City Council Recap: Officer Honored, Tree Ordinance Revision Planned

Lowell City Council met for a half hour on Monday night to discuss two pieces of business. They also heard from a local businessman who is concerned with the permitting process for work completed in the city’s right-of-way, and Police Chief Chris Hurst recognized one member of the Lowell Police Department for her commitment to excellence.

All councilmembers were present for the meeting.

Detective Aubrey Culver Receives Distinguished Service Award

To start off the meeting, Hurst invited Detective Aubrey Culver to the front of council chambers. He noted that Culver took over the role of detective last year and cleared out stale complaints, handled disturbing cases and has never wavered in her commitment to the department.

“Detective Culver is an example of dedication,” Hurst said. “She’s never backed down from an assignment.” He added that she has taken over tech services for the department and voluntarily put in extra time to implement new technology for officers to use.

In recognition of her commitment to going above and beyond in her work, Culver received the Distinguished Service Award.

Public Comments: Concern about Right-of-Way Construction Permits

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Greg Canfield shared with councilmembers his concern regarding an increase in the cost of right-of-way construction permits. Canfield, who owns Canfield Plumbing and Heating, said that permits previously cost $50 but now are $250. He asked what had prompted the increase.

Dan Czarnecki, director of the Department of Public Works, explained that the city reevaluated the permit cost two years ago after a significant amount of right-of-way work was completed by companies such as Point Broadband, Comcast and AT&T. In total, the city processed about 70 permits during this time, and each permit required about two hours of time from city staff, according to Czarnecki.

“In hindsight, we should have looked at a two-tier or three-tier type [system],” he said, noting that smaller residential projects may not require as much review by city staff. “In trying to keep it simple, we probably made it more onerous than it needs to be.”

Canfield passed out a packet of information to councilmembers and noted that while the permit her received from City Hall has a $250 fee listed, the online permit application still says $50. He also presented a section of the Public Highways and Private Roads Act that seems to indicate local units of government should hold a public hearing before setting fees and that fees are only supposed to cover a government’s costs.

“It’s not a revenue source; you’re just supposed to be covering your costs,” Canfield said. “I think at $250, it’s a revenue source.”

Tree Ordinance Revision Approved

Under old business, councilmembers unanimously approved the payment of $4,136 to consulting firm Williams & Works to review and update the city’s tree ordinance. The move comes after questions were raised about ambiguity in the current ordinance regarding the process for the removal and replacement of trees in the city.

The current ordinance was passed more than 15 years ago in response to what many thought was an overly aggressive tree removal campaign implemented by Lowell Light & Power. Tree removal began in 2006, and the controversy spilled over to the next year and was considered a major issue for those running for Lowell City Council in 2007.

A review of meeting minutes by Lowell’s First Look found some of the earliest mentions of the issue were in councilmember comments in May 2006. At an August 2006 special meeting, then-Councilmember Jim Pfaller expressed his concern with the matter as well, and it was decided the city DPW director would determine whether trees should be removed from city property and the DPW director and LLP operations manager would work together to determine whether trees on private property required trimming.

By 2007, Lowell City Council was involved in lengthy discussions on the matter. In January 2007, LLP proposed the creation of a “City Tree Planting Fund” in which the utility would contribute $250 for every tree it removed. That was contingent upon the City of Lowell agreeing to contribute $250 each time it needed to remove a tree for road, sewer or sidewalk projects. Money in the fund could then be used for the purchase of trees to be planted in the city,

In February 2007, Pfaller noted that LLP had removed 88 trees during a construction project on Bowes Road and that the utility should deposit $17,000 into the fund to compensate the city for trees removed without authorization. A moratorium on tree trimming was also enacted until June 2007 when the city and LLP came to an understanding about how to address the issue going forward.

As part of responding to citizen concerns, Lowell City Council decided to pursue a Tree City USA designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Communities earn the designation by completing the following criteria:

  • Maintaining a tree board or department
  • Having a community tree ordinance
  • Spending at least $2 per capita on urban forestry
  • Celebrating Arbor Day

Lowell was officially designated a Tree City USA on April 7, 2008.

Other Meeting Items

The following also occurred during the Monday meeting:

  • Lowell City Council voted unanimously to install variable frequency drives on the pumps at the water treatment facility. These drives will help the pumps run more efficiently and have a total cost of $25,148, including installation.
  • City Manager Mike Burns said the city and LLP will work together to collect and chip brush and tree limbs from city residences. The pick-up will take place the week of May 1-5, and residents must have brush and limbs neatly arranged by the roadway prior to the start of the week. Limbs trimmed by tree cutting services are not eligible, and there are limits to the size of the brush pile and individual branches. See the City of Lowell website for more details.

The meeting adjourned at 7:31pm, and the next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, May 1, at 7pm.

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