City Council Liveblog 9/22/09

7:12: Underway here at City Hall. Proclamations, etc. to start.

7:13: Multiple items on the reuse of the old Worcester Courthouse. One item on potentially using it as a new police station, another on the state’s process on disposing it.

One of the questions from the city councilors is whether or not the state’s Department of Capital and Asset Management’s disposal of the building will fit in with the city’s plans for redevelopment.

The city report on the state’s plan is here.

7:18: City Councilor Phil Palmieri says that he wants to include the parking lot behind the Worcester Aud–and potentially the current police department building–to be part of any package deal.

This is turning into a HUGE development package…like the size of Barre, approximately.

7:19: We know the question will come quick: If it has taken this long to get CitySquare going, will a new massive development project have any shot, especially in such a down economy?

“I don’t think there are going to be many bites [for] the…courthouse…and Auditorium…,” says Palmieri—who quickly adds that including the police department to the package would make all the difference.

He acknowledges people won’t swoop in for this, but says it could be a huge huge boon for the city down the road.

7:21: Councilor Smith, bringing up his ol’ favorite chestnut: turning the courthouse into a law school. He advocates allowing the parcels to be sold off one-by-one, if it means a quicker path towards reuse.

City Manager Michael O’Brien says that there have been “general conversations” about the Auditorium, but says the courthouse is under state jurisdiction.

As for the Aud…he says that most proposers so far have wanted the city to pay for extensive build out and renovations and hand the building over for $1.

7:27: Mayor Lukes—she wants to know about using the courthouse for a new police station to replace the oversized bunker that the department uses as their HQ right across Lincoln Square.

“We’ll see these buildings be empty for a long time…”

Essentially, Lukes says that the buildings will have too many restrictions, cost too much, etc etc etc and are destined to remain AS IS for a long time.

“The longer [the courthouse] sits, the more difficulty…the state will have in marketing it.”

“Hopefully there will be some private response to this….I’d like to see something exciting happen there.”

7:32: Councilor Kate Toomey…against the bundling concept, for development. And, very much in favor of traffic studies being included in any development report.

7:34: Councilor Paul Clancy suggests the city should work with the state to see if they’re willing to knock down a portion of the old courthouse for parking use.

Clancy sees the beauty of the building, “even though it’s a historical structure, it would be millions and millions of dollars to rebuild that” but also thinks “..we should be most cautious about any kind of ownership of that [old courthouse] building” with the city’s ownership of other vacant building.

7:43: And Councilor Rushton “…at the end of the day we need to know what we’re good at.” He calls for biotech

7:45: And Palmieri calls for being “bold” not cautious.

He says that it’s not usually what cities do—piecing together parcels for development—but says it needs to be done.

“We can look at [the parcels] individually…there’s a whole host of interesting concepts and ideas that can come from this.”

7:48: Councilor Haller wants to start a program that would give individual businesses one ‘business permit’ to use at on-street metered parking where off-street parking isn’t available.

7:49: The whole council co-sponsors an item calling for direct injection of imidacloprid, rather than the soil drenching method being proposed by the USDA.

Rosen says that direct injection needs to be guaranteed “before they make any more mistakes.”

7:54: Smith: He advocated for the chemical treatment of host trees as opposed to a widespread tree removal plan.

But now, he says, it has to be done the right way.

Well, wait. Rosen indirectly said tree injection is quicker. Smith says it’s more efficient.

But then Smith says that it takes a longer time, and thus more man hours and thus…more expensive.

If funding weren’t an issue, says Smith, he’s heard the government could treat 100,000 trees…which isn’t as many as are in the quarantine zone. SO, this plan is a “long term” strategy.

“Let’s protect our trees, but let’s do it the right way.”

(Anyone else get the sneaking suspicion we may just be delaying the inevitable?)

8:00: Councilor Rushton: “One of the things I’ve learned is you can’t take the USDA at face value…the USDA and DCR…you cannot trust their word on its face.”

“Despite that, you can’t throw out everybody they do say.”

Translation: You can listen to what they say sometimes, when it makes sense to you.

Says Rushton: “We must always have a wary eye.”

8:04: And Haller wants the USDA to move their testing ground for chemicals away from Crystal Park. She’s heard the USDA has three other chemicals they want to try out…and are eyeing non-infested areas.

Those three chemicals (we didn’t catch the name) will be the subject of future public hearings.

8:12: Counselor Rosen asks that testing is ONLY done with injections, rather than drenching the soil, of the tens of thousands of trees that will be tested in the city next spring.

8:14: Councilor Rosen says that “children are being terrorized” by dogs at the Elm Park playground.

He suggests we work with environmental groups to use signs in public parks to teach community members why it’s important not to feed geese, and walk their dogs in the city’s parks.

Soooo…where are dogs allowed, if not in parks?

8:20: Councilor Petty questioning how much federal stimulus has gone to the school system…and the plan to deal with those funded programs next year, when stimulus dries up.

Rushton: “I’m not going to send one more cent above the minimum requirement unless I’m told they have…a citywide plan [on parental involvement] they’re ready to adopt.”

Mayor Lukes say a program is already being developed.

Rushton says there is too much of a “malaise” in implementing programs, and that the council needs to “light a fire” with the threat of withholding money.

8:25: Councilor Clancy calls for separating dollars from policy.

8:28: Haller, wanting to know the status on city-owned traffic cameras in high-problem areas. Maybe this issue will get RadioBall active again.

8:29: Petty says he’s heard there’s some support in the statehouse for the cameras.

8:33: H1N1 prep.

8:35: Under suspension.

Councilor Rushton, on the WRTA.

He says -re: a complaint from a constituent – that the WRTA is prohibiting people in wheelchairs who exceed certain ADA weight limits from using the lifts on busses.

The person Rushton is referring to is a longtime WRTA customer and teacher who was told her equipment was overweight, and thus she would have to wait for a low-floor bus…but that the WRTA couldn’t guarantee one would be on her route.

(And, says Rushton, those low floor busses can’t properly secure her wheelchair).

ADA defines a “common wheelchair,” that must be usable on lifts, as having a user & chair weight limit of 600 lbs.—though Rushton refers to that as a “minimum” weight limit.

“I find it completely unacceptable the way this process is being handled,” says Rushton re: the WRTA’s handling of the woman beyond her initial denial.

Rushton wants a report on what he calls an “arbitrary and capricious” process the WRTA is using…and anyone else who has been denied informed about the appeal process.

8:46: Councilor Petty asks how many denials or recertification limits have gone out.

Councilor Petty says that WRTA administrator Stephen O’Neill has told him some of the older busses simply couldn’t lift a passenger and his wheelchair, in one particular case…but that a newer bus or special arrangements could be a potential solution.

9:07: Adjourned.

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