Does 7-11 sell crack pipes? Apparently, we have variety stores in this city that are. If they do, can and should the city make it illegal to do so?
These are two of the many interesting questions raised last night. Let’s get into it.
1. ADUs? Not Yet
There was to have been a public hearing on the proposed ADU ordinance that has been written about and discussed in this space (and others) ad nauseum. However, the hearing could not be held as scheduled, as the Planning Board first needs to meet and issue a recommendation. However, the Planning Board did not meet last month. As such, there was obviously no recommendation in time for last night’s meeting.
Thus, the public hearing on the ordinance will have to wait until after the Planning Board’s July 17 meeting [hypothetically: If Planning Board members wanted to stall until after the election, could they simply refuse to meet for the next few months?].
The discussion that followed featured the usual foot-dragging bullshit that surrounds this issue. Apparently, some councilors are now adherents to a novel legislation standard whereby there must be a concensus among all eleven members as to each and every word in a proposed ordinance before it can proceed to a vote.
Despite the fact that the Council already voted to send this ordinance draft to public hearing, Council Gitschier moved to send it back to DPD for a do-over. We heard the usual vague and impossible requirement that “we need to create an ordinance that everyone can live with.” However, as usual, we never actually get to hear what specific ordinance provisions that, if included, these councilors would support. Indeed, Councilor Drinkwater, the Chair of the Zoning Subcommittee, stated that no Councilor has approached him with specific amendments. Councilor Mercier pushed back, to some extent, stating:
I know we already have ADUs, and I don’t know if the point is to make them less refined…I don’t know. But, we had a gentleman that came up to the podium, and he spoke about ADUs and what different other surrounding communities have like he said that Tyngsboro has this in it, and he read it. And then he said Dracut has this in it – which was different, but it was also another section. Everything that he said was so on target and so understandable and it made sense. It wasn’t a statement that you could take any way and interpret it any way. It was defined, it was right to the point and I made a motion and asked that these are things that he brought forth be put in our ordinance, and they’re not.
I found this interesting on a couple of fronts. One, Councilor Mercier has been known to trot out the tired “Lowell is not [fill in city name]” when it suits her agenda. Yet now, we’re looking to mirror surrounding suburbs with demographics unlike Lowell. Two, one of our surrounding communities has recognized that their overly-restrictive ADU ordinance needs to be relaxed and expanded. And three, her comments willfully ignore the similarities between our proposed ordinance and Salem’s ordinance when a city like Salem much more on-point than Dracut/Tyngsboro.
Ultimately, Councilor Gitschier’s motion failed 4-6 (Councilor Leahy absent). Tune in to the Planning Board Meeting on 7/17 (if they have it) for more.
2. That’s the Sound of Da Police
There were a number of motions on the agenda specifically aimed at the issues in the Back Central Neighborhood. More broadly, there was a thread running though the motion list (and Council discussion) aimed at addressing vagrancy in the city, in general:
- C. Gitschier – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Secure The Property At 32 Union Street.
- C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Have The Law Department Provide Insight On The Process To Examine Banning The Sale Of Glass Pens Or Glass Stem Sales In Convenience Stores Within City Limits.
- C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Work With Proper Department To Develop A Proactive Solution To Vagrancy, Substance Abuse, Loitering Issues Around St John’s Church Area.
- C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Have Proper Department Reach Out To The Middlesex Sheriff’s Office To Request That The Mobile Command Center Be Deployed To The Back Central Neighborhood As It Was Last Year.
- C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Have The Lowell Police Department Increase Foot And Car Patrols In The Back Central Neighborhood.
- C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Provide Update On The Requested Fencing At The City Owned Lot At 32 Union Street.
- C. Jenness – Req. City Mgr. Put Together A Neighborhood Summit With The Back Central Neighborhood Leaders, Residents, Business Owners, Public Safety Representatives And Other Stakeholders To Discuss Strategies Around Improving Quality Of Life In The Neighborhood.
You often hear the axiom that “you can’t arrest your way out of this.” But does turning a blind eye work? Should we turn the entire city into our own Hampsterdam? How’s that working out for us? Sure, society has failed in many respects, but must we have our noses rubbed in public drug use, loitering, vandalism, illegal dumping, acts of lewdness, etc.? Councilor Robinson pointed out that we have laws dealing with all of these transgressions. Somewhere along the line, it seems, we stopped enforcing them. The reasons are complex and manyfold, not the least of which is a court system unwilling or unable to process persons accused of such crimes.
The theory advanced by councilors last night, was that you can’t win the war if you’re not even willing to fight it. Councilor Rourke addressed the City Manager directly and stated “this has to end here and now” further, “this council needs to give a clear message to the Manager as to what we expect.” The implication being that management has the blessing of councilors to start cracking down with the force of law enforcement.
Over the past two weeks there has been an increased police presence at Jay’s Food Store on Gorham Street (which also allegedly sells the aforementioned crack pipes). Reports suggest that this has been effective – at Jay’s – but may have just pushed people to other nearby properties (For Example: St. John’s Church). I would expect to see a more heavy-handed approach in the coming months. What remains to be seen is whether we will begin a never-ending game of trouble spot Whack-A-Mole, and how the various levels of the criminal justice system respond.
3. Manning & Ventura Fields (brought to you by the Catholic Church?)
There was a response to the following motion by Councilor Robinson:
MOTION RESPONSE: 10/4/2022 – C. Robinson – Req. City Mgr. Begin Conversations Around A Possible Partnership With Lowell Catholic With Focus On Improvements To Fields They Are Utilizing For Athletics
The response noted that Lowell Catholic currently makes use of the following publicly-owned fields throughout the city:
As a religious organization, Lowell Catholic is on the long list of entities that don’t pay property taxes. As such, they’re not kicking in for the wear and tear on city fields in the same manner as the public at-large (absent usage fees, of course – which I don’t have time to check this morning). The response was interesting in that it didn’t focus on the fields Lowell Catholic currently uses, but rather, explores (or revisits) the idea of private development of Manning/Ventura Field. If you don’t know Manning Field, Dick Howe, Jr. provided a nice history back in March of 2017:
In exchange for private investment, Lowell Catholic (or, in theory, some other entity) would get preferred access to this public property. In other words, they could have a “home field” and thus, open up the list of other city fields to other uses or less wear and tear. The City would have final say on the design and the public would have some use of the facilities.
My knee-jerk reaction is usually vehement opposition for public lands reserved for private interests. However, I view the Manning situation as something of an exception in that the location of the field makes it somewhat of a waste for any entity other than Lowell Catholic. If improvements can be made and the public can retain adequate use (ie: no “every 3rd Sunday from 4 AM to 6 AM) this could be a win-win.
3. The Rest
A. An update on the Open Streets proposal that began last September.
B. LTC 99 Broadcast issues have been fixed and streaming works! Except when it’s not working. Which was last night.
C. Motion by Councilor Gitschier to Req. City Mgr. Provide An Update On Releasing All Executive Session Minutes That No Longer Warrants Confidentiality. This should be done as a matter of course.