Inside Stories

Council Meeting Recap: March 7, 2023

1. Quick Update on the HCD

I was hoping for more discussion on the response to the following motion:

Councilors Jenness and Drinkwater – Request City Manager Have Proper Department Explore the Potential For Targeted Mixed Use Development On One Or More Remaining City-Owned Parcels Within The HCID And Report.

I was happy to see the motion when filed as I took the liberty of reading it as:

Request City Manager take a hard look at the remaining city-owned parcels in the HCD in the hope of bringing a pulse to the area – because, so far, it looks like a series of prison blocks offering no reason to visit and nothing to interact with – unless, of course, you have jury duty or you like scrap-metal art.

Alas, Councilors Jenness and Drinkwater are better people than I. Each cordially thanked the administration for the report and gently urged the manager to be adaptive and imaginative with the remaining development.

As per the response:

The Hamilton Canal Innovation District (HCID) currently has six parcels that remain under ownership control of the City. Of the six parcels under city ownership two are reserved for open space, the four remaining parcels within the district are available for sale to interested developers. DPD and the City Manager’s office have been in communication with several developers that have expressed a variety of interest in the remaining parcels in the district.

The project is still a work in progress but unless we nail this last phase of development, the HCD’s best use was a talking point for politicians rather than a place people want to visit. We were promised “a vibrant, mixed-use neighborhood connecting Lowell’s downtown to its commuter rail station.” Vibrant?

Read (or re-read) the 2009 Goody-Clancy vision report on the district. Citizens were hoping to see art, culture, housing, and dining. The area is a million times better than the wasteland it was (at the end of the day, it’s all good, right?), but we have yet to realize the potential that we were promised. I’m glad the motion was filed to hopefully get the creative juices flowing.

2. Shazam?!

Mayor Chau brought a motion Requesting City Manager Explore The Potential And Benefits Of Combining The Opioid Task Force And The Homeless Task Force. Why though? Two registered speakers and many councilors (in essence) asked the same question. On the one hand, there is some overlap of issues as some percentage of the homeless population is addicted to opiates. However, combining the task forces could serve to further stigmatize and unfairly pigeonhole members of both groups. Indeed, for at least the last year or two it’s been stressed that the homeless issue is absurdly complex and we can’t make assumptions about the issues afflicting each individual member of the homeless population.

Corey Belanger, the head of the Opioid Task Force, who (coincidentally) recently floated the idea of running for office, was present speak in favor of the motion. Mr. Belanger noted that attention to the Opioid Task Force has waned in recent months, as interest in the homeless crisis has garnered more attention. Mr. Belanger noted the overlap with opioid use and homelessness in many cases as justification for merging the groups.

I still don’t quite get it, and it looks like the idea will not have the support of the Council. Nevertheless, they voted 8-3 to send the manager’s office on the errand of producing a report and compiling data on the pros and cons.

3. Re-Visiting Some Old Motions

Speaking of errands for the administration, a number of motions filed in the past came up for second or third go-rounds:

C. Gitschier – Req. City Mgr. Have The Proper Department Provide The City Council With A List Of Road Surface Treatments (Crack Sealing, Fog Sealing, Microsurfacing And Cape Sealing) Planned For The Upcoming Paving Season FY24 And Timeline For The Contract Execution.

Q: When have I seen this before?

A. Essentially the same motion was filed almost exactly one year ago on 3/08/22. In addition, a report on crack-sealing came out for the 2/28/23 meeting.

C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update On Request To Explain Disparities And Inconsistencies In Employees Being Required To Use Time Clocks.

Q: When have I seen this before?

A: The original motion was filed on 9/13/22. Apparently the response is coming next week.

C. Jenness/C. Scott – Req. City Mgr. Provide Update On Recommendation From The Law Department On Possible Updates To The Flag Raising Policy In Response To Supreme Court Decision In Shurtleff V Boston.

Q: When have I seen this before?

A: The original motion was filed on 9/27/22. There’s been some upheaval in the Law Department as such, I’m not surprised that this was put on the back-burner.

C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Provide Update On Hiring Of The DEI Officer Position.

Q: When have I seen this before?

A: The same motions were filed by Councilor Jenness on 11/01/22 and 11/08/22. I’ll also throw in Councilor Jenness’ 5/10/22 motion to Extend An Invitation For A Representative From Clifton Larson Allen To Attend The Personnel SC Discussion Regarding Next Steps On The DEI Officer Position And Overall HR Roadmap Implementation.

We could also add Councilor Leahy’s evergreen motion to Update City Council On Traffic Calming Issues For City Hall and possibly Councilor Scott’s motion for a Report On The Policies Around Trains Idling On The Tracks, How Residents Can Report Concerns, And Who Enforces Them – but we’d have to go way back on that one.

4. The Rest

  1. Very detailed and entertaining report by Councilor Mercier on the recent Neighborhood Subcommittee meeting that took place “On the Road” in Centralville on March 6th. If God’s Country is any indicator, taking these meetings “on the road” will lead to some lively and productive engagement.
  2. Polling location at Bailey School moved to Dailey.
  3. I zoned-out on a follow-up discussion about revisiting premium pay out of ARPA funds. You can read it here.

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