Lowell City Council Preview: Jan 29, 2018

Mimi Parseghian preview’s tomorrow night’s Lowell City Council meeting:

This week’s City Council Agenda is quite heavy both in the number of items and the significance of the raised topics. It will be a long meeting. After this long agenda, the City Council is going into Executive Session.

Unlike some of his predecessors, City Manager Kevin Murphy has his department heads or the responsible individual answer the City Council motions.  Additionally, those who prepare the written response are present at the City Council meeting to additional details if required.  It is a procedure which I favor.

This week I will review the City Council responses by Departments.

Department of Public Works

The following answers were provided by City Engineer, Nicolás H. Bosonetto. In my opinion, this is a man who knows his stuff and his answers always “cut to the chase.”

Motion by then-Mayor Ed Kennedy (9/26/17): “Instruct the proper department to look into pedestrian crossing signal at the intersection of School Street and Branch Street.”[Lower Highlands] Response: “The intersection of School Street and Branch Street is fully signalized with an exclusive pedestrian phase.  There are pedestrian push buttons and pedestrian signal heads at all four corners.”

Motion by then-Mayor Ed Kennedy (4/25/18): “Review possible installation of a sidewalk on Stedman Street in the vicinity of 22 Ole Canal Drive.” [Highland/near Drum Hill]. Response: “Currently, there are no sidewalks on either side of Stedman Street. Our estimate to install brand new concrete sidewalks between $350,000 and $400.000. (Ouch! m.p.)  Additional costs would be incurred for drainage improvements which would also need to be made in order to capture the storm water along the new curbing.

Motion by Councilor Rodney Elliott (12/5/17): “Determine if the traffic signals at the intersection of Mammoth road and 4th Avenue (in front of the McAvinnue School) can be changed to the type that have a flashing white strip in the center, similar to those on the Pawtucket Blvd. at Camelot Court/Sampas Pavilion.” [Pawtucketville]. Response: The white strip across red traffic signal lenses are actually LED strobe lights that flash in order to draw attention. These strobe lights have not been allowed per federal and state law since 1990…The City Engineer has requested the City Electrician update the Pawtucket Blvd. at Camelot Court to comply with state and federal law. The traffic signal at the McAvinnue School is only there for pedestrian traffic.  It does not serve any traffic control functions.

Motion by Councilor Rita Mercier (1/17/180: “Installation of (2) handicap parking signs in front of the East End club at 15 W. 4th Street.” [Centraville]. Response: Three handicap spaces have been included in the 60-day trials in today’s agenda. The spaces have been located to assure sufficient clearance is available at the entrance ramp to the club.

Motion by then-Mayor Ed Kennedy: “Install a four-way stop sign at the intersection of Havilah and Remington Street.” [Upper Belvedere] Response: Section 266-47 of the City’s ordinances currently designates the intersection of Remington Street and Havilah Street as a two-way stop, with the stop signs located on Remington Street. Remington and Havilah Streets are both minor residential streets with low volumes and speeds do not meet the warrants as set forth above.

Motion by Councilor John Leahy (12/5/17): “Review Feasibility of adding Foch Street to Paving List.” [Highlands] Response: Foch Street is a small dead end street which was not accepted by the city and is therefore not eligible for Chapter 90 funds. The street would have to be paved with city capital funds. The City Engineer will place the street on the pavement list based on a cost/benefit value evaluation which takes into account the condition of pavement, traffic volume, cost and life of improvements.

Motion by then-Mayor Ed Kennedy (9/26/17): “Instruct the Proper Department to look into the installation of speed limit and/or ‘Slow Children at Play’ Signs on School Street and Laurel Street.” [Lower Highland] Response: Currently the speed limit on School and Laurel Streets is set at 30 MPH by statue due to their designation as thickly settled area having dwelling less than 200 feet apart. City Council has the authority to decrease the statutory speed limits in thickly settled or business districts from 30 MPH to 25 MPH. The City does not have or install “Slow Children at Play” signs because they are non-enforceable and it is cost prohibitive to place these types of signs in every neighborhood.

Motion by Councilor John Leahy (8/22/17): “Provide a report to Council regarding National Grid Trimming throughout the City.” Response by Tom Bellegarde, Assistant City Manager, DPW Commissioner: City and National Grid work closely together as it relates to tree trimming that affects the utility wires throughout the City. Work is identified and communicate back and forth on three levels.  First, National Grid provides a fluid 5-year preventive maintenance plan to the DPW Street Division’s Tree Specialist that addresses trimming to be completed around their distribution wires.  Second level of communication is requests that go directly to National Grid from concerned residents.  DPW has a direct contract with National Grid to identify and to communicate any work, both emergency and preventative, and to coordinate all trimmings/removal efforts.

The following two Motions response were prepared by Eric Slagle, Director of Development Services; a very good writer whose legal background serves him well.

Motion by Councilor Rodney Elliott (1/23/18) “Development Services initiate neighborhood ‘swat’ team to address code violations at dilapidated properties in City.” Response:…Through the efforts of the Building Commissioner, along with the assistance of the Lowell Police and Fire Departments, we continue to have success with the NEED Program to target problem landlords…the Lowell Police Department and Development Services have successfully implemented multiple phase of the DART Program…Development Services staff, along with LPD and LFD officials, canvas a problem section of a neighborhood to identify and target properties with code issues. Inspectors then follow-up with targeted inspections of identified properties in an effort to increase compliance…City staff has worked with Attorney General’s Abandoned Housing Initiative to compile a list of properties in the Centraville neighborhood all of the title work on the properties and will be initiating the receivership process in the coming weeks.

Motion by Councilor John Leahy (10/17/17) “Have proper department provide an update regarding property at 29 Frothingham Street.” [Belvedere] Response: The property has been the subject of multiple unscheduled inspections this winter by the Building Commissioner to ensure that it remains in compliance, including evening inspections to check for occupancy. The property has passed each inspection…With respect to Frothingham Street, Development Services has been monitoring this property since the complaints, and will continue to work to make sure the property remains in compliance with the relevant ordinance.

Motion by Councilor Karen Cirillo (1/22/18) “Provide the City Council with a Report on the Feasibility of Creating an Ordinance that Would Require the City Council to Include a Line Item in the Budget for Deferred Maintenance Issues in all Municipal Building.” Response by CFO Conor Baldwin. …The City of Lowell maintains over 3 million square feet of space throughout its portfolio of building assets, inclusive of all municipals facilities. Of that total, approximately 2 million square feet of space is occupied by the Lowell Public Schools…There are two primary local funding sources for building maintenance, one is the annual operating budget and the other is the city’s capital budget…Finding the proper level of funding for schools and other municipal facilities is an exercise that should balance further available revenue growth with competing priorities in other departments.

Motion by Councilor Jim Milinazzo (4/25/17) “Report on Business Tax now being assessed to the artists at Western Avenue.” In a letter prepared by Susan LeMay, Chief Assessor/Board Chair, she writes “When the news first hit that the businesses that the artists owned would be taxed, I know they feared they would be taxed out of business after talking with some of them. Our hope is that now that they have seen the actual bills, they don’t have that fear anymore. Literally, the bills are minimal for the types of business such as those they operate.  In fact, 85% of the tax bills are under $100 for the year at the FY 18 tax rate.”

Motion by Councilor Rodney Elliott (1/23/18) “City Manager look into developing a 311 app to allow residents to report issues.” Response by City Manager Kevin Murphy: 311 is a non-emergency phone number that people can call in many cities and towns to find information about services…In part to increase community engagement, the City of Lowell redesigned its website in early 2017. Through the website the city is able to communicate important information throughout the City. Citizens are also able to submit requests through “request tracker.” The cost of such a system as 311 is quite expensive.  The City will continue to explore options to increase communication with residents while ensuring any solution is affordable.

Councilor Motions: There are 13 motions; most of them requesting information form the City ManagerI do not understand when Councilors, as some did 2 weeks ago with Councilor Cirillo’s motion on plastic bags, oppose motions that simply ask the City Manager for a report.  I understand the debate and split votes on policy or course of action but information? I like Councilor Nuon’s motion on the status of the voting rights litigation against the City.

  1. City Councilor Rodney Elliott: “Apply for funding from greening communities program from the state for planting of trees program.”
  2. City Councilor Rodney Elliott: “Have proper department remove sign infrastructure at police garage on Middlesex Street.
  3. City Councilor Rodney Elliott: “Initiate street/sidewalk/parking plan for branch street business corridor to coincide with overpass construction.”
  4. City Councilor Rodney Elliott: City Councilor John Leahy: “Provide a report to the Finance Subcommittee regarding FY 18 property valuation assessments; 3rd quarter tax bills and abatement process; and budget impact on tax bills.” I am not sure why this motion will go to the Finance Subcommittee before reaching the full City Council.
  5. City Councilor John Leahy: “Have DPD provide a report regarding the progress on finding a new location in the city for the Merrimack Valley Food Bank.
  6. City Councilor John Leahy: “Work with Downtown Redevelopment Subcommittee to identify and enhance the types of businesses that DPD is attracting to the city.”
  7. City Councilor John Leahy: “Work with DPD to establish and enhance marketing campaign for city of Lowell.”
  8. City Councilor Rita Mercier: “Provide update regarding prior motion for utopia park including the status of it as well as the status of the Utopian Park Public Art Hydro Sculpture Project.
  9. City Councilor Jim Milinazzo: “Take all necessary steps to reinstate the Article 97 restrictions on the parks and open space land which had been removed during the Lowell High School/MBSA site selection process.”
  10. City Councilor Vesna Nuon: “Provide a report regarding the scope of the project and parking proposal for the FI William Fidelity Investment dormitory project on Merrimack Street.
  11. City Councilor Vesna Nuon: “Provide a report regarding the status of the voting rights litigation against the City.”
  12. City Councilor David Conway: “Work with proper departments to ensure pedestrian safety and walk-ability at the intersection of Pawtucket Blvd and Rourke Bridge.
  13. City Councilor Kennedy/City Councilor Karen Cirillo: “Meet with representatives from the OFO bike sharing program and provide City Council with a report regarding the feasibility of establishing a bike sharing program in Lowell.