WORCESTER – The longtime complaint from private contractors regarding the time it takes to be permitted for new development in Worcester will once again be addressed on the city council floor this week.  

District 3 City Councilor George Russell has filed an order that is asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.  to review what Russell calls “a series of duplications” in the permitting process.

I spoke about this in the Fall but after speaking with the City Clerk I decided to present a formal request,”  Russell said in a phone interview on February 10

Russell was referring to the Oct. 10, 2017 meeting where a different order regarding erosion control near catch basins and environmentally sensitive areas were different for the Worcester Department of Public Works as it was for the standards that the city and Conservation Commission held private contractors to.

During the Oct. 10 meeting, Russell branched off the order to discuss the frustrations he hears from private contractors regarding a series of meetings and hearings where they feel that they’re duplicating their efforts.  Russell is asking to see if this process can be consolidated or streamlined.

“It is not unusual for a person building a new house or a small business to have to go to multiple meetings at multiple Boards. Many of these ordinances address similar issues,”  Russell said. “These Boards sometimes get the same recommendations about the similar issues from the same city staff.”

Russell used the example of plans regarding water runoff.  If a home builder is within 100 feet of a catch basin, they could wait months to get an approval from Conservation Commission after showing a run off plan.  Once approved the builder would take the same plans and present it to the Planning Board, and possibly the Zoning Board of Appeals, to get the same approval.

“Many times builders will ask the Zoning Board of Appeals to ask for a Variance or Special Permit and then have to wait months to go to Planning or Conservation for other routine items,” Russell said. “Maybe the ZBA can issue those at the same time.”

Russell said that the order is an effort to help spark the building of reasonable priced market rate housing and or assist with small business growth.

“My hope is that the administration can come back with a plan to eliminate the duplication that goes on in the whole permitting process,” Russell said.

Other Orders

  • There are several orders regarding Public Safety and Traffic control.  Councilors At-Large Moe Bergman and Kate Toomey, and District 1 City Councilor Sean Rose have all filed such orders.
  • Councilor-At-Large Konstantina B. Lukes has filed an order asking the City Manager to consider allowing members of Boards and Commissions be allowed to serve on more than one providing there are no conflicts of interest.
  • Mayor Joseph M. Petty is asking the City Manager to work with his office and other “key stakeholders” to form a targeted plan to invest in the city’s multi-family housing

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 6:30 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.

WORCESTER – Economic Development was a large discussion topic during the 2017 municipal election.  First term District 1 City Councilor Sean Rose is making good on his promise to voters by filing an order asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. to look into the possibility of working with the owner of the parcel of property where Barbers Crossing Restaurant was formerly located.

The former restaurant location, located at 321 West Boylston St, has been abandoned since 2006 and the building is in a state disrepair.  It is part of the land plot that includes another restaurant, Wicked Wing Co.

“The city has been patient regarding development of that property,” Rose said in a phone interview. “I’m just disappointed that it has taken this long.”

Rose said that one of his top priorities in his first term is to make the West Boylston St. corridor a target for economic development.  He envisions the area could be developed in a similar way to that of Shrewsbury St., Worcester’s “Restaurant Row”.

“It’s a great opportunity for an untapped resource,” Rose said of the development of the area.

However, Rose said that it is tough to promote economic development in an area when one of the first properties that is visible is abandoned and in such disrepair.

“There are very few entities in the City of Worcester that are an eyesore,” Rose said. “It brings down the value of the properties around it.”

According to city records, the property is owned by Louise Zottoli of Holden.  Zottoli did not respond to multiple phone calls requesting comment.

Rose wants to build off the momentum of the commonly named “Worcester Renaissance,” but believes a property in that condition for that long impedes its progress.

“It’s tough to measure the trajectory of a renaissance when you see that,”  Rosen said

When asked if his order was a call to action, Rose said he recognizes the situation is complex and that he is looking for information and what the city’s options could be.

Packed Agenda

The City Council will see its biggest agenda of the new term on Tuesday night.  Some orders that are noteworthy include:

  • Fresh off of the news that she did not accept the city council pay raise Councilor At-Large Konstatina B. Lukes has filed two orders with regards to pay raise.  The first is an action by the city council to eliminate the automatic pay raise.  The second is referring future pay raises be put to a public vote.  Councilor At-Large Gary Rosen also declined the pay raise for this term.
  • Mayor Joseph M. Petty has filed an order to ask for different ways that the newly acquired property surrounding the Senior Center be utilized.  He is asking for plans specific to creating senior housing
  • Councilor At-Large Morris A Bergman is asking for City Manager Augustus report back on marketing efforts to encourage people to relocate to Worcester amid all the new housing that has been developed.
  • District 2 Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson is asking for an update on the use of the Memorial Auditorium
  • In a cost savings effort, Coucnilor Rose is asking for the operations and maintenance of dams that are located in surrounding towns, but maintained by Worcester Department of Public Works, be reviewed and possibly turned back over to those towns
  • A citizen petition by Stephen Quist, also known as “Q”, is doubling down on the call for term limits.  Quist is asking for the City Council to go on record in support of the creation of a Worcester Charter Commission.

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 6:30 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.

Retail giant Amazon released its list of candidates for their second headquarters — HQ2 — and Worcester was not among the finalist.

“Thank you to all 238 communities that submitted proposals. Getting from 238 to 20 was very tough – all the proposals showed tremendous enthusiasm and creativity,” said Holly Sullivan, Amazon Public Policy said in a statement.

Worcester presented a proposal to Amazon in October. The proposal highlighted the many qualities that the city has and offered some key incentives to the retail giant. Among those incentives were:

Up to $500 million in Real Estate Tax Savings
100% Personal Property Tax Exemption for Over Twenty Years
$1 Million in Job Creation Grant Funds
Quick and Streamlined permitting process

“Through this process we learned about many new communities across North America that we will consider as locations for future infrastructure investment and job creation,”
Sullivan said.

According to the statement, Amazon evaluated the submitted proposals based on the criteria that was outlined in the Request For Proposal (RFP). Amazon will now turn it’s focus to working with the 20 cities selected as possible candidates to iron out a deal.

In a released statement, City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. said, “Although Worcester was not selected as a finalist for Amazon’s second headquarters, the process of putting together our bid was a unique and beneficial opportunity to showcase all the great things that our city offers not only to potential companies but everyone who visits. We’re encouraged to see that Boston was among the finalists chosen which is promising for both Massachusetts and Worcester as our state continues to attract interest from some of the most highly-regarded companies in the technology sector.”

The good news for Massachusetts is that the city of Boston made the list. The cities include:

– Atlanta, GA
– Austin, TX
– Boston, MA
– Chicago, IL
– Columbus, OH
– Dallas, TX
– Denver, CO
– Indianapolis, IN
– Los Angeles, CA
– Miami, FL
– Montgomery County, MD
– Nashville, TN
– Newark, NJ
– New York City, NY
– Northern Virginia, VA
– Philadelphia, PA
– Pittsburgh, PA
– Raleigh, NC
– Toronto, ON
– Washington D.C.

Come back to This Week in Worcester for more on this story.

WORCESTER – A very light agenda is on the docket for Tuesday’s City Council meeting.  City Councilor At-Large Gary Rosen is offering up an order asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. to report on the feasibility of creating a project that offers a mobile version of the city’s services, comparable to what the City of Boston is doing.

For several reasons, many folks, especially seniors, are unable to conduct their city business by visiting city hall or via the internet through the city’s website,” Rosen said in an email on Jan. 13.

With the proposed project, residents would be able to conduct their municipal business without having to go to City Hall, a mobile outreach program would bring City Hall to the neighborhoods.

The City of Boston launched its mobile service, aptly named “City Hall to Go”, in 2012.  The converted S.W.A.T truck travels to two areas of the city daily and stays in each area for several hours.  Residents can pay parking tickets and tax bills, get a library card and dog license, and even register to vote.  The mobile services do not accept cash.

Haines City, FL will be launching a similar service in the coming weeks

Rosen is hoping to see the same success that the city has had with “Libby”, the city’s mobile Library.

“Libby, brings the joy of reading and research to youth, adults and seniors throughout our city,” Rosen said.

As with any new service, the discussion of cost will definitely be the main topic of this discussion and Rosen has already thought of that in his proposal.

“To keep costs down, I think that nonprofits and/or businesses might be willing to partner with the city just as they have done with Libby,” Rosen said

Rosen would like to see the “mini city hall” encourage residents to utilize the many services the city has to offer without leaving their neighborhoods.  He would also like to see new residents use it to become more informative of their new city.

“So Worcester government, let’s hit the road,” Rosen said.

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 6:30 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.

WORCESTER – The Worcester City Council will officially ring in the New Year and the newly seated council when it meets on Tuesday, Jan. 9.  It will be a jam-packed agenda as both councilors and City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.  have many items on the agenda.

District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera has an order on the agenda asking City Manager Edward M. Augustus to consider implementing prostitution stings in the city.  However, Rivera is proposing targeting johns and not the prostitutes themselves.

“We need to decrease the demand,”  Rivera said in a phone interview on Jan. 5.

Rivera is concerned of the areas in her district where this action is taking place within close proximity to schools. She also pointed out that it is a public health and safety issue, but her main focus is defeating the act of prostitution altogether.

“The purchasing of human beings,”  Rivera said. “That is predatory behavior.”

Rivera also said that she has already been to many meetings in the community to come up with a plan to combat this issue and expects many people to come and testify before the city council on Tuesday night.  She feels that by targeting johns it will reduce the demand, thus reducing prostitution.

“You would never set up a ski shop in Barbados,”  Rivera said.

Rivera knows that such a task will take many resources, but feels that combatting this issue is in the city’s best interest.

Snow Removal in the Parks

At-Large City Councilor Gary Rosen is asking that the standing committee on Youth, Parks and Recreation — in which Rosen is the chair — review the policies of access to the City’s Parks during the winter.

Even during the cold and stormy winter months, many of our parks are used by rugged residents and taxpayers,” Rosen said in an email. “However, even though some parks appear to be open, entrances, exits and parking lots sometimes are not sanded, salted or plowed.”

Rosen cited that Boynton Park’s access road is plowed but the lot at the end of the road is not leaving residents with a place to park if they were to utilize the park for any reason.

“Let’s have [the committee] review and suggest possible updates to the city’s policies in regard to winter park access and use,” Rosen said.

City Parks Master Plan

Another item regarding the city’s parks, also brought forth by Councilor Rosen, is again asking that the standing committee on Youth, Parks and Recreation prioritize the work that remains on parks that have a master plan.

“The parks Master Plans takes years to compile with local residents, business and other organizations to discuss the needs with the city of the park in question.  Once the plan is in place it needs to be put into action and that’s where some city residents feel there is a bottleneck.  More often the plans do not get fully implemented due to funding,” Rosen said.

“Some neighbors and park users feel that they were promised certain amenities and upgrades to their park but that the city has reneged,” he added.

Rosen would like to see the standing committee review those plans and what work remains and prioritize that work when funds become available.

Heeeeere’s Libby!!

Prior to the City Council meeting there will be an unveiling of the Worcester Public Library’s new “mobile library” named “Libby.”

The “Libby” Mobile Library is a collaboration of the City of Worcester, the Worcester Public Library, the Worcester Public Library Foundation and the College of the Holy Cross.

The artwork for Libby was done by Key Detail who is a Belarusian artist who has worked Worcester’s POW! WOW! among other organizations globally.

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 7:00 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.

WORCESTER – On Friday, Mayor Joseph M. Petty released Standing Committee assignments for both the City Council and School Committee.

Candy Mero Carlson, second term District 2 Councilor will replace former District 1 Councilor Tony Economou to chair the Economic Development Committee.  Mero Carlson will be joined by District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera who served on the committee the last two years and first term District 5 Councilor Matthew E. Wally.  Wally campaigned on his experience in Economic Development.

Wally was also assigned to chair the Traffic and Parking Committee and assigned to the Public Works Committee.

The other newcomer to the City Council, District 1 Councilor Sean Rose was assigned to chair the Municipal Operations Committee and was assigned to the Veterans and Military Affairs and Youth Parks and Recreation.  Youth Recreation and the status of the city’s parks were two main topics that Rose raised during his campaign.

Newly elected At-Large City Councilor Gary Rosen will continue to Chair the Youth, Parks and Recreation Committee.

For the School Committee  assignments, newcomer Dante Comparetto was assigned to the Accountability and Student Achievement and Finance and Operations.

The first full City Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 9, the first full School Committee meeting will be January 18

The full Standing Committee assignments:

City Council

Economic Development – (Chair)Candy Mero Carlson (District 2), Sarai Rivera (District 4), Matthew Wally (District 5)      

Public Service and Transportation – (Chair)Konstantina B. Lukes (At-Large), George Russell (District 3), Gary Rosen (At-Large)   

Education – (Chair) Morris A. Bergman (At-Large), Khrystian E. King (At-Large), Gary Rosen (At-Large)   

Public Works – (Chair) Russell, Wally, Mero Carlson

Municipal Operations – (Chair) Sean Rose (District 1), Kathleen, M. Toomey (At-Large), Russell   

Rules and Legislative Affairs – (Chair) King, Bergman, Toomey

Public Health and Human Services – (Chair) Rivera, Rose, Toomey

Traffic and Parking – (Chair) Wally, Mero Carlson, Lukes

Public Safety – (Chair)Toomey, Bergman, Rivera

Veterans and Military Affairs – (Chair) Bergman, Lukes, Rose

Youth Parks and Recreation – (Chair) Rosen, King, Rose

School Committee

  Accountability and Student Achievement – (Chair)Dianna Biancheria, Dante Comparetto (Vice Chair) Bian O’Connell

Finance and Operations – Jack Foley (Chair), Molly McCullough (Vice Chair), Comparetto

Governance and Employee Issues – John Monfredo (Chair), Biancheria (Vice Chair), Foley

Teaching, Learning, and Student Supports – O’Connell (Chair), Monfredo (Vice Chair), McCullough

WORCESTER – During his fourth inaugural address Mayor Joseph M. Petty told a crowd of approximately 350 attendees that Worcester is on the move and the city is just getting started.

“The state of our city has never been stronger,” Petty said during the Inauguration event, held free to the public at Mechanics Hall.

Petty gave credit to his colleagues on stage and the ones that came before them for the success of the state of the city.

“The name and faces of the people behind have changed,” Petty said. “It’s not easy being an elected official and every person on this stage and every inauguration before deserves the recognition from everyone here tonight.”

Petty credited the years of work to all the groundbreaking ceremonies that happened over the course of the last two years.  Namely, the new Nelson Place School he called for during his first inauguration which opened this past fall.

Petty also mentioned that the Route 20 sewer project is underway, with the help of the state delegation, and will help increase property values and clean our water.

Petty said that the city has been successful and responsible during his tenure as mayor. He referenced the city’s bond ratings and graduation rates at historic highs and the city’s crime rate has hit historic lows.

Petty said the momentum will continue with the opening of the 145 Front Apartments at City Square, the neighboring AC Marriott hotel and the construction to begin on the old Courthouse.

“The word about Worcester is spreading.  It is spreading across the Commonwealth, across New England and across the country,” Petty said.

During his next term, Petty is calling on a comprehensive plan to address the deterioration of the triple decker neighborhood neighborhoods.  Stating that the center of the city is strong and it is now time to address these neighborhoods to promote owner occupancy and beautification in these areas.

Petty also state that when it comes to the 2020 Census, Worcester could pass the 200,000 resident mark for the first time in 70 years.

“Make no mistake we are growing as a city. The question is where we are growing and how we are growing,” he said.

Petty said he will continue to work for the implementation of the City’s Master Plan, improve the parks — namely Green Hill —  and work with the State delegation to include Regatta Point as part of the Master Plan to improve the city’s Blue spaces.

He said he will push for new buildings for Burncoat High School and Worcester East Middle to go along with the planned new South and Doherty High Schools.

Petty closed his remarks by calling on everyone to help move Worcester forward.

“I am proud of our city and I am still proud to be your mayor,” Petty said. “Now let’s get to work.”

WORCESTER – With strong opposition from parents in the Boston Public Schools in regards to the school start time schedule for the 2018-19 School Year, the Worcester School Committee will progress cautiously on moving forward with a plan of their own to change school start times.

“School start time changes is something that we continue to look at,” School Committee member Molly McCullough said in an email on Wednesday, Dec. 20.

Just because the School Committee is looking at changing school start times doesn’t mean that they are close to a plan to implement.  Key areas that have plagued the Boston Public Schools implementation are in the forefront in Worcester’s approach.

“If this is something that does move forward, we would need to involve parents, students and the community in the discussions because of the impact it will have,” McCullough added.

The discussion over the pushing high school start times back is not new.  The Worcester School Committee has had this item on their agenda for many years, and each year it seems to gather more steam.

“We have had this item on the agenda for several years. There is no doubt that a later starting time would be beneficial for our teens,”  John Monfredo, Worcester School Committee member said.

The research behind the benefits of a later school start time is large and, in most part, undeniable.

Research by Pamela McKeever and Linda Clark of Central Connecticut State University found that pushing  start times for high school to 8:30 a.m. and later improved graduation and attendance rates.

“[School Districts] set students up for failure by endorsing traditional school schedules,” McKeever wrote in her April 2017 report for “Sleep Health: Journal for the National Sleep Foundation.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in their own report says that adolescents that are sleep deprived are more likely to not get enough physical activity and become overweight.  They were more likely to perform poorly in school and engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as drinking and drug use.

In 2005, Dr. Amy Wolfson of Holy Cross studied 3,000 Worcester Public Schools students at the request of the School Committee.  In that study, Dr, Wolfson found that students with low grades were getting approximately 25 minutes less sleep and going to bed 40 minutes later than student with higher grades.

“The evidence points out that adolescents need more sleep and the effects of sleep deprivation has had a negative effect on their learning capabilities,”  Monfredo said of the 2005 study.

Although, the opposition from parents regarding this topic is that the studies are missing a key component, and that is the impact on the family life and the logistics of such a move.

“As a working parent, unless business hours change for the nation, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Jessica Carpenter, a parent whose child already has an 8:35 AM start time.

A parent’s work schedule is one of the biggest concerns.  Currently parents can drive their children to school or the bus stop before heading to work.  By pushing the start times back parents will not be able to accomplish this or have to re-arrange their work schedules, so they are too going in later and coming home later.

Transportation is also a concern as buses are recycled for both high school and elementary routes.  As the plan is to push back only high school start times, WPS would need to either utilize more buses and drivers at a cost or push back elementary start times as well.  Adding buses will also contribute to an increase in traffic congestion that the City of Worcester is looking to clear.

Extracurricular activities such as sports will also be impacted, mainly fall and spring sports, which are played outside.  The average start time of a spring and fall sporting event is 3:30pm.  By pushing school times back 1-2 hours would jeopardize those events because of afternoon sunlight.

“Logistically, with a district of our size, it could be difficult and costly to make these changes,” McCullough said.

Parents in the Boston Public Schools have been outraged because they feel they were not part of the conversation.  Something that both Monfredo and McCullough insist will happen if and when a decision is made on the start times in Worcester.

“They did the research and found out how important a later starting time would be for the health of their students, but did not get the input from parents and tried to implement the process too soon,” Monfredo said.

“Changing school start times has a significant impact on many people’s schedules, child care arrangements, after school activities and jobs, etc. It is something that requires thoughtful discussion and careful planning,” McCullough said.

Needless to say, the planning will take just as long as the decision.

In a released statement, Superintendent Maureen Binienda said the following:

“We are continuing our efforts in evaluating the cost implications of changing the start times for Worcester Public Schools. We are currently looking at the impact on transportation as the district provides four tiers of transportation. We have not made a decision yet but are looking to see if there is a cost effective way to implement.”

 

The City Council will wrap up it’s 2017 term this week and it will signal the end for two sitting Councilors.  

Three-term District 1 City Councilor Tony Economou and two term Councilor-at-Large Michael Gaffney both decided to not seek re-election this year and Tuesday’s meeting will be their last as city representatives.

“I don’t expect this to be the end of Tony’s contributions to Worcester as a public servant,” District 3 City Councilor George Russell said of his soon-to-be former colleague.

Economou was a very popular member of the City Council and served as the Chairperson for the Standing Committee on Economic Development.  

Economou didn’t seek reelection because he wanted to spend time with his family.  He was seen at many baseball parks around the city this summer watching his son play.

“Councilor Economou is a dedicated and dependable member of the City Council. He proudly represented his constituents in District One as well as all city residents as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Economic Development. I thank Tony for his service to the City of Worcester and I will personally miss his leadership on the Council,” said City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. in an email to TWIW.

Taking his place will be political new comer Sean Rose who beat out Ed Moynihan to win the District 1 seat in the November municipal election.

“Working cooperatively with Tony Economou during the past few years has been a pleasure,” current District 5 City Councilor and new Councilor-at-Large elect Gary Rosen said in email.

“Always a gentleman, Tony is a capable, caring and responsive city councilor. As required of a district councilor, he has always provided quality service to his constituents.”

The council usually honors outgoing members at the beginning of the last meeting and this trend should continue.  

With that said, will they be honoring two councilors or one?  Councilor Gaffney has been to only two meetings since dropping out of the race on Oct. 16.  

When asked if he would attend his last meeting, Gaffney respectfully declined comment.

“I also wish Councilor Gaffney well in whatever he is doing, wherever he is,” Russell said.

2018 Meeting Schedule

Mayor Joseph M. Petty has set the schedule for the 2018 city council meetings.  The proposed schedule can be found here.

The Inaugural Meeting will be held on Tuesday, Jan.  2. Details for the event are not yet available.  The first meeting of the City Council will be held on Jan. 9.

Each meeting will start at 7 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall, with the exception of July and August when the meetings will begin at 6 PM.

Tuesday’s meeting will start at 7:00 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.

WORCESTER – With the tax classification hearing behind them, the City Council will have the second to last meeting before the new council is seated in January.  It is an extremely light agenda as the City Manager and Council wrap up year-end work.

With the season’s first plow-able snow storm falling on Saturday, City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. is asking the City Council  to accept the exemptions of five city employees who have applied to be independent snow plow contractors hired by the city.

At the Oct. 31 meeting, the council discussed the Conflict of Interest law which prohibits employees from the Department of Public Works & Parks, the Office of the City Manager and the Executive Office of Administration and Finance from having a snow plowing contract with the city.  That also includes equipment being placed in a family member’s name or a corporate entity where the employee of the family member held a financial interest.

“This administration has no greater priority than compliance with the Conflict of Interest law,” Augustus said to the City Council at the time.

The five employees asking for exemptions are:

  • James Ward – Worcester Police Officer
  • Timothy Bermingham – Worcester Firefighter
  • John Biancheria – .Department of Inspectional Services
  • David Rutherford – Worcester Police Officer
  • Robert Mazzone – Worcester Public Schools Teacher

New High Schools Moving Forward

The Council will also vote to adopt the Loan Order of $13,000,000.00 be appropriated to pay for costs associated with the design and construction manager for the new South High Community School project.

The City Manager is also asking the Council to approve funding for the Doherty High School Eligibility Period and Feasibility Study.  The study will include Owner’s Project Manager, Designer, and Architectural Services. The amount being requested is $2,000,000.00

Tonight’s meeting will start at 7:00 PM and will be held in the Esther Howland Chamber in Worcester’s City Hall.