Lowell City Council Meeting: April 24, 2018
[Motions Taken Out of Order – Vice Chair Nuon takes the Mayor’s podium]
Kennedy/C. Cirillo/M. Samaras – Req. City Mgr. and Board of Parks take necessary steps to ensure that the Page Softball Field at Shedd Park remain dedicated to girls softball. Mayor Samaras says there has been much discussion about allowing Boys Little League to use Page Softball. He says there are three baseball diamonds for boys but this is the only one for girls. He understands that there have been meetings, but the Page family has not been involved in them. (Kelly Page was a Lowell Firefighter who died in the line of duty). He says this is about equity and it should stay as a girl’s field. If the boys need more fields, we should as a city address that without reducing opportunities for young women.
Councilor Kennedy says he agrees with everything the Mayor just said. He has learned some of the circumstances. He says the boys are looking for an intermediate sized field which is between little league and a major league size. He says we should look at doing it at several fields around the city. But he thinks the softball field should remain a softball field and it should not be touched. Still, he thinks the city should be able to find a solution.
Councilor Cirillo says the girls only have one field and she won’t support giving it up.
Councilor Elliott says taking the softball field makes no sense but he wonders where this came from. CM Donoghue says the city has not been involved thus far but Asst CM Manager Mike McGovern has gotten involved in the last few days.
Asst CM McGovern says this has been being discussed for nearly a year. He inquired about it but nothing was done so he thought the idea had died. But he says it has revived recently.
Councilors Milinazzo and Conway question whether the city DPW has already commenced work on this changeover. They would like a report on whether that’s true and if yes, it should be stopped immediately.
Mayor Samaras says he has discovered that the city DPW has already moved the fences without any official authorization.
Councilor Kennedy says it should be made clear to the DPW that this type of work should not be done without formal authorization.
Registered Speakers: Chris Snow, head of Shedd Park baseball, apologizes that this has come to this. Says no one was trying to take over the field.
Eric Nelson speaks. He’s on the board of Shedd Park. He apologizes that this has taken the path it has. He says there’s no need to move the fence back since it’s expanded size is within the regulation size of softball fields. Says Lowell is the only community in the league it participates in that doesn’t have this size field. Says he’d like to be part of the solution. But he’s perplexed by how we lose the softball field for several weeks to an outside entity that uses the field. Says the board of Shedd Park Little League is “not the evil empire” and are just trying to be helpful.
Lisa Demers grew up in Lowell playing softball in the Highlands which eventually lost its girls’ softball fields. Says the same thing is happening here. Says if more fields are needed it should be done equitably. Disputes that this larger field is needed for boys because neither national Little League nor Cal Ripkin use larger fields. She says girls deserve equal treatment.
Katie Page says she never thought she’d have to be up here fighting for the field that was named for her late husband ten years ago. She says she’s heard rumbling about this for several years including swapping fields. She went last year and work had already been done. Her husband coached all of his daughters in softball except the youngest who was 5 when she died. Girls deserve to have a field of their own. It’s ridiculous that we have to fight this. And “sharing” it is not appropriate either. It’s the girl’s field. Up until this field was created, girls had substandard conditions. Since this field opened it’s been great for girls. There is no reason why in 2018 we should be having a discussion about whether girls should have a field of their own to play on. You need to show the girls that they matter. If you can’t do it out in the open, then it’s not right.
Rebecca Meade says from earlier comments it sounds like everyone here agrees girls should have a softball field. She’s the co-president of the Shedd Softball League. When she took that position, she never imagined that she would be here fighting for the field. She says the latest plan by Shedd Park was to have boys share the field (and Lowell High softball also uses the field). She’s concerned that this would deprive the girls of sufficient dates to play. Page Field should remain a softball field.
Robin McDonough is the other co-president of the Softball League. Making changes to Page Field sets a terrible precedent. This field was built as a dedicated field for girls softball. If baseball truly has a need, they should work to build something from the ground up, not taking the girls field.
Vice Chair Nuon says he strongly concurs that the field should remain a girls softball field.
Motion passes unanimously.
[next motion taken early]
Conway – Req. City Mgr. and Law Dept. review the feasibility of drafting and implementing an ordinance prohibiting the consumption of marijuana in public. Councilor Conway says he’s heard of concerns by police and others about confusion over marijuana laws, specifically, where it can be consumed. He compares it to laws limiting where you can consume alcohol. If you have an open container of alcohol in a public place, the police can fine or arrest. There is no similar rule for marijuana. Says that should be restricted as alcohol is.
Registered Speaker is Ty Chum. Says he had his young kids at Shedd Park one day and the odor of marijuana was strong and annoying to his kids.
CM Donoghue says this is a timely motion because retail sales of marijuana are coming soon. She wants to create a task force to deal with the issues that arise like those mentioned by Councilor Conway. The City Solicitor says even with changes in the law, smoking marijuana in public is not legal.
Councilor Leahy says he constantly encounters young people walking around downtown smoking marijuana in the open. CM Donoghue says the law doesn’t allow smoking it in public so it’s important to update laws to give police the tools to effectively enforce those laws.
Councilor Kennedy says public drinking is both a city ordinance violation (fine) and a state law violation (arrestable offence); is public use of marijuana similarly punished? Solicitor and Manager both say that’s not yet clear. Say they will have to get back to the council on this.
COMMUNICATIONS FROM CITY MANAGER
A) Motion Response – Streetlights. Councilor Cirillo asks the DPW Commissioner to review the report for the public. He says if a street light is out, citizens can go to city website and report it. That goes right to the city electrician. Every Wednesday a report goes out to the city’s electrical contractor who then investigates and either fixes the light or reports it to National Grid (some are out because there’s no electricity to them).
B) Motion Response – Glenellyn Rd and Paving. Councilor Kennedy says he’s pleased the pothole has been repaired and that Glenellyn Rd will done this spring. He then adds that last night Aberdeen Street was paved from 4pm to 10pm. Wants to know why it was being done at night in a residential neighborhood. DPW has talked to the contractor and says it won’t happen again. Councilors Elliott and Leahy are critical of the city’s supervising engineer on this project for allowing it to be done so late and also for allowing a generator and lights to be run all night long. Councilor Cirillo asks if there is a specific time after which paving cannot be done. DPW says no, not a specific stop time. Says they are considering adding such time restrictive language to future contracts.
C) Motion Response – Moody St Playground. Several councilors files similar motions. The report seems to say the space is too small for traditional playground equipment. He asks whether there are small splash pads available that could fit there. Says the neighborhood needs something like that. Diane Tradd says there are small fixtures that could fit. An expense would also be installing the water line.
Communication Reappoint Jonathan Geer to Sustainability Council. Approved
Communication – City Manager request Out of State Travel (1) HHS. Approved.
VOTES FROM THE CITY MANAGER
Vote-Accept MGL c.64N s.3 impose an excise on retail marijuana sales. [sorry, I missed this].
[Note: My initial notes on the next four easement votes missed a couple of points, so I’ve revised the post slightly for clarity].
Vote-Auth City Mgr Execute Non-binding Preliminary Agreement. This is a revised version of a previous non-binding preliminary agreement for NPS to exchange its current parking lots with the City for a bus parking lot near Gallagher Terminal and automobile parking in the Hamilton Canal Innovation District garage. Approved.
Vote-Auth CM Accept Permanent Conservation Easement from Mass Mills III Limited Partnership.
Vote-Auth CM Ex. Construction Access Agreement 159 Bridge St.
Vote-Auth CM Execute Conservation Easement Agreement w Mass Mills III Limited Partnership.
These three instruments, if executed with Massachusetts Mills, would allow the City access to build and maintain an extension of the Merrimack Riverwalk on Mass Mills property. Peter Aucella says the National Park has secured $2.7mil in federal transportation funds for this project. Each of the three were accepted.
Vote-Transfer 220,000 to provide adequate funding for medical expenses for various injury accounts. Approved.
Vote-Transfer 30,000 Cemetery hazardous tree removal, service of monuments and Memorial Day Prep etc. Approved.
Vote-Transfer 71,860 Library for replacement of books, repairs to damaged furniture, equipment, janitorial supplies due to flooding in January. Approved.
Resolution-Amend Lowell Municipal Aggregation Plan. Kathryn Moses says this will help draft a comprehensive energy plan for Lowell. It will be a Lowell-specific plan that is specifically designed to address Lowell’s specific demographics. Approved.
REPORTS (SUB/COMMITTEE, IF ANY)
Environment & Flood Issues SC April 10, 2018. Councilor Cirillo gives report. This subcommittee meeting dealt with possible plastic bag ban. Says speakers talked about the “tyranny of convenience,” how it used to be convenient to dump dyes and chemicals in the canals and rivers. City Recycling Chief says plastic bags cause major problems in recycling facilities. Councilor Cirillo then repeats comments made by members of the public at the subcommittee meeting.
Registered Speakers: Jay Mason of the Sustainability Council. Says 65 communities have passed similar bans, so we’re moving towards a statewide ban. But a few more cities need to adopt bans to continue the momentum towards a statewide ban. Several other speakers support a ban.
Councilor Elliott asks that another individual be allowed to speak. Chief Operating Officer of a company (GXT-Green) from Billerica. He says all the arguments against plastic bags are reasonable. However, his company has created a solution: plastic bags that degrade when exposed to the sun. He says banning plastic bags create inconveniences and expenses. He says the bags his company makes are being allowed in communities that have banned plastic bags. Councilor Kennedy asks about the “photodegradability” of the bag. In the lab it took 240 days but in nature it could happen quicker. Councilor Elliott says he understands the problem with plastic bags. He says this photodegradable ban is a possible solution. He says this is a regional problem because people will just go to grocery stores in surrounding communities.
Councilor Conway is critical of the particulars of the proposed ban. He believes the state is very close to adopting a statewide ban. He says he thinks it would be better to be consistent with what the state does. He says we should wait a few months to enact something and if it doesn’t then we can take this up again.
Councilor Cirillo says she want to put forward the two motions that came out of the subcommittee:
Move that the City Manager and Law Department draft an ordinance that would ban plastic bags in Lowell as of January 1, 2019.
Councilor Milinazzo says he will support the motion. He thinks Lowell should take the lead. Councilor Nuon says he supports the motion.
Councilor Elliott moves to amend the motion to include the degradable bag within the ordinance.
Councilor Kennedy says the city is being fined about $150,000 per year by the recycling transfer station for the contamination due to plastic bags in recycling materials. He asks for a roll call on the amendment to include the biogradable bags: Defeated with 2 yes and 6 no.
Roll call on the motion to have Law Dept draft a plastic bag ban ordinance. That passes 6 to 2 with Councilors Elliott and Conway voting no (Councilor Mercier absent).
Another motion that came out of the subcommittee was to send a resolution to the state legislature in support of contemplated state legislation that would ban plastic bags.
Finance SC April 24, 2018. Discussion of parking rate increase. City Manager Donoghue says if there is not a rate increase, the Parking Enterprise Fund will run a deficit and the general tax fund will have to make up the difference. Conor Baldwin explains says that will add about $36 per year to the average taxpayer’s bill, with the increase going up each year. Plus, this increase will cover the cost of only one parking garage. CM Donoghue says this increase is required to keep the Parking Enterprise fund in the black.
Claim – (2) Property Damage.
Misc. – Jerry Cunha on behalf of Nakaleya Margaret request installation of (1) handicap parking sign at 733 Central Street.
CITY COUNCIL – MOTIONS
Elliott – Req. City Council allow information regarding biodegradable bags be provided at City Council Meeting on April 24, 2018. (see above)
Elliott – Req. City Mgr. provide a report regarding AIR BNB zoning regulations and rental of units to students. Says the main concern here is rentals to students and the disruption it causes. Councilor Kennedy suggests this be referred to the zoning subcommittee which is already taking up a similar motion that involves rooming houses and renting bedrooms as opposed to entire apartments.
Elliott – City Council discuss setting up syringe disposal response unit and provide training for additional employees.
Mercier – Req. City Mgr. direct Law Dept. to officially record, at the Registry of Deeds, the deed reflecting the portion of Eaton Street transferred to the VFW Post 663 by vote of City Council in 2017.
Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. add Park Avenue West to the next re-paving contract.
Cirillo – Req. City Mgr. explore feasibility of installing a “Do Not Enter” sign at the bottom of Maryl Drive.
Kennedy – Req. Economic Development SC host a presentation from developers regarding a new hotel and other potential developments within the Hamilton Canal Innovation District.
ADJOURNMENT at 9:36 pm
2 Responses to Lowell City Council Meeting: April 24, 2018
this is a question- Why are the 2 large buildings located at 201, 193 & 195 Pawtucket Street at the heart of University Crossing empty? Such buildings could provide much needed housing for Lowell residents and U MASS students. They look like they are in good shape but have been empty for some time now. I tried asking the Zoning board but still no answer
UML doesn’t like competition for student housing and bought the buildings for 1 million a few years ago. UML initially said a park would be a better use of the land but is now saying they need to build a pedestrian/bike path that’s ada compliant for the 7k students that pass by each day.
With 4 traffic lanes on Pawtucket Street they could easily use one of the lanes for a protected ped/bikepath and save the buildings from demoltion. But they’d rather rid the Little Canada era buildings from the neighborhood.
They recently put out an rfp for someone to move the buildings to another parcel. The buyer would pay $1 for the buildings and UML would cover 200k in moving costs that would otherwise go to demolition. Not sure if there were any takers.