City Council Preview: Urban Renewal Edition

This week: medical marijuana, panhandling, urban renewal, and the Willis Center. If you’d like to get these previews in your email, subscribe here.

1. Medical marijuana

2. Reports on panhandling

3. Rebooting the Worcester Redevelopment Authority

4. Helping Firefighters with anti-panhandling restrictions

5. Willis Center closing controversy

6. Worcester’s third anti-panhandling plan

7. “Open Space” meeting

8. “Theater District” meeting

City Council Preview, January 15, 2013

1. Medical Marijuana dispensaries in Worcester: Councilor Konnie Lukes does not want them here. She has 2 items before the Council.

“6a. ORDER of Councilor Konstantina B. Lukes – Request City Manager report whether medical marijuana dispensing sites can be restricted by local zoning ordinances or state regulatory means to established pharmacies.”

“6b. ORDER of Councilor Konstantina B. Lukes – Request City Council vote a moratorium on allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of Worcester for one year or until the Department of Public Health completes its regulations, whichever comes first.”

2. What is actually going on with panhandling and homelessness these days? The Council will be asking the Manager to report on two questions.

“11a. FROM THE COMMITTEE ON JOINT PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AND MUNICIPAL OPERATIONS – Request City Manager report on how many calls to 911 were received in the last six (6) months because of aggressive panhandling and report any resulting specific criminal activity.”

“11b. FROM THE COMMITTEE ON JOINT PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AND MUNICIPAL OPERATIONS – Request City Manager provide a status report concerning the Citizen Commission on Homelessness and/or the ICHH Leadership Council.”

3. Urban Renewal: The City’s Worcester Redevelopment Authority is being rebooted. The private Worcester Business Redevelopment Corporation (backers of the downtown mall among many other projects) is getting lots of press these days over their dream of replacing the library parking lot with a hockey rink, but the WRA is especially interesting because of the eminent domain powers of city government. There’s a WRA item this week.

“12b. Building on positive momentum in the downtown, request the City Manager, in cooperation with the Worcester Redevelopment Authority, recapitalize and expand the scope of the WRA to undertake new efforts and initiatives, including the creation of an urban renewal plan and the implementation of an urban renewal project targeting areas of the so-called Theatre District downtown to address blight and, thereby, further the city’s planning and economic development agenda. (Rushton, Petty, Eddy, Rivera, Toomey, Economou)”

(Seeing 6 Councilors signed onto this also raises concerns among some Council-watchers that business is being discussed outside of meetings, or that some very similar process is happening in disregard of “open meeting” laws.)

4. Helping Firefighters with the Anti-Panhandling Aftermath: Since the anti-panhandling ordinances would apply to everybody, a couple Councilors want to encourage businesses to allow firefighters to solicit donations on private property.

“12c. Recognizing the thirty year tradition of outstanding efforts and success of the Worcester Fire Department in their annual “boot days” which have resulted in the collection of over $500,000 for Muscular Dystrophy Association, and the need for the city’s continued commitment and support for said effort, request the City Manager contact city supermarkets (Shaws, Price Chopper, Big Y, Price Rite, etc.) and major shopping plazas within the city (Lincoln Plaza, Greendale Mall, etc.) asking them to grant special access, similar to the Salvation Army during the Christmas holiday, to members of the WFD on May 11, 2013 for this year’s MDA “boot day”. (Eddy, Petty)”

5. Many Willis Center items: The non-profit Willis Center has provided lots of services for city residents. Late last year the state cancelled their contracts with Willis, so it’s closing. Councilors Lukes and Rivera have various concerns. Councilor Lukes is particularly concerned about whether the (semi-)closed-door meeting the city held last week was legitimate.

“12d. Request City Manager request the City Solicitor to provide a legal opinion as to whether a meeting held in the Levi Lincoln Chamber in City Hall on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at approximately 6:00 PM was in compliance with the Massachusetts Open Meeting laws. (Lukes)”

“12e. Request City Manager respond to the following questions regarding the meeting held on January 8, 2013 at approximately 6:00 PM in the Levi Lincoln Chamber in City Hall: 1) Who convened the meeting?; 2) Who was in attendance?; 3) What was the purpose and agenda for the meeting?; and 4) What information was communicated at the meeting?. (Lukes)”

“12f. Request City Manager report on the dates, persons in attendance and locations of any meetings held to discuss services, operations and transfers of contracts and assets of the Henry Lee Willis Center. (Lukes)”

“12g. Request City Manager report what meetings if any where held in neighborhoods where the Henry Lee Willis Center provided services or owned real estate when the administration learned funding was eliminated from this Center. (Lukes, Rivera)”

“12i. Request City Manager report on who will be the new providers of the programs and services formerly provide by the Henry Lee Willis Center and include which programs will they be providing and the location of these services. (Rivera)”

More from the T&G (paywall warning).

6. Panhandling: The City Council is scheduled to discuss anti-panhandling plan #3 at the Jan 15 meeting. There was previously a Joint Committee meeting on proposed anti-panhandling ordinances, which approved the proposals. The Council may vote to “advertise” the ordinances this week, which IIRC means the real vote is technically next week. But friends and foes of the ordinances will be speaking and demonstrating their numbers.

Some of the proposed ordinances involve traffic safety, some involve aggressive behavior, and some involve restrictions on the times and places that you can ask for help in Worcester. This third category has generated some controversy, and yet was totally ignored in the Joint Committee’s discussion. With luck the City Council will address these concerns.

“15a. REPORT OF THE JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AND MUNICIPAL OPERATIONS Upon the Communication of the City Manager recommending adoption of Ordinances Relative to Pedestrian Safety in the Public Right of Way and the Prohibition of Aggressive Panhandling: recommend passage of the accompanying (2) two proposed Ordinances.”

Summary of last committee meeting on panhandling.

Other Upcoming Meetings

7. The next “Open Space” meeting is Jan 17.

Every 5 to 7 years the City of Worcester crafts a plan for what unprotected open spaces are important to conserve, and what efforts should be taken to improve the ponds, meadows, wetlands, and forests we rely on.

This is that time and there will be meetings held all over the City of Worcester to solicit citizen input. You only need to attend one meeting (any of those listed) to give your feedback.

The Jan 17 meeting is at Green Hill Park.

8. Theater District Meeting: Plans are afoot to transform the southern part of Downtown. The City and the WBDC put together a draft master plan for how to develop the “Theater District” (the area from the Hanover Theatre to the library, and the Mid Town Mall). If done right, this is a great opportunity to right past wrongs and make that part of downtown work as part of a greater urban core.

A Community Discussion of the proposed master plan will be held on Wednesday, January 23, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at The Hanover Theatre.

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