Posted by Jeremy Shulkin
Welcome to the first liveblog of the 2010. Mayor O’Brien has already lost his voice.
Most of the councilors have new seat assignments. During this process there’s a lot of laughing and joking around. We’ll see how long this buddy-buddy stuff lasts.
7:07: We’re off! They’re taking care of some formality stuff. Haller wants to know how much it costs to print and publish the City Council manual. Apparently it costs nothing, according to Clerk Rushford since it’s just put online. If they have to print a copy for someone it’s a “nominal” charge.
7:09: DelSignore is re-elected to a three-year term as City Auditor.
7:10: Clerk Rushford leaves the room for discussion on Montvale. Palmieri says this “ongoing issue” won’t be resolved tonight because of the homeowner’s attorney (Burton Chandler) and a general agreement to see if a previous resolution by the former Economic Development subcommittee might pull through. He says this should take no longer than two more weeks. If they can’t come up with an agreement this time, then the Council should take its vote.
7:14: Mike O’Brien says to make it seven days, since there’s no meeting in two weeks. It’ll be voted on next week.
7:15: Leslie Fish is here on behalf of the Worcester Public Library Foundation Board to present a gift of $36,000 to the city to keep the library open on Sundays. Alright!
7:17: Nat Needle is here to perform a song for the Council. His speech is all-encompassing, touching on topics like O’Brien’s “surprise landslide election” to leprechauns. “O’Brien has raised people’s hopes so high, that I don’t know if he’s going to make it without this song.”
7:20: Lyric snippets:
“Make is so, Joe, make it so…we little people don’t want to hear ‘no'”
“We’ll expect all the pot holes to pop up”
“How about a giant public Roman-Japanese bath?”
I really wish I could’ve typed faster to get more lyrics for y’all. Watch the replay tomorrow–you won’t be disappointed.
7:24: Theresa Senckowski is appointed to the Community Development Advisory Committee.
7:25: The Greenwood Street landfill comes up. Clancy wants part of it to be put up for development, and wants the city to put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) to see if anyone wants to put something there.
7:28: Lukes is impressed with the report about the city’s assistance programs for supporting new and existing businesses, but she says she’s disappointed about the number of businesses applying. Tim McGourthy (who will be all over this Thursday’s issue of Worcester Mag), the city’s Director of Economic Development says there are some other complications, for example if a tenet of a building applies then the owner of the building has to get involved too.
7:33: Palmieri says the changes to storefronts through this program have been “dramatic” (the program provides money for outside improvements for businesses).
7:36: Clancy wants to get banks on board with this to offer loans for facade development. He’s already got one to offer a 5% commercial fixed-rate loan over 15 years, which he says is “unheard of in today’s economy.”
7:39: Rushton asks if there are more application for this than dollars available. McGourthy says based on timing the applications in the pipeline should still get funded. Rushton likes the idea of the banks getting involved, with specific banks “adopting” sections of town for economic development grants. Kind of like adopting a street to pick up trash (his analogy, not mine).
7:42: Haller wants to have all block grant money go to the facade improvement program because of the success it’s had.
7:44: Toomey calls this an “incredible opportunity to tell a great story about a city that’s committed to businesses.” McGourthy says 18 businesses have submitted applications/is in construction from the CDGB program. Three are already done–one of them is Sumey’s Pub on Chandler (as Clancy pointed out earlier). Toomey calls this “an incredible new tool the city can use to market itself for business.”
7:47: Lukes is disappointed that so much development around the old Worcester Tech High School is going to residential properties. At the old Boys and Girls Club building developers are using historic tax credits, so there are some restrictions to what they can do there.
7:55: Lukes puts in a motion to put more emphasis on more diverse housing in the area, as well as some space for retail. She wants more developers who don’t rely too much on public funds for housing, saying we need to encourage more people to move to downtown Worcester. She says Worcester has exceeded the state’s magic 10% number of available public housing in the city.
7:57: Rushton and Lukes are going over the meaning of “diverse.” It means capping the public housing at that 10% number. Haller says she can’t agree with Lukes’ motion.
7:59: Palmieri is concerned about some of this, including the developers waiting for subsidies to kick in, which can take “years and years and years.” He says there’s nothing wrong with subsidized housing, but when that the “forte” of a certain developer, it takes a long long time to see results.
8:04: Petty says he’s also not prepared to support Lukes’ motion. There’s a lot of talk about WinnDevelopment, the firm that’s bought a lot of property around there. Some say it’s risky because of it’s reliance on subsidies, while others say it’s a reputable developer in Mass.
8:06: Clancy says it’s good that there’s interest in reusing this buildings, but says that Winn is “feasting” off of state grants for affordable housing. Clancy says there’s probably enough of that here and that it’s time to figure out what kind of housing Worcester wants to start building.
8:15: Toomey says that we need to keep in mind that in order for downtown to survive we need people downtown that have disposable income. There should be different types of housing, but the city needs to remember to reach out to the businessman or retiree and get them to move downtown and spend their money downtown.
8:18: Rushton makes a “Lincoln never slept there” joke about the historic Boys and Girls Club building, in reference to the “Lincoln never played tennis there” argument about the Montvale district. Rushton says he sees Worcester as a city that will “build on its innovation.” For that reason, he questions that we really think about developing innovation corridors within the city. He hoped that some of these parcels for housing were saved for Gateway Park expansion, so that more biotech (he referenced that earlier) could move in. Property behind Gateway Park could be expansion areas for the businesses/research going on there now.
8:23: Lukes wants this discussion to move to the Economic Development Committee. She also wants a study on housing, the revival on downtown Worcester, and the Gateway parcels that are still in the city’s control.
8:27: The motion has been clarified to have the City Manager come before Council with his proposal for what to do in this area and to have the 10% subsidized housing rule be referred to Economic Development.
8:36: Lukes takes Mayor’s seat because his voice is shot.
8:37: Clancy call her “Madam Mayor” then corrects himself to “Madam chairperson.”
8:38: A motion to amend the zoning ordinance in order to accomodate wind conversion facilities passes.
8:41: We’re talking school transportation and contracts awarded. Haller wants to know if there are other ways to better student transportation, including using the WRTA. She wants this to move to the Transportation department. Toomey says the reality is the WRTA doesn’t have enough buses, calling it a “volume issue.” Mayor O’Brien reassumes the mayor’s chair.
8:45: Haller wants a report from the school side on this issue.
8:54: A lot of money moving around between city accounts. A lot of confusion on the Council floor about what motions are to reconsider, or to reconsider the reconsideration to table motions.
8:55: Rushton is standing up with his coat on as Petty is speaking about weather issues and Direct Air. Lukes wants to know what security measures are at the Worcester airport.
8:56: Smith talks about the fire near Monadnock Road that the nearest fire hydrant wasn’t functioning. He wants to make sure this isn’t the case throughout the city.
8:59: Meeting adjourned. The cat leash item was referred to the Public Works committee.