A controversial project in the Highlands neighborhood has a Lowell City Councilor and the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals battling, leading to complaints being filed with the City Manager and Mayor by a Board member, and the applicant indicating plans to file a complaint with the State Ethics Commission.
Despite a 4-2 vote to denying Mary Burns’ request for variances to build on her Gibson Street lot, Zoning Board members seemed unanimous in their condemnation of Highlands City Councilor Erik Gitschier for openly questioning the integrity of those voting yes on the project.
Gitschier stated off the top of his remarks he was addressing the issue at the September 11 meeting this past Monday as a resident. In his passionate opposition to the variance requests for the project, he focused on the theme of “integrity of the Board” and spoke of members being “beholden to friends” and “putting friendship over functionality in government.”
Those words led to a fiery response from ZBA member Sean Callahan, as well as a strong rebuttal from Mark Brierre, the two yes votes on the application. In addition, Chair Van Pech and member Tim Hovey also defended the Board and their colleagues on it, even though they voted differently on the proposal.
Pech subsequently filed a formal complaint to both City Manager Tom Golden and Mayor Sokhary Chau, calling the Councilor’s comments “inaccurate, inappropriate and offensive.” He went on to write “if this happens again, I will take legal action against him for bullying and harassment in a workplace setting.”
For her part, Burns says she is filing a formal complaint with the State Ethics Commission Monday morning and is also contemplating legal action.
“I firmly believe that this project would have passed without his interference,” Burns tells InsideLowell. “My project and the third item on the agenda were nearly identical, and that one passed unanimously, while mine was rejected. Based on the way he treated the Zoning Board, my attorney and my ability to have a fair hearing, that man should never be anywhere near public office.”
When reached for comment, Gitschier indicated this was the first he was hearing of the complaints from Pech and Burns.
“At no time did I ever speak as a City Councilor,” he said. “I clearly stated my name, address and said I am here in no other capacity than a resident. I thank the Board for their service to the City and look forward to responding to any complaints filed to the Ethics Commission.”