Inside Stories

Council Meeting Recap: January 23, 2024

1. January is a Pit of Despair

Thankfully we have playoff football, Bruins hockey, and council meetings to see us through. As to those council meetings, we had an absurdly long agenda to work our way through last night. As you may be aware, there’s been some talk in the local news sphere (herehere, and here) about the unprecedented and illogical move to re-file motions at the beginning of a new term. The argument, advanced by Manager Golden and apparently supported by City Solicitor Corey Williams, arises out of the operation of the state legislature where bills that are not acted on by the end of the legislative session automatically die and must be refiled in the next year’s session.

This argument is self-serving and illogical. First, we’ve had our fair share of city mangers that come from Beacon Hill. To my knowledge, not one of them has taken this stance. The manager works for the the council. When the council votes on a motion it has directed the manager to take action on that motion. After the vote, the council’s job is done. If these orders were to die at the end of a council term, a manager could simply cherry-pick the ones he wants to work on and then “run out the clock” on the ones he or she would rather avoid in the hopes that they are not re-filed. Filing any motions in the last months of the term would amount to an exercise in futility as you’d likely just have to re-do it a few weeks later. Moreover, you would end up with the asinine situation we had last night. Including the re-filed motions, there were seventy-three motions on the agenda. Seventy-three! This is a profoundly stupid way of doing business. I guess the council could move to amend Council Rules to clear up any confusion – but they shouldn’t have to.

2. Send Lawyers, Guns, and More Lawyers

As alluded to above, the re-filing of motions nonsense got some credibility through a favorable legal opinion rendered by City Solicitor Williams. Thus, the stage was set for the following motion:

C. Robinson – Req. City Council Explore Obtaining Outside Legal Counsel On Retainer.

The idea, in essence, is that the Solicitor reports to the Manager and the Manager reports to the Council. As such, what should the council do when they receive an opinion that they don’t quite trust? Enter outside counsel. The benefit would be that councilors could use more taxpayer money to be told what they want to hear. On the other hand, Councilor Yem noted that the more attorneys we bring into the process the more opinions we will have and the more convoluted the process will become. In my unbiased opinion, more lawyers is always a good thing. Maybe the best of things.

3. Just Tell Us How We’re Going to Get Screwed Already

If we’re going to have to suffer through the re-filing of motions, please re-file this one every week until we have a real answer:

C. Descoteaux – Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update On Status Of Phased Construction On 4 Vacant Lots In The Hamilton Canal Innovation District Pursuant To An Agreement With Lupoli Companies, LLC.

In fact, just run it straight into my veins. As a recap, about a hundred year ago (September of 2020) the city worked out a deal with the Lupoli Companies for the development of various parcels in the Hamilton Canal District (I’m not adding “innovation” until I see it). A key component of the deal was that Lupoli would get a prime parcel for a parking garage that would suck money out of our own parking garage located a few hundred feet away. That garage looks like it’s pretty much done – although it has yet to open.

Next, Lupoli was to move on to developing either Parcel 5, or a “signature” high-rise on parcels 2, 3 and 4. Fine, but that was supposed to have started in 2023 and construction was to have been substantially completed by 2026.

I’m still writing 2023 on on my checks, but it is, in fact, 2024 and nothing is happening. Back in October, the Council received a motion response indicating:

Lupoli Co has met with the city to discuss changes to their plans for parcels 2-5 which will require modifications to the existing form-based code. DPD staff and representatives from Lupoli Co have identified all potential changes to the code to review whether those changes are acceptable to the city and consistent with our vision for the district. Lupoli Companies will be coming before the council in the coming months with additional details regarding their updated project plans. DPD staff feel the modifications being requested are reasonable but will require amendments to the LDA which are up to the Council to review and approve. If that approval is granted, DPD will pursue form-based code changes with DHCD. The original LDA documents executed with Lupoli Companies have been attached to this response.

That was October of 2023. Again, it’s now late January of 2024. What is happening? Most council members have discussed this matter in executive session so I trust that they know the deal. Councilor Nuon suggested (or let slip) that higher interest rates are playing a role in Lupoli’s plans. The memorandum of understanding I read didn’t say anything about interest rates. The public is in the dark on this issue and it’s time to start pressing for more information on what’s going on, how the deal is changing, and what we can expect in return.

When cities get into bed with business interests, the profits are often privatized while risks and losses are socialized. If development has stalled due to higher interest rates, who do you think is most likely to absorb those costs?

4. Hey Man, Quit Harshing My Illegal Left-Hand Turns

Bad weed jokes are for hacks, so I think that worked pretty well.

To bring you up to speed, there’s a cannabis store with a parking lot on Rogers Street that’s a little bit more successful than anticipated. Rogers Street is a “stroad” with heavy vehicular traffic. Experience tells us that wherever cars go, death and destruction follow. To wit, people have been taking illegal left-hand turns out of this particular parking lot – thus upping the danger level of traveling Rogers Street. The city performed a traffic site analysis to count the number of these illegal left-hand turns. Oddly, the report doesn’t say how many. Nevertheless, to help mitigate this problem, there is, I guess, a plan to imperceptibly change the design of the exit lane:

This is a good time to remind everyone that this (and other) suburban cannabis stores are overflowing with business (and vehicle traffic). In contrast, our walkable downtown is full of empty storefronts that we can’t figure out how to fill. Nevertheless, our cannabis zoning makes it illegal to add peanut butter to chocolate and open a weed store downtown.

What were they smoking? Amiright folks?

5. The Rest

There was a comprehensive informational “Update on Merrimack River From LFD and WWTP.” Check it out or just take my word.

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