Lowell City Council met for an hour and 20 minutes Monday night on the Zoom videoconferencing platform to discuss a variety of issues. All councilmembers were present and a number of residents and business owners joined the meeting to discuss issues ranging from a planned garden sale to a land swap for the RiverView Flats condominium project.
At the start of the meeting, City Manager Mike Burns provided an update on the city’s COVID-19 response.
“It looks like next week we can open up park equipment,” he said. Signs would be posted near the equipment to remind parents to maintain social distancing. City Hall will also reopen to the public on Monday.
Councilmembers were asked how they would like to hold future meetings. While the current Executive Order allows groups of 100 people to meet outdoors, it limits indoor gatherings to 10 people. The consensus seemed to be that an outdoor location would be preferable to continued meetings on Zoom, and Creekside Park, the library patio and Lowell Area Historical Museum garden were all suggested as possible locations.
Sidewalk Repair Plan Moved Back
In 2018, Lowell City Council ok’d a six step process for addressing city sidewalks that are in disrepair. The plan was never put into practice, and councilmembers made its implementation a priority during their goal-setting at the beginning of the year.
Burns noted he put the item on the meeting agenda as requested but questioned whether councilmembers wanted to pursue the matter given current events. Sidewalk repairs are the responsibility of homeowners, and Burns noted many residents have experienced a loss of income recently.
Councilmembers decided to table the matter until fall and asked Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki to bring a report in September outlining which sidewalks need repairs. It was unclear if the 2018 enforcement process would be used or if a new plan would be formulated.
Park Land Encumbered to Finalize Land Swap
As part of its settlement with Unity School Investors, the city agreed to swap a 7×263 foot parcel of park land in front of a former bus garage for a 10×50 foot square of land from the investors’ property at 219 High Street.
Since the park land was developed using state money, the Department of Natural Resources needed to approve the swap. However, the department did not feel the 500 square feet being offered by the developers was sufficient in exchange for the 1,841 square feet of park space. As a solution, Burns suggested encumbering a section of existing park land that wasn’t already subject to DNR restrictions.
However, Councilmember Cliff Yankovich said he had heard from two people who had concerns. “The perception is that we are giving up more and the developers are not giving anything into the pot,” he said. He asked how to explain it to citizens.
“I’ve been selling it as a second layer of protection,” Mayor Mike DeVore said. “It’s already park land, but the DNR park land is untouchable in perpetuity.”
“Well, the seven feet was protected, and we took it out so it doesn’t really protect it. It just makes it more difficult,” Councilmember Greg Canfield commented later. He asked if the developers had been approached about additional land, and Burns said no.
Perry Beachum, chair of the Lowell Parks & Recreation Commission, was watching the council meeting with Canfield, and Councilmember Marty Chambers asked if he was present. Chambers noted that the land being received by the city is 50×10 square feet, and Canfield replied that originally it was a larger parcel. He turned to Beachum to ask how much land was originally proposed by developers for the swap. During regular meetings in council chambers, it is not unusual for Beachum to be asked questions about park issues and for him to respond from the floor. However, DeVore took exception to his involvement in Monday’s meeting because he was not visible on the screen.
“Are we taking public comment without that person being recognized for this agenda item? Is that what’s happening right now?” DeVore said. That cut the conversation short, and councilmembers unanimously voted to encumber city park land so the land swap could be approved by the DNR. Yankovich noted his yes vote was in the interest of moving forward.
Garden Sale on Main Street
Next on the agenda was a discussion of using Broadway Street for a garden sale planned by Tonia North, owner of North Star Antiques. She envisioned an event being held on the weekend of June 13th that would occupy a space similar to that used during the annual Larkin’s Chili Cook-off.
North had organized a similar garden sale last weekend, but instead of using Broadway, she set up in the parking lot behind her store and between Riverside and Broadway Streets. That sale was well-received by many people, but some neighboring business owners had concerns about its set-up.
“We love the idea of what you’re trying to do and we look forward to more of that, but the location you had it this last time deterred some people from coming to our business,” said Eric Bartkus, co-owner of Ability Weavers.
Chambers added that Larkin’s Restaurant would be opening for takeout soon, and the owner was not in favor of having Broadway being closed since it had the potential to block off access to his entrance.
Beachum was recognized for a comment and suggested using Riverside Drive next to the Lowell Light & Power building. He noted that the vacant line shack building could be opened to give vendors some covered space as well. It was agreed that this location would provide a good compromise, and the request to close the section of Riverside for the event was approved.
Rainwater Runoff from Laurels of Kent
Before the end of the meeting, resident Robert Marsman asked councilmembers for assistance with water that has flooded his backyard since the Laurels of Kent repaved their parking lot. Apparently, several of his neighbors are having similar problems.
“[Laurels of Kent is] claiming to me that the city won’t let them tie in any storm drains to let them fix the problem,” Marsman said. “I’m getting like 30,000 gallons of water dumped on my property every time it rains and forcing my basement to flood.”
Czarnecki said it wasn’t true that the city wouldn’t allow Laurels of Kent to hook up to the storm system. He said no one from the facility had contacted him about the matter although he did get one inquiry from a contractor who did not call him back. He noted that there is a county drain nearby as well as storm sewers on Heffron Street. However, it would be up to Laurels of Kent to get the water there.
“I feel like everyone is saying, well, it’s not our problem,” Marsman said. “I feel like no one wants to give us a hand.”
Czarnecki agreed to send a letter to Laurels of Kent advising them of their options to hook into nearby sewers. Yankovich also suggested that Marsman and his neighbors may want to consult with an attorney.
Other Action from the Meeting
Other items passed unanimously at the meeting include:
- A moratorium on the city’s sandwich board ordinance which will allow downtown businesses to erect additional signs during the next 120 days.
- Resolutions to create Retirement Health Savings Plans for employees
Burns said the transformer fire last week is believed to have been caused by a defect in the transformer. The city is currently filing an insurance claim but will also be pursuing reimbursement from the manufacturer. He also shared that the road project on Elizabeth, Suffolk and Howard Streets will start next week.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, June 15, 2020 at 7pm.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 7:20am on June 4, 2020 to clarify the interaction between Chambers, Canfield, Beachum and DeVore during the discussion on the land swap.