1. One Issue Meeting
Council chambers were filled to capacity last night, and I think we all know why. Dear reader, I’m happy to report that the Kiwanis Club’s Annual Monsterbash and Halloween Stroll is happening Saturday, October 28 from 12 PM – 3 PM. [Unless Belvidere decides otherwise].
2. Profiles In Courage
At long-last, we had a public hearing and vote on an ordinance that would allow Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), by-right, throughout the city.
For the past several months, this measure sure looked like it was sailing toward approval. In July, Mayor Chau released an idealistic op-ed titled: “This is the right moment to approve accessory dwelling units in Lowell.” I loved it. Change was in the air. The “Pro-ADU” camp had the momentum and the votes. As recently as a week ago, there were seven councilors assumed to be favor (Chau, Drinkwater, Jenness, Leahy, Nuon, Rourke and Yem) and only four against (Gitschier, Mercier, Robinson and Scott). This would be a cake-walk.
Last night, the ordinance crashed and burned by a vote of 7-4 after three councilors (Mayor Chau, Councilors Nuon and Leahy) withdrew their support and voted “no.”
So what happened? The city has been having ADU discussions for the past two years. I watched all of it. Closely. I mistook the silence coming out of District 3 as an expression of ADU support, or at least silent acquiescence.
That was dumb, and I was wrong. As soon as I saw the now-infamous flyer, some simple political arithmetic began sink in:
Some Belvidere “names” were far from cool with the ADU ordinance. As a consequence, the politically vulnerable would need to abandon their pro-ADU ideals or face a Reilly School auditorium full of outrage. Thus, three “Pro-ADU” councilors had to decide whether it was worth dying on the ADU hill:
Councilor Nuon: Needs to fight off two strong anti-ADU challengers to keep his at-large seat and is rumored to seek higher office. He reasoned that he would change his vote because the Council (of which he is a member) “didn’t do a good job” on the ordinance.
Mayor Chau: Has amassed about $40,000 in a campaign fund and could likely win District 6 with about $40. All signs point to him using that money to make a jump to a higher office as well. Mayor Chau stated that he was anticipating state action on the ADU issue and would rather punt to see what the state does first (more on that later).
Councilor Leahy: Has to live in Belvidere and probably doesn’t want his house to get egged. Councilor Leahy stated that, as a district councilor, he has a duty to advance the will of his constituents. A last minute flurry of e-mails convinced him that his constituents don’t like the ordinance. (In my opinion, of the three that flipped, this is the only argument that passes the smell test).
When writing about the ADU debate in his July Op-Ed, Mayor Chau noted:
“Unlike in the past when we have had these debates, the City Council is now in a unique position. District representation has given more people a seat at the table for these conversations, bringing more voices into the fold.“
I read that as a proclamation that Councilors could get a little bolder in making policy without taking dictation from the usual power brokers. That sure looks pretty funny this morning. Belvidere can still flex – and when it wants to, you’d better fall in line or life can get difficult if you want to maintain a political career. In the end, it simply wasn’t worth it to Mayor Chau, Councilors Nuon and Leahy.
Thus, the Lowell ADU Ordinance is dead. If you’re celebrating, you may want to slow your roll. Just this morning, Gov. Healey unveiled a $4.1 billion housing bond bill. Among the features is a statewide ADU component:
Under the raft of policy initiatives in the bill, homeowners would be able to more easily build accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, also called “granny flats,” which are under 900 square feet, in single-family zoned districts in all communities.
This is what happens when local communities refuse to give an inch on housing creation.
3. The Rest
Let’s say it’s a sunny Wednesday morning. You’re a city employee…busy…likely underpaid. The Manager or Assistant Manager comes in, drops this on your desk and says you need to figure it out:
C. Yem – Req. City Mgr. Have The Appropriate Department Explore Ways To Harness The Power Of Artificial Information (AI) To Transform The City Operations.
Do you just start sobbing? Pack up your stuff and leave? Get philosophical?
[Bonus: If you succeed, you’ll be replaced by a machine and laid-off!]
Also, I somehow missed it, but it looks like the city just released a couple of years worth of executive session minutes: