Lowell Week in Review: March 3, 2019

Patriot Care on Industrial Ave East

Marijuana Sales Start Saturday

Next Saturday, March 9, 2019, is scheduled to be the grand opening of the city’s first retail marijuana facility, Patriot Care, at 70 Industrial Ave East, just beyond the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel that is adjacent to the Lowell Connector. At this past Tuesday’s city council meeting, there was an extensive discussion of the preparations being made for the influx of traffic that opening will bring. (See my council meeting notes for details).

Will there be a traditional ribbon-cutting and group photo of city councilors who attend? Or will our elected officials forego that welcome-the-new-business-to-town public relations opportunity?

When the first retail marijuana complexes opened elsewhere in the state back in November, they were deluged with traffic. A Boston.com story from February 18, 2019, lists ten others that had already opened around the state as of that date and another five – including Patriot Care of Lowell – whose openings were imminent. After the initial flurry of stories of insane traffic around the first two facilities to open in the Commonwealth, I’ve not seen another story about traffic problems. Is it safe to draw the inference that traffic is not a problem at these facilities, or is this a case of the media just moving on to the next bright, shiny option and ignoring traffic issues?

Based on what City Manager Eileen Donoghue explained Tuesday night, the city and Patriot Care are both prepared for mega-traffic coming to the Industrial Ave facility which will be open seven days per week from 10am until 8pm. Preparations include having something like 5 police officers on private detail at various locations in and around the facility; an illuminated sign board on the Lowell Connector to help manage traffic there; and satellite parking lots and shuttle buses.

see below text for description

The above overhead photo from Google Maps shows the layout of the area. Patriot is the red marker at the 3 o’clock position. The Lowell Connector bisects the middle of the map from top to bottom while Route 3 is visible to the far left. The big parking lot at 7 o’clock services the Cinema and Cross Point which are both shown. In the upper right corner is Westlawn Cemetery and Swan Street which leads to Plain Street.

If the inbound Connector off ramp at Industrial Ave gets backed up, a State Police detail officer will close the ramp and direct vehicles to the Plain Street exit at the Target retail complex. Cars bound for Patriot will turn right on Plain Street, drive past the rear of St. Patrick’s Cemetery and then turn right on Swan Street and left on Industrial Ave East to reach the facility. Other vehicles will be directed to exit Route 3 at Route 110 (near the Market Basket Plaza) and come to Patriot via Chelmsford Street and Industrial Ave.

As someone who lives in that part of the Highlands and drives through the area shown on the above map on a daily basis, I hope this preparation is overkill, as prudent as this level of preparation may be. Maybe there will be a surge of activity at first as the curious check the place out but then it will become old and familiar and the traffic pattern will return to normal.

Community Preservation Act

Also at last week’s meeting, councilors unanimously approved Vesna Nuon’s motion for a report on the state’s Community Preservation Act (CPA). The report, which is part of this week’s council agenda/packet, does a good job of explaining the intent of the act and how it works. It also mentions that the citizens of Lowell have already contributed a substantial amount to the Community Preservation Act while receiving nothing in return.

Here’s how our financial contributions have been made. The CPA matches funds raised by a city or town with money from the state’s Community Preservation Trust fund. Money for that account comes from a surcharge on documents recorded at the registry of deeds. For most documents, the surcharge is $20, although for a document called a municipal lien certificate, the surcharge is just $10 and for the declaration of homestead, there is no surcharge.

As the Register of Deeds for the Middlesex North District (Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Lowell, Tewksbury, Tyngsborough, Westford and Wilmington) it has been my responsibility to collect this money and forward it to the state, so I have had daily reminders of its cost to the people of Lowell who have received nothing in return and so have had their contributions subsidize open space preservation, recreational site development and affordable housing construction done by our neighbors.

Here are the amounts we’ve collected ONLY for documents for properties in Lowell since the CPA was enacted in 2000. It is based on the state’s fiscal year, so “2001” would cover July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001, and “2019” covers July 1, 2018 through February 28, 2019.

CPA Funds Attributable to Property in Lowell

  • 2001 – 18,684 docs – $328,020 collected
  • 2002 – 23,181 docs – $408,510
  • 2003 – 29,473 docs – $538,990
  • 2004 – 27,620 docs – $494,950
  • 2005 – 24,320 docs – $439,570
  • 2006 – 23,344 docs – $422,950
  • 2007 – 19,784 docs – $362,640
  • 2008 – 15,919 docs – $286,910
  • 2009 – 13,399 docs – $239,350
  • 2010 – 14,082 docs – $253,180
  • 2011 – 13,538 docs – $244,120
  • 2012 – 13,666 docs – $241,570
  • 2013 – 16,503 docs – $293,790
  • 2014 – 13,485 docs – $238,570
  • 2015 – 14,033 docs – $246,630
  • 2016 – 14,985 docs – $262,000
  • 2017 – 15,141 docs – $279,870
  • 2018 – 14,987 docs – $252,350
  • 2019 – 8,785 docs – $164,900
  • TOTAL SINCE 2001 – $5,998,870

To be enacted locally, voters would have to pass a ballot referendum to adopt the Community Preservation Act by a simple majority voting in the election at which the question appears on the ballot. There are two ways for that question to get on the ballot: Councilors may vote to place it on the ballot or proponents can collect the signatures of 5 percent of all registered voters.

NYT Book Review featuring Jane Brox of Dracut on cover

Literary Lowell

Co-blogger Paul Marion and I have often discussed how Lowell’s great literary heritage, both past and present, is sometimes overshadowed by the vibrant local arts scene. That is certainly not a criticism of the arts which are terrific, but that terrific-ness is also why they cast a substantial shadow on other things.

Back in November, Paul reached out to a number of local writers for updates on what they were doing and posted his findings as regular blog posts but also on our new “Literary Lowell+” page (the “plus” is because our scope is Greater Lowell, at times extending down the Merrimack River Valley). We already have 23 writer profiles and many others underway or planned.

Any lingering doubts about the vitality of the Lowell literary scene were put to rest by last Sunday’s New York Times Book Review which featured not one, but two writers with Lowell roots, with the newest book by Dracut’s Jane Brox (“Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives”) being featured on the cover. Then on page 17 was a review of Lowell High Distinguished Alumni honoree Elinor Lipman’s latest book, “Good Riddance.”

As great as it is to read about Literary Lowell in the New York Times, it’s even better to experience it in person. There are a couple of opportunities to do that next Saturday, March 9, 2019.

First, Jane Brox will do a reading from her new book for Dracut Arts at Christ Church United, 10 Arlington St, Dracut (the yellow church across from Wendy’s at the corner of Bridge Street) from 4:30 to 6pm.

Second, the second annual Marathon Reading of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road will begin at noon at the Pollard Memorial Library and will remain there until 4pm when it will relocate to other venues around downtown Lowell. For more info about the On the Road Marathon, check out the Pollard Memorial Library’s website.