slagle says we’re a city and sometimes that’s not possible. Elliott says if a project can’t have sufficient onsite parking it shouldn’t be constructed in the first place. Kennedy asks more on the background of this. Slagle says it was enacted in 2004 for UMass Lowell. He says the understanding was that people would park in the university’s large parking lots. This was the distance arrived at. Councilor Mercier argues that a student will park closer to the dorm on neighborhood streets rather than walk all the way to the parking lot. The motion to withdraw the 1500 foot measurement section passes, six to three with Milinazzo, Belanger and Rourke voting against. Then the amendment passes unanimously (with the microbusinesses and the 1500 foot measurement section removed).

Michael Peaslee appointed to be veterans rep on the Lowell Memorial Auditorium Board of Trustees.

Council Motions

Councilor Samaras – Req. City Mgr. add Surrey Lane to paving list.

Councilor Belanger – Req. City Mgr. update City Council regarding relocation of the UTEC mattress recycling facility. Councilor Belanger says this is an important issue to him. It would be a good business to have in Lowell. He hopes the city manager stays with this during the coming year.

Councilor Belanger – Req. City Mgr. update City Council regarding the City needle pick-up program. Councilor Belanger says this is another issue that’s been very important to him. He hopes the city continues to be pro-active.

Mayor Kennedy – Req. City Mgr. work with Supt. of Schools to develop a school facility maintenance master plan and designate funds to support it. Mayor Kennedy relinquishes the chair to speak on this motion. The school committee requested he file this motion. Says there is a disconnect between the city and the school maintenance department. School committee asks the manager to work with the school superintendent to come up with a maintenance master plan. For instance, heat should be tested in August, not on the first cold day of the fall. The school committee passed the exact same motion and then asked the mayor to bring this to the council. Councilor Leary says he’s been talking about this for 12 years. He says there has been a master plan but it comes down to funding. He has suggested the city align its mid-management people more rationally before spending the money. He supports the motion but adds that we’ve had such plans in the past, it’s just that we don’t follow them, largely because of insufficient funding. Motion passes.

Announcements: Councilor Mercier wishes outgoing Councilors Rourke, Belanger and Leary all the best and says she was honored to serve with them. She hopes they stay involved. Cites Rourke proposing Narcan as saving many lives. Councilor Belanger has been leading the opioid task force. Commends Leary for his eloquence and his common sense comments.

Councilor Belanger says the feeling was mutual. Says this was a tremendous experience, both his four years on the council and his ten years on the board of appeals. He’s going to miss it terribly. Thanks all who supported him and voted for him. Thanks his colleagues who have been very team-oriented. Says people who have been involved in politics in Lowell say this may have been the best council of all time. He’s going to remain positive. He campaigned on public safety and the city is safer; it’s more vibrant. There are a record-high number of events. The economy is more vibrant. Cites progress of Hamilton Canal. Going forward, every generation or so, a one-issue election comes about. This was that. The outgoing councilors made a decision. He believes Cawley was the right decision; a brand new school surrounded by athletic fields while downtown is redeveloped. But he accepts the will of the voters who want the high school to remain downtown. He intends to remain involved on the high school and the opioid crisis. He’s not going anywhere. There’s a strong possibility he’ll attempt a comeback in two years. He wishes all the councilors the best.

Councilor Elliott says it’s been a pleasure to serve with all three; has utmost respect for their dedication to public service. Each neighborhood is better for your service. He doesn’t feel this is a farewell speech because they are all so involved in other things in the city that he knows they aren’t going anywhere.

Councilor Leahy wishes them all the best; says it was a pleasure to serve with them, especially Jim Leary with whom he also served on the school committee.

Councilor Leary says “thank you.” He’s been here for 12 years between the council and school committee. He’s been fortunate to represent a great city. The citizenry has a remarkable spirit that the best is yet to come. He’s going to miss it, but as the saying goes, as one door closes, another opens. He thanks his family and the citizens of Lowell.

Councilor Milinazzo thanks all three. Agrees that this has been one of the best councils to serve on, despite the divisiveness of the issue. He believes they will be back. On that he speaks from experience because he lost reelection after being mayor over retiree health benefits. Mentions the zoning subcommittee and the neighborhood groups as two areas where the three have made a big impact.

Councilor Rourke thanks the people of Lowell. He’s made some lifelong friendships in his time as a councilor. These four years have been very productive. I am proud of bringing Narcan into the city. Public safety and economic development are other big accomplishments. Speaking to Manager Murphy, he says his administration has done very well for the city. Bringing Murphy in as manager was the best move the council made. Also thanks Karen Moynihan and Heather particularly for their assistance. Commends city solicitor Christine O’Connor; city clerk Mike Geary. Thanks Diane Tradd and Kevin Coughlin from DPD. Thanks many others. Says to Councilors Leary and Belanger, he’s been proud to serve with them and proud to call them his friends. He commends them for standing tall on the high school issue even though it cost them their seats. He thanks his family, especially his two young children. He looks forward to not missing any more of their events. He closes by thanking his wife.

Councilor Samaras thanks all three. He commends them all for their hard work, both as councilors and as candidates.

Mayor Kennedy says it’s been an honor and privilege and pleasure to have served as mayor. Thanks everyone who gave him this opportunity. Agrees with Councilor Belanger that this council has been a good team. We didn’t agree on everything, but we could mostly disagree without being disagreeable. We all have to remember whether we serve one term or ten terms, we don’t serve forever. If after we leave office we look back and can say I was proud of what I accomplished, then you’ve done what the people sent you here to do.

Meeting adjourns at 8:08 pm.