1. A FULL AGENDA
It took nearly three hours to work through a relatively heavy agenda. There were six motion responses, two substantive informational reports (CPA Funds and Cawley Stadium), and a whopping twenty four motions.
Why it matters: There was some healthy debate last week as to whether new councilors should undergo something of a “break in period” before pushing an agenda. The Citizen take is that a duly elected representative can and should be heard starting the day they take office. However, the uptick in motion volume (and the strain it can place on city resources) is worth noting. The council is now larger, but the city administration is not. In the first four meetings this year, the council has filed 53 motions. When compared to the first four meetings of years past, this increase is significant:
The increase is more striking when one considers that there were no motions filed at this year’s first meeting. In other words – 53 motions in three meetings.
Most motions will require a response – often a report (often of questionable value). It’s great that the new council has shown interest in moving the city forward. However, it’s not difficult to imagine a city administration bogged down in report writing. It’s too soon to tell whether this trend will hold (or if it has any meaning one way or the other), but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
2. CPA FUNDS
An informational report was provided relative to a motion filed by Councilor Nuon as to “Community Preservation Act Process and Information” (found here). In sum, Lowell’s Community Preservation Committee put forth a number of spending recommendations, dependent on approval by the Council. There were a number of registered speakers (from Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust, Mass Audubon and Mill City Grows) in support of a recommendation to use a bonded portion of the funds to purchase and preserve Rollie’s Farm in Pawtucketville.
Why it matters: In 2019 Lowell voters joined the list of Massachusetts communities that have adopted the CPA. It’s great to see the possibilities of CPA adoption coming to fruition. The City’s Open Space and Recreation Plan has identified its primary goals for expanding and improving upon open space and recreation opportunities. Adoption of the CPA Committee’s recommendation as to Rollie’s Farm will help meet that objective. The matter will go before an appropriate sub-committee, then will return to the Council for additional comment, debate, and (hopefully) approval.
3. ROURKE BRIDGE
Once again, the Rourke Bridge took center stage during council discussion. Specifically, a motion filed by Councilors Rourke and Robinson:
Req. City Mgr. Contact MassDOT And Request Emergency Inspection Of The Rourke Bridge, To Provide Any And All Weight Restrictions That Might Apply So The City Can Post Accordingly, And To Also Request To Place Bridge Into The State Transportation Improvement Program.
Why it matters: As covered in this space and others last week, the bridge, (say it with me: “constructed as ‘temporary’ in 1983”) is in need of replacement. Things may finally be moving to that end as more than $1 billion will be coming to Massachusetts from the federal government over the next few years for bridge replacement and repair projects. This funding is the result of the bipartisan infrastructure deal. Massachusetts’ share of a $27.5 billion bridge program is $1.1 billion over the next five years. However, it will take years for a new bridge to be approved and constructed. In the meantime, residents have concerns about the safety of the bridge as it exists today. Hopefully, the MassDOT can put some minds at ease.
Dig Deeper on Bridge Infrastructure
As with many issues before the council, the issues plaguing Lowell are not unique. Crumbling infrastructure, particularly with respect to bridges is a nationwide issue:
In addition, this site is a bit cumbersome, but has some pretty cool info on Massachusetts’ bridges:
4. CAWLEY STADIUM
Speaking of infrastructure challenges, an informational report, drafted by Gale Engineering, Inc., was provided to the Council as to the “existing conditions of the grandstand waterproofing, roof systems, concrete facade, windows, ADA accessibility, hazardous materials testing, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, fire protection, and life safety code compliance.” The cost estimate of the necessary work is approximately $8 million (excluding ADA compliance).
Why it matters: I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who uses the facilities that the situation is pretty grim:
Much like the Rourke Bridge, everyone can agree on the problem, but things hit a wall when it comes time to throw money at it. An organization known as the Lowell Athletics and Activities Foundation (https://www.lowellaaf.org) has recently begun to call attention to the situation and raise funds for repair via “public/private partnerships.” It’s likely that the City will also have to find the means to address this situation as well.
5. ACRE DEVELOPMENT
Council Yem filed a motion requesting that the City Manager “Give An Update On The Development Projects In The Acre.” The discussion and public comment that followed did exactly that as Councilor Yem, and representatives from the Coalition for a Better Acre and the Merrimack Valley Food Bank provided updates on development projects underway.
Why it matters: This motion was unique and may not have been brought forward under the the prior at-large system. This one read, essentially, as a councilor marketing the positive developments in his district.
6. CAMBODIA TOWN
Councilors Scott and Nuon brought forth a motion to “Have Proper Department Consider Applying For A Transformative Development Grant To Be Used To Develop Cambodia Town.” MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) is a program for Gateway Cities, designed to accelerate economic growth within focused districts.
Why it matters: Largely concentrated on Branch, Middlesex, and Westford streets, Cambodia Town holds the largest population of Cambodian-American citizens on the East Coast. The area has grown considerably in recent years and a TDI grant would likely buttress and accelerate this growth.