Inspectional Services Department

Deal developing for River Works rail station

ITEM FILE PHOTO
The River Works stop could be rebuilt to accommodate new residents and the public.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The prospects of financing a new waterfront neighborhood improved late last week after the developer agreed to spend more than $1 million to expand the MBTA’s River Works Commuter Rail Station.

Charles Patsios, the Swampscott developer who is planning to transform the former General Electric Co. Gear Works property into a $500 million project that would include 1,160 apartments, has signed an agreement with the state to improve the modest station.

Under the terms of the deal, the River Works stop on the Newburyport/Rockport Line that is used only for GE workers, would be rebuilt to accommodate new residents and the public. It will be paid for by Patsios’ company, Lynnway Associates.

“Having the River Works station available for everyone makes this a truly transit-oriented development,” Patsios said. “Now, we can offer a 15-minute trip into Boston on the commuter rail and create a tremendous opportunity for people to discover Lynn at much less cost.”

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In exchange for usage rights, the developer has agreed to build an accessible station in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and improve access to the platforms. In addition to paying for construction and the cost to maintain the new buildings, the developer has agreed to start a “Transportation Improvement Fund” with a $500,000 deposit. The proceeds will be used for transportation improvements in at River Works and developers of future projects will be asked to contribute.

State Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the partnership with Patsios creates a win-win for growth and transportation.

“Economic growth can be achieved by improving the quantity and quality of transportation options,” said Pollack in a statement. “We are pleased at the developer’s commitment to paying for physical improvements at River Works Station. We look forward to seeing the changes that will be taking place as a result of the investment that are sure to include increased new interest in living in Lynn, as the city will have an important new asset in its new permanent commuter rail station.”

Patsios bought the 65-acre GE property in 2014 for $7.6 million. His team has been working to secure permits from the city’s Inspectional Services Department and the state to build the project on the Saugus River. The approvals and the T stop will make it more likely to get financing for the project, Patsios said. “Plenty of people are interested in lending the money for the project,” he said. “Once we have the permits in hand, coupled with the addition of the T stop, we’re a go.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

‘Bullied’ ISD retiree seeks cash from city

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  A former Inspectional Services Department (ISD) employee is seeking $150,000 from the city, alleging she was forced into early retirement after being bullied by management, The Item has learned.

In a letter to Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy last month, Jane Webber wants her monthly retirement benefits increased from $1,031 to $2,030, or the one-time cash settlement. She retired last year as head clerk after nearly 15 years as a city employee.

“After being berated, mentally beaten down, harassed and bullied by ISD supervisors for many years, my client was forced to retire last summer at age 58,” according to the letter from MariElizabeth McKeon, a Clinton attorney representing Webber.

McKeon said that if Webber had been allowed to work until age 65, her monthly retirement payout would have been nearly $1,000 per month more.  If the mayor approves the request, it will cost the city about $300,000.

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In the letter, McKeon said the final straw in her client’s retirement came last August when Webber suffered a “severe anxiety attack.”

“In the midst of the attack, one of her supervisors, Michele Desmarais, informed Ms. Webber that if she left, she would be fired … Desmarais told Ms. Webber that she should go sit in her car for an hour and she would be fine.”

Absent a settlement, Webber said she may take her case to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and assert her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act because of alleged discrimination toward her age and hearing disability, the letter said.

McKeon said she has not received a response from the city and declined further comment. Webber did not return a call seeking comment.

Kennedy, ISD and James Lamanna, the city’s attorney declined comment.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Complaints roll in over ‘obnoxious’ soup smell

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Clint Muche reads over social media complaints about the onion smell.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

LYNN — If you’ve rolled down your car windows to take in the fresh, spring air while cruising down the Lynnway these past few warm days, you’ve likely been greeted with a strong whiff of onions.

City Councilor Richard Colucci said the smell is coming from Kettle Cuisine Inc., located at 330 Lynnway. The wholesale soup manufacturer cooks all natural soups from scratch for restaurants, food service operators, and grocery stores, according to the company’s website. Founded in 1986, the factory moved to Lynn less than five years ago.

While the odor might be slightly bothersome to passersby in traffic, it has become a real nuisance for neighbors and abutters, said Colucci, who keeps logs of the complaints he receives.

“I get three to four calls a week,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to smell it. In the beginning, it didn’t smell at all. I don’t know if they’re not cleaning the chimney or something. Before, it didn’t stink at all. Then, in the summer a little. Now I’m starting to smell it at my own house on Ocean Street.”

Susan Blum, who is undergoing radiation therapy, called the smell dreadful.

“Radiation treatment makes you nauseous and the smell on top of it is horrible,” said Blum, a Kenwood Terrace resident who kept her windows closed all last spring while she was receiving treatment.

“Last night we were sitting (at home) at 8 p.m. with the windows open and I said to my husband ‘it still stinks,’” she said.

Lori Thompson, a neighbor who lives about two miles from the site, said she believes the smell is getting stronger with time.

“Yesterday was a beautiful day, warm with a nice breeze,” said Thompson. “I opened my windows to let the house air out after the long winter and had to immediately close them. I had to turn on the air conditioning instead of enjoying the fresh air because the onion smell was overwhelming, as it was this morning.”

Colucci is submitting the complaints to Clint Muche, deputy building commissioner in the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

“In essence, one can almost expect that there will be calls whenever the wind is from a southerly or southwesterly direction blowing across the roof to the downtown area,” said Muche. “Unfortunately, that’s the predominant wind direction throughout the spring.”

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When the department first began receiving the complaints, the city sanitarian visited and toured the roof confirming a noticeable “soup” smell and asked Kettle Cuisine to alleviate the problem, said Muche.

The manufacturer voluntarily completed a multi-phase cleaning project on the factory’s exhaust system, which he called ineffective.

In September, Kettle Cuisine was served with written notice to take all necessary steps to abate air pollution originating from its property, but acting through Attorney Thomas Demakis, the company appealed the demand, Muche said. The request for a hearing implicated the Department of Environmental Protection because air pollution is subject to state regulation.

Jessica Stasinos, executive assistant to CEO Liam McClennon said a meeting is planned with city councilors and DEP next week. Stasinos declined to comment on any changes that have been made to alleviate the problem. McClennon was not available for comment prior to deadline.

“I think it’s a citywide issue — I don’t think it’s just reserved to the waterfront,” said City Councilor At Large Brian LaPierre. “The odor was permeating throughout the city (Tuesday). With the warmer weather, the smell is just obnoxious.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@Itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

Lynn could get new bakery, coffee shop

BY THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN – A new bakery and coffee shop could be coming to Lynn.

Alexander and Wilder Rodriquez, whose mom owns Mi Guatemala Bakery on Union Street, is scouting locations for a second shop.

The brothers had hoped to lease the former A-S Food Mart at Commercial and Summer streets. But the cost to outfit the 2,000-square-foot shuttered convenience store with fire safety equipment was too expensive, according to Frances Martinez, CEO of the North Shore Latino Business Association, who is working with the family to find space.

Rachel Bennett is seeking a special permit to open Lightning Coffee Roaster in the Lydia Pinkham Building at 271 Western Ave.

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Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi said the 137-year-old home is zoned for light manufacturing, so the applicant needs City Council approval for the permit.

The historic house features more than 100 studios for artists and craftsmen including sculptors, glass blowers, leather workers, and film editors.

“I don’t have a problem with it and I think it would be a good addition to the mix in the building,” Lozzi said. “I just advised her to make sure she meets all of the Inspectional Services Department requirements.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Restaurant owners boiling over ‘aggressive treatment’ from ISD

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — A group of restaurant owners met with the City Council president last week alleging overly aggressive treatment at the hands of the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

Councilor Darren Cyr wouldn’t reveal names of the attendees because he said they fear retribution from the city, but said they complained of unfair treatment.

“They talked to me in confidence,” he said. “They have concerns we are looking to address. The bottom line is the health department is doing their job, but these people are uncomfortable with the way they are doing it.”

Lynn has nearly 400 eateries. Routine, unannounced inspections are conducted three times a year, according to Clint Muche, Lynn’s deputy building commissioner.

Inspectors evaluate the food and its preparation to determine the potential risk to the public for the occurrence of food-borne illness. The inspector also conducts an in-depth evaluation of the facility. Eating establishments are then graded A, B, C or given a notice of closure.

The complaints lodged by the owners included statements that inspectors loudly announced their arrivals in their businesses, they confronted employees during inspections, visited at peak hours when the restaurants were full of customers, and got on all of fours with a flashlight in front of customers.

“I’m just at the beginning stages of looking into it,” Cyr said. “But I’ve told them if there are other people with allegations, I want to know about it.”

Taso Nikolakopoulos, owner of John’s Roast Beef & Seafood, said he was unaware of the meeting with Cyr. But he said similar issues regarding ISD have been brought to the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I have improved because of the inspections,” he said. “But the city could do a better job at communicating and being hospitable. Don’t try to chastise us, they should work with restaurant owners and not come in being confrontational.”

Muche said he was not at the meeting and could not comment. Michele Desmarais, the city’s public health director, defended department inspectors.

“They work hard so that all food establishments in Lynn are safe and diners can feel good about knowing that it’s a safe food-handling establishment,” she said.

She insisted inspectors must visit at the busiest times.

“If they go at 9 a.m. when the kitchen is closed, how will they know they are doing things correctly?” she asked.

She said some of the complaining businesses may have an ax to grind.

“These are good workers who just want to do the right thing,” Desmarais said.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn budget under the knife

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — On the heels of a bruising school election where voters overwhelmingly rejected a tax increase, the city faces the prospect of layoffs to erase a budget deficit.

Mayor Judith Flanagan has instructed department heads to level fund their fiscal year 2018 budget which begins on July 1. In addition, the email to senior managers asked them to “be creative” in absorbing a 5 percent retroactive raise to city employees and another 2 percent increase set to take effect this summer.

The city is short by $8 million — the combination of a $4 million deficit in the fiscal year 2017 budget and an additional $4 million in raises for 2018. Some departments face as much as 8.5 percent in cuts while others will have a much lower threshold.

“In order to maintain the current level of operation, the city must address the $4 million deficit from last year and up to $4 million in new salaries due to contract settlements,” said Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer. “To do so, the city needs to either find new revenue or reduce spending.”

Despite the cash crunch, the mayor insists Lynn is not in the midst of a financial crisis.

“To level fund the budget, accommodate the recent raises and increases in fixed costs, such as pensions and healthcare, we asked everyone to submit an initial budget with an 8 percent spending cut,” she said. “But this is just an initial step, we start at the bottom and build the budget up from there. I can’t speculate on layoffs right now, but we have some pretty big fixed costs that must be met.”

Still, it appears contract settlements with police, fire and other city employees has exacerbated the cash-strapped city’s ability to maintain its nearly $300 million budget without cuts. Some department heads say layoffs and service cutbacks may be inevitable. The schools will not be affected by the cuts.

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The $3.7 million payroll at the Department of Public Works must be trimmed by nearly $262,000, the potential loss of about three workers from the 50-person unit.

“Trying to do the same amount of work with less money is always a challenge,” said Andrew Hall, commissioner.

Hall said one of his workers is collecting worker’s compensation as a result of an injury on the job. If that person does not return to work, the city would not fill the position.

“I’m trying to avoid any layoffs,” he said. “It’s possible we could absorb work done by one of our contractors, but it may not be enough to avoid layoffs.”

In the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD), they are  looking at a $400,000 cut from its $6.8 million personnel budget or as many as eight positions from the department which employs 30 workers.  

Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, said his agency has three vacant positions that will go unfilled, there is the possibility of employees retiring, and there’s potential savings of up to $50,000 if the city defers scheduled improvements to city buildings.

“Even with those savings, I am looking at four more positions to trim,” he said. “If inspectors or clerical staff are laid off, it will impact the operations. This is serious. Our budget is so lean right now to cut back on personnel will lead to lower services.”

Police Chief Michael Mageary said it is too soon to say how the latest cuts will affect his department. Last year, they downsized to six patrol cars with two officers in each, down from six, one-person patrol cars and four, two-person cars.

“We are already running lean,” he said. “We have two officers less per division on the street right now.”

Cuts in the Personnel Department could lead to trimming one position, according to Joseph Driscoll, director. His $251,000 budget consists of three salaries and less than $5,000 in expenses.

“I understand the financial crisis the city is in,” said Driscoll. “I will do what the mayor and the chief financial officer ask me to do, as painful as it may be.”  

Fire Chief James McDonald said he’s hoping not to lay off anyone, but can’t guarantee it. He is looking at cutting $1.3 million from the department’s $16.6 million payroll.

“It will have a bad effect on us,” he said. “We do not have a lot of money to roll into payroll. There’s a chance a firefighter could be laid off.”

While McDonald has 17 unfilled firefighter jobs, he has been using some of that money to pay for overtime.

If the city lacks sufficient firefighters on a shift, he said they  can put that company out of service in what’s called a “brownout.” That’s where engines are removed from service when available staffing is thin.

“It’s Russian roulette,” he said. “We take them out for a day or night and hope nothing happens. That’s what happened in Holyoke on New Year’s Day. They had a fatal fire, there was a brownout and three people died.”


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tigrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn moving forward with city planner job

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN —  Less than two weeks after Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy outlined the idea to hire a planner, the city has secured the cash to pay for the position.

On Tuesday, the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (EDIC) board of directors unanimously approved contributing $150,000 to fund the job for three years. The city’s nonprofit development bank has agreed to pay half the salary while the Department of Community Development offered up the other $150,000.  

Under the terms of the deal, the mayor in consultation with EDIC and Community Development will hire a planner at a salary between $75,000-100,000.

“Some people have called for having an entire planning department, which would be great, but I really don’t have the money to do anything like that,” said Kennedy.  “We will start small and simply get a planner who will centralize many of the functions that are going on already.”

The mayor said she hopes to have the job description written by month’s end and post the opening on a number of online job websites next month. She expects to hire someone by July 1.

“This person should have the biggest voice on any decision about planning, housing, economic and community development,” Kennedy said.  

The new hire will have a desk in the city’s Inspectional Services Department alongside the Planning Board and support staff.

James Cowdell, EDIC’s executive director, said his office typically spends $150,000 annually on consultants. The new planner will be able to do some of those functions and save the agency money.   

“A planner would be a great help to us to fulfill our mission,” he said. “It’s a much-needed position and overdue. Hopefully it will be someone with a master’s degree in planning.”

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Charles Gaeta, EDIC’s chairman, backed the concept.

“I am glad you are doing this,” he told the mayor. “I’m not sure one person can do it, but as time goes on, we will reap so many benefits by having this position. It will strengthen what we have, but the person must be somewhat independent.”

The employee will be a contractor worker who must abide by the city’s residency requirement, Kennedy said.

Lynn has been without a planner for more than two decades.

“Now’s the right time,” Kennedy said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Developer gears up on the Lynnway

COURTESY PHOTO
Pictured is an artist’s rending of a possible redevelopment off the Lynnway.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The developer of the former General Electric Co. Gear Works property has provided a first glimpse into the $500 million redevelopment.

An artist’s rendering shows the sprawling new neighborhood that will feature eight buildings to be built on a 65-acre site off the Lynnway with a walkway to the River Works MBTA commuter rail station.  

When completed, the complex is expected to feature 1,260 apartments, boutique retail, restaurants, a gym and new roads within walking distance to bike trails, beaches and the T.

Charles Patsios paid $7.6 million in 2014 to purchase the parcel from GE. His team has been working to win approval from the Conservation Commision, the city’s Inspectional Services Department and the state to build the project on the Saugus River.

The Swampscott developer said his team has reached an agreement with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to expand the use of the nearby T stop at the GE plant on Western Avenue. Today, the train only stops at the factory on the Newburyport/Rockport Line for employees. But under an agreement in the works with the state, the station would be expanded for all commuters, including the new residents at the Patsios project.

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Jacquelyn Goddard, a MassDOT spokeswoman, did not respond to questions about a potential deal with Patsios.

A source familiar with the negotiations said the state will not commit to extending access to other passengers until the project is built.

Once the permitting is completed later this year, Patsios said he will seek financing for the waterfront development.

“We’re getting there,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Current system not sustainable, Latham says

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Edward Calnan of the Pickering School Building Committee, Inspectional Services Department Director Michael Donovan and Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham make the case for new schools.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If voters reject the ballot initiative on Tuesday to build a pair of new middle schools, students face the possibility of split sessions, according to the superintendent.

“If we don’t build these schools, our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders will be in double sessions in a very short period of time, possibly within two years,” said Dr. Catherine Latham.

Today, 3,100 students attend the city’s three middle schools. By 2020, enrollment is expected to soar by 20 percent, adding another 600 students to the mix.

“Our schools cannot sustain that many students,” she said. Under double sessions, one group of students would attend classes from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. while the next group would arrive at 1 p.m. and go until 5:30 p.m., she said.

In an interview with The Item’s editorial board on Thursday, Latham, Michael Donovan, Inspectional Services Department director, Edward Calnan, member of the Pickering Middle School Building Committee, and Thomas Iarrobino, secretary of the Lynn School Committee, made the case for the $188.5 million project.

If approved, a 652-student school would be built near the Pine Grove Cemetery and Breeds Pond Reservoir on Parkland Avenue. A second one to serve 1,008 students would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street.

The new schools will add an additional $200 to the average tax bill for a single-family home each year for the next 25 years.

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Calnan said they explored more than a dozen potential sites, but they were dropped due to a variety of issues. Some were in a flood zone or marsh land, others had hazardous waste that precluded school construction. A site at Magnolia Street would boost building costs by as much as $800,000 to move a water pipe that serves Swampscott and Marblehead, officials said.

A vacant parcel on Rockdale Avenue and Verona Street was examined, but the committee found the tight residential neighborhood was difficult to access and is privately-owned. They also looked at General Electric Co. properties on Bennett Street and on Elmwood Avenue. But those were rejected because of environmental concerns, they said.

Latham said all of the city’s middle school students should have the same experience as those attending the new $67 million Thurgood Marshall Middle School.

Last spring, the 181,847-square-foot school opened for more than 1,000 students. The three buildings are divided by clusters, each distinguished by a different color. In addition to an outdoor courtyard, lots of natural light, the soundproof classrooms block any hint of the commuter rail trains that run past the rear of the school and the sounds of musical instruments from several music classes.  

In addition, there are suites for special education and art. The school boasts computer rooms complete with Apple computers. It contains home economics rooms, a woodworking shop, a television production studio and a health center.

Iarrobino, who serves as the liaison between the schools and the School Committee, said any discussion of school must include a link to the local economy.

“If folks are contemplating opening a business in Lynn, the first thing they will ask about is where will their employees attend school and what are the schools like,” he said. “We have an obligation to them and they have a right to the best quality education that is available to them, not just in the suburbs, but right here in an urban district.”  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Pickering principal states case for new school

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Pictured is the boys’ locker room at the Pickering Middle School.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN If you’re undecided or planning to vote against construction of two middle schools in next week’s special election, Kevin Rittershaus wants to meet you.

The principal of the Pickering Middle School has hundreds of reasons why voters should vote yes. If approved on Tuesday, the city would spend $188.5 million to build a three-story middle school on Parkland Avenue and a four-story one on Commercial Street.

“This is an ancient building trying to do 21st century education,” he said. “Every inch of space is used for something, former closets have been turned into offices while counselors and music teachers are working in corridors. Come and see my school and compare it with what kids get at the new Marshall Middle School.”

Rittershaus, who has worked at Pickering since the late 1990s and is now in his fourth year as principal, brought The Item on a tour of the worn-out grade 6-8 school on Conomo Avenue Wednesday.

There’s peeling paint on the auditorium’s tin ceiling and water damage on the walls. The special education and health teachers share an office, making private sessions impossible. The computer lab has three dozen dated personal computers for 620 students.

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The school adjustment counselor has a table in a 250-square-foot corridor space to meet students. The school’s library was closed because it was needed for a classroom. It was the same story with home economics. Down the hall, the school’s original lockers have never been replaced and a music room in a hallway is shared with a vending machine. The boiler room resembles a scene out of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

The art room lacks a sink, easels, drawing tables and storage space.

Angeliki Russell, the school’s art teacher, said while students create art good enough to be hung, the children would be better served with more space, sinks, higher tables, improved lighting, better chairs and places to store art materials.

Because of overcrowding, Pickering has four, one-half lunch periods that start at 11 a.m. just to fit all the kids in.

Joseph Smart, the city’s building and grounds director, said the roof leaks and water has damaged the historic tin ceilings.

“The building needs a new roof,” he said. “The auditorium was painted in 2014, it’s already peeling.”

In a section of the building that is below grade, moisture is coming through the brick and onto the plaster.

“We’ve done numerous repairs, but to do it right we’d have to dig it out, weatherproof it and do the inside work,” he said.

The city’s Inspectional Services Department estimates it will cost $44.2 million to renovate the 99,000-square-foot facility.

Proponents say it makes more sense to build a new school. The vote on Tuesday asks property owners to be responsible for $91.4 million or 51.5 percent of the total project cost. School officials said $11 million in contingency funds are included in the overall cost. If those monies are not used, it would reduce the taxpayer portion by that amount, making the taxpayers’ bill about $80 million.

The city said the average single-family homeowner would boost the tax bill to just under $200 more per year for 25 years. For multi-family units, the city estimates the added cost per year would range from $257-$269.

Rittershaus said there are lots of misconceptions about the project. For example, he said parents have told him that the land for the Parkland Avenue school belongs to Lynn Woods Reservation or the Pine Grove Cemetery, but in fact the land is owned by the city, he said.

“People don’t realize the work that’s gone into studying site selection,” he said. “We’ve spent days analyzing the potential locations and not one of them is ideal for everyone.”

On Tuesday, the Pine Grove Cemetery Commission took no action on a plan to transfer 32 acres from the city to the cemetery for a possible expansion, according to James Lamanna, the city’s attorney. In exchange, the commission was expected to provide about 12 acres to the city for the Parkland Avenue school to avoid any potential lawsuit.

“I am still hopeful it will happen, but it won’t happen before the election,” he said.

Construction of the school on Parkland Avenue has generated opposition from neighbors who argue the land should be preserved to expand the cemetery. In addition, opponents insist it will exacerbate traffic problems while others say they are being squeezed enough and can’t afford to pay more taxes.

State Rep. and City Councilor Daniel Cahill said it’s time to build the new schools.

“School buildings were not made to last 100 years,” he said.

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Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn Woods elementary tapped out

By LEAH DEARBORN

LYNN At Lynn Woods Elementary School, all drinking fountains have been temporarily shut off following an extensive series of voluntary copper and lead tests in city schools.

Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham said bottled water has been supplied to students at the school and letters were sent home to parents.

Michael Donovan, director of the Inspectional Services Department (ISD), said a plumber has been hired and the fixtures at Lynn Woods will hopefully be back up and running by the end of next week.

Donovan said that all possible drinking sources were tested at every school in the city, including water fountains, kitchen equipment and sinks — over 2,000 samples taken from 695 taps.

Of the fixtures, roughy 2 percent were found to be above acceptable lead or copper limits.

Across the board, 88 fixtures tested high for lead and 19 were beyond acceptable levels for copper. Donovan said compromised fixtures will be replaced or have their supply lines changed.

“Thank you for being proactive,” said School Committee member Patricia Capano told Donovan on Thursday.

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Although the drinking water levels are regularly monitored, the latest testing marked the first time all of the fixtures in the district were checked at once, said Donovan.  

Each fixture was sampled twice by a third party inspection service with the testing paid for by the state, said Donovan.  

On April 26, 2016, Gov. Charlie Baker and State Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust would fund efforts to help public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water.

If copper levels are higher than 1,300 micrograms per liter, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends a school take action to determine the source, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.  

For lead, MassDEP lists the water action level at 15 parts per billion. Lead typically enters the water supply through lead pipes or plumbing that contains lead parts or solder.


Leah Dearborn can be reached at ldearborn@itemlive.com.

Committee to study custodian calculations

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has signed off on a plan to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from City Hall.

“Overall, this move accomplishes my intention of putting the custodians back to the school department where we will capture $1 million in healthcare costs toward net school spending,” said Kennedy.

The next step is approval of a home rule petition by lawmakers on Beacon Hill, typically a formality.

Kennedy’s signature caps a drama that unfolded last month, when the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

While the school committee can recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill to reject the change, they are powerless to stop it on their own.

“The schools are never, ever affected the way the city side is,” said the mayor at a school committee meeting Thursday, calling it an accounting move to increase flexibility within the city budget and avoid layoffs.

“The city does not pocket any money whatsoever because the city pays all of the health insurance,” said Kennedy.

Other committee members expressed hesitation out of fear that the transfer will have unanticipated consequences on the school budget.

“We don’t have numbers,” said committee member Maria Carrasco.

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Member Patricia Capano asked attorney John C. Mihos whether the committee could stop or rewrite the petition if it was found to be unfavorable.

Mihos said the next avenue of action would be to request the state legislature not move it forward at the state level.

Capano successfully made a motion asking the committee to write to the state delegation, ensuring their awareness that the vote on the Home Rule Petition was lopsided.  

The movement of custodians, which was approved by the City Council last month, has been controversial. In 2006, then-Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the janitors and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, he said at the time, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

It was Michael Donovan, ISD’s director, who took the added responsibility of monitoring the workers.

When he inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

Changes were implemented, Donovan said, that required more accountability. They instituted attendance and timekeeping policies, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened, staff was moved and lots of maintenance project work was outsourced.

Today, the streamlined department has 57 custodians, a dozen maintenance workers and the afternoon staff is outsourced with a budget of $14 million.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the janitors as city employees count toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Kennedy said she hopes the change will take place by July 1. But City Councilor and state Rep. Daniel Cahill, who supports the change, said it could be months until the Legislature acts.


Item staffer Leah Dearborn contributed to this story. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Mayor weighs custodian transfer

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy will take the rest of the week to decide whether to transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff from City Hall to the school department.

In a drama that unfolded last week, the School Committee rejected the mayor’s request to move accountability of the school custodians from the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) to the schools by a 6-1 vote. Only the mayor, chairwoman of the committee, voted for it.

The change, which requires approval from the mayor, City Council and the Legislature, was Kennedy’s idea as a way to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. But the mayor said she needs to review the Home Rule Petition in its entirety before she makes a decision.

“I plan to take most, if not all of this week, to read through the complicated nine-page document,” she said. “I am fully committed to the move, but I want to make sure nothing has been inserted to the home rule petition before I sign it.”

The draft of the change was straightforward, the mayor said, as simple as shifting the management to the schools. But there are other questions as to who will do the hiring, scheduling and disciplining, she said.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “I’ve heard the School Committee making comments about hiring as many as seven new people and I need to read the amendments to see how they got that number.”

A review of the document found two positions created under the new ordinance, a supervisor of school custodian and ground services and an assistant.

“My intention is to get the custodians over to the school side so there’s a net zero impact on the budgeting and not spend another dime to do the same job ISD has been doing for years,” she said.

There has been some talk by School Committee members to end the practice of privatizing afternoon janitor services that cost the city $1.5 million. If schools hire their own workers, the cost would soar to $2.8 million in salary and benefits for 40 custodians.

“I am a member of the School Committee as well, and I don’t want to see teachers laid off in order to make room for 40 new custodians.” Kennedy said. “That would be a bad move financially, I want to provide direct services to kids.”

The move was approved by the City Council last week. If the mayor fails to sign it, she could send it back to the council for amendments. While the School Committee would be asked to reconsider any changes, officially they do not have a say in the move. They can only recommend to the Lynn delegation on Beacon Hill not to support the change.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Showdown over Lynn school custodians

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE and THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN  — The school committee wants changes to be made to a Home Rule Petition that would transfer management of the school’s maintenance staff to the school department from the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

The move, engineered by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy, is designed to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty. Under the revised rules, the city’s school custodians and maintenance staff are headed back to the school department. Earlier this week, the city council voted unanimously for the change.

The school committee, which did not have a vote in the transfer, was scheduled to hold a public comment session to hear from the employees and learn more about the change. But the meeting was canceled because of  last week’s snowstorm. Instead the discussion continued Thursday night, after the council vote. Kennedy said she would take all comments into consideration before signing off on council’s decision.

“I will take several days after this lands on my desk to decide if I’m going to sign it or not,” said Kennedy. “It has not been presented for a signature yet. By the city rules, I have 10 days once it is presented to me.”

Should Kennedy decide to veto the decision made by council, the panel would either make changes to the petition or drop it. But if she signs off, it moves on for approval from the legislature.

James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, said while the school committee can recommend to the city council that they rescind their vote from earlier this week to move custodian management to the school department from ISD, the council is under no obligation to reverse its vote. In addition, the school committee may ask Lynn’s Beacon Hill delegation to reject the home rule petition for the change, but they too are under no obligation to support it.

The controversy erupted in 2006, when former Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy shifted the custodians and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, officials said, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

When ISD inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

ISD Director Michael Donovan said as a result of the switch, the custodians were held accountable, attendance and timekeeping policies were implemented, employees punched time cards, vacation rules were tightened and the city outsourced lots of maintenance project work.

Today, the department has 57 custodians and a dozen maintenance workers with a budget of $14 million.

While there’s agreement that ISD’s management of the custodians has worked well, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said shifting the employees to the school department will add about $1 million to the city’s required school spending.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the custodians as city employees counts toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Caron and the mayor say moving the custodians to the school department will allow them to include those health care costs in the budget.

Richard Germano, vice president of AFSCME Local 1736 representing the workers, has said they are happy to go back to work for the school department. But because the petition calls for two custodians who clean City Hall to be transferred to the schools in addition to a supervisor position that has yet to be filled, Germano is concerned that the supervisor position was designed with a specific candidate in mind.

“That section is very offensive, as a taxpayer of this city,” he said. “The chief of inspectional services, I guarantee, will get this job. I guarantee it was put in there for him.”

Caron did not present the committee with any indication of the costs the transfer would pose to the school department because he said the numbers were not requested. School Business Administrator Kevin McHugh argued he sent an email to Donovan on Feb. 6 that has not been returned.

“This doesn’t feel correct,” said committee member Patricia Capano. “I feel that there are statements behind these statements that we are not aware of.”

Board members also shared concerns that the hiring process was in violation of state laws because the document does not indicate that veterans will have preference. The process outlined also requires three people to sign off on hiring a potential employee, rather than leaving the responsibility to the superintendent.

“When this comes to you (Kennedy), I would like to see it be sent back to the council to have them correct these things,” said committee member Donna Coppola.

“I share concerns about the costs,” said member Jared Nicholson. “I would appreciate seeing a breakdown. We spent a lot of time talking about the net school spending and this is entirely motivated by school spending. It was initiated by city council but everything in it is being implemented by the school department.”

Day without immigrants hits Lynn


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at bturcotte@itemlive.com. Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Gearing up plan for the Lynnway

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — One of the last hurdles to win approval for a $500 million development designed to transform a desolate section of the Lynnway is scheduled for next week.

Engineers for Swampscott developer Charles Patsios will present plans for the 65-acre former General Electric Co. Gear Works property to the Lynn Conservation Commission  Tuesday night. The six-member panel’s mission is to protect wetlands and water resources.

The developer is seeking approval for the project to be built on the Saugus River. The commission can regulate or prohibit activities that may alter waterways.

When completed, the complex is expected to feature a 1,260-unit apartment tower, boutique retail, restaurants, a gym and new roads within walking distance to bike trails, beaches and the MBTA.

Michael Toomey, a commission member, said the group will review their plans and if the members have any questions, they will be raised at that meeting.

“At some point, we will most likely issue an order that lays down the conditions we expect them to follow to protect the waterway and comply with the state wetlands laws and local bylaws,” he said.

Patsios said he is not worried about satisfying the commission.

“There are no issues that I’m aware of,” he said. “It’s a matter of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. I don’t see any problems or obstacles.”

He said his team recently reached a milestone deal with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to expand the use of the nearby MBTA River Works Station at the GE plant on Western Avenue. Today, the T only stops at the factory on the Newburyport/Rockport Line for GE employees. But under an agreement in the works with MassDOT, the station would be expanded for all commuters, including the new residents at the Patsios project.

“We have a tentative agreement and MassDOT is working on the documents,” he said.  

Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack could not immediately be reached for comment.

Patsios paid $7.6 million in 2014 to purchase the parcel from GE and has been working to win approval from a variety of city and state agencies ever since.

Of the three major projects in the works on the Lynnway, the Patsios project is the grandest and the priciest and could be a game changer for the city. It has the potential to unlock billions in gleaming residential and commercial real estate projects and transform the Lynnway.

Joseph O’Donnell, founder of Boston Culinary Group and Belmont Capital in Cambridge, is developing a 17-acre site for a $69 million luxury apartment project across the Lynnway that would include 250 units in a three-story building. At the other end of the Lynnway,  Louis Minicucci Jr. and Arthur Pappathanasi are working to turn the vacant Beacon Chevrolet site into an $80 million oceanfront apartment community. If approved, the project will include 348 apartments in two buildings across from North Shore Community College.

“As soon as we have all the approvals in place from the Conservation Commission, the city’s Inspectional Services Department and the state, we will then get to the financing,” Patsios said.

Council weeds out pot clinic locations


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Council weeds out pot clinic locations

ITEM PHOTOS BY OWEN O’ROURKE
This building at 491 Lynnway is a chosen site for a pot dispensary.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — After more than a year of debate, officials have chosen a pair of medical marijuana treatment centers to open in the city.  

953 Western Ave. was chosen as a site for a pot dispensary.

Without any discussion, the city council chose the Newton-based Massachusetts Patient Foundation, which plans to operate a facility at 487-491 Lynnway. Councilors also approved a proposal by Old World Remedies of Marblehead, which is slated to open a shop at 953 Western Ave.

“We’ve held a series of neighborhood meetings and met with many residents over many weeks,” said Ward 6 City Councilor Peter Capano. “As a result of those discussions we have chosen those two sites.”

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said she will abide by the wishes of the council as to the selection of the clinics and where they will be housed.

Last year, the city council approved a plan to bring two medical marijuana clinics to Lynn. Under the ordinance, the treatment center district would include the non-waterfront side of the Lynnway from Market Street to the General Edwards Bridge, two sites on Commercial Street and all properties on Route 107 from the Belden Bly Bridge to the intersection of Western and Murphy avenues.

Last fall James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, wrote the 19-page request for proposals for medical marijuana treatment centers. The city asked applicants who complied with the Department of Public Health’s regulations to apply. Applicants will be required to negotiate a host agreement that will provide the city with funds, guarantees of safety and assurances that the products will not be sold to minors. The city received applications from four applicants.

In other matters, the fight between the 11-member council and the mayor ended Tuesday night when the panel dropped its insistence that the city hire a deputy election commissioner. Last year councilors had argued the job was essential while the mayor said the job wasn’t needed.

The council also approved a measure to transfer management of the school’s janitors to the Lynn Public Schools from the city’s Inspectional Services Department. Under the change, the city will capture $1 million in additional school spending.

Lynnfield looks to limit marijuana sales


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn mayor gets a new helping hand

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROUKRE
Outgoing Chief of Staff Jamie Cerulli gives papers to her replacement John Krol as Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy oversees.

LYNN  Ten months before what could be a knock-down, drag- out fight for the corner office, Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy has hired a new chief of staff.

John Krol, 38, a city license commissioner, replaces Jamie Cerulli in the high profile assignment.

“This is a dream job,” he said. “The mayor is a good friend whom I believe in … I’m thrilled to have a chance to work for her and the city.”

The lifelong Lynn resident is a graduate of Lynn Vocational Technical High School and North Shore Community College. He is chairman of the 80-member Lynn Republican Committee and ran unsuccessfully for school committee twice. Kennedy started out with a list of a dozen candidates to fill the $70,000 job, narrowed it to three and interviewed one person, she said. When she attended Donald Trump’s inauguration nearly two weeks ago, she ran into Krol, a fellow Republican. They had dinner and the two discussed the job. The mayor said she became convinced he was the perfect candidate.

“John has all the right qualities,” she said. “I am very comfortable with him, he has common sense, I trust him, I believe in him, his intuition, loyalty, his ability to run an office, and to be stern when he has to be and unfailingly pleasant at other times.”

Cerulli, who has been Kennedy’s chief of staff since 2011, has accepted a position as Inspectional Services Department coordinator.

“It’s going to be hard to replace somebody as talented as Jamie,” Kennedy said. “But I’m confident John will pick up all the nuances of the job quickly.”

Krol arrives at City Hall in an election year. While Kennedy has not yet declared her candidacy, she is expected to seek a third term. At least two other candidates have expressed interest in the office including Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) and City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre. If the matchup is between Kennedy and McGee, it could be a brawl pitting the popular mayor against the well-known senator whose family name is legend in the city.  

Until recently, Krol worked as an accounts manager at MCR Technologies in Wakefield.  

“The mayor has told me my biggest challenge will be being mean,” he said with a laugh. “I told the mayor, I don’t know about mean, but I can be stern.”

Miguel Funez, a fellow licensing commissioner, said Krol is smart and a good fit for the job.

“The mayor has made a great choice,” he said. “I wish him the best in the new job.”

Discussing the Trump administration


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn school custodians back where they began

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Janitor Don Dube cleans the lunchroom at the Drewicz Elementary school in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — A 10-year-old decision to transfer management of the school’s janitors to the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) is about to be reversed.

In a move by Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy designed to capture $1 million in additional school spending and avoid a state penalty, the city’s school janitors and maintenance staff are headed back to the school department.

The controversy erupted in 2006, when former Mayor Edward “Chip” Clancy, shifted the janitors and maintenance staff from the school department to the city. The transfer came, officials said, because the schools were dirty and the janitors lacked supervision.

“The schools weren’t as clean as they are today, I can tell you that from personal experience,” said Michael Donovan, ISD director who took the added responsibility of monitoring the workers.

When Donovan inherited the 166-employee unit in 2007, it included 120 permanent custodians, 20 substitute contract workers who filled-in for absentees and 26 maintenance technicians for 26 schools.

“Since then, we changed the culture,” he said. “People were held accountable, we instituted attendance and timekeeping policies. Employees punched time cards, we tightened vacation rules, moved people if they were not working and outsourced lots of maintenance project work.”

The change also resulted in more of the maintenance crew doing more jobs, Donovan said.  The job descriptions that once consisted of specialized assignments such as painters, glaziers, master carpenters and cabinetmakers were changed to “maintenance craftsmen” so they could do any job as needed, he said.

Today, the department has 57 custodians and a dozen maintenance workers with a budget of $14 million.

While there’s agreement that ISD’s management of the janitors has worked well, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, said shifting the employees to the school department will add about $1 million to the city’s required school spending.

In a quirk in state law, while salaries for the janitors as city employees counts toward school spending, their health insurance premiums do not. By moving them, the city can add health insurance and reduce the deficit.

Last fall, the state Department of Education threatened to withhold $11 million in school funds until City Hall boosted its net school spending. In a letter to the mayor, the state said a review of the city’s end financial report discovered Lynn was in violation of state law.

“Your plan stated that in fiscal year 2016 through 2019 the city would appropriate $2.2 million in addition to each year’s net school spending requirement … the city did not even meet the fiscal year net school spending requirement and you have not budgeted sufficiently to meet the city’s obligation in fiscal year 2017,”  the state’s letter said.

Caron and Kennedy say moving the janitors to the school department will allow them to include those health care costs in the budget.

“The net school spending issue is a major factor in making this change,” Caron said.  ‘Going forward that money will start counting toward schools.”

While Donovan said he agreed to the change, he expressed concern about what will happen to the schools when they are no longer under ISD’s command.

“My fear is they will be dirty again because there will be no accountability for the employees,” he said.

But Kennedy disagrees.

“It will depend on who the superintendent hires to oversee the custodians,” she said. “Mike has been a good manager and if the superintendent hires the proper candidate, they will be able to run as tight a ship as Mike has.”

Richard Germano, vice president of AFSCME Local 1736 representing the workers, disagreed that the schools were not well-maintained when they were under school department management.

“You can go to any company and find some guys work at one pace, while others work at another pace, you won’t have perfect employees anywhere,” he said. “But we are happy to go back to work for the school department.”

School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham declined to comment on the merits of taking on the janitorial staff.

“That’s a policy decision,” she said. “It’s up to the School Committee, the mayor and the City Council. I’ll work with whatever they decide.”

City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said the switch to the schools has a good chance of passage when it comes to the City Council for a public hearing and a vote on Feb. 14. If approved, the measure will be sent to Beacon Hill lawmakers for final approval.

 

Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

 

Lynn council costs out middle school plan

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Voters will be asked to fund two new schools during a special election on March 14.

The City Council unanimously approved putting a question on the ballot asking voters to approve the $188 million project, which would be for the construction of two schools to serve students in the Pickering Middle School district and West Lynn.

Voters will also see a question asking if the project should be allowed to be exempt from Proposition 2 1/2, which places limits on the amount a community can raise through property taxes.

Voters would be responsible for an estimated $75 million, or $200 annually for the next 25 years on their tax bills. The Massachusetts School Building Authority would reimburse about 60 percent of the funds, or $113 million of the project’s total cost.

Real deal: $7.5M sale in Lynn

In a previous interview with The Item, City Attorney James Lamanna said under the city charter, the council was required to put the question on the ballot. Voter consent is required for any bond in excess of $4 million.

If voters approve the funding, a 652-student school would be built near Breeds Pond Reservoir off Parkland Avenue. A second 1,008 student-school would be constructed on McManus Field on Commercial Street. If voters reject the measure, the city could lose the state money.

Officials in favor of the project, including Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy and Superintendent Dr. Catherine C. Latham, spoke about the need for new facilities to keep up with increasing enrollment.

Kennedy said there has been a 17 percent increase in the student population over the past five years. Latham added there are more than 16,000 students in Lynn Public Schools, making it the fifth largest district in the state.

Kennedy said she couldn’t emphasize enough the education inequity occurring at the middle school level, after the new Thurgood Marshall Middle School opened. She said it wasn’t right that students in the Pickering district have to go to a school of inferior quality, or that students in the Breed district are squeezed into a school that is overcrowded.

“The only way the city can bear the $200 million approximated price tag of these two schools is to do this as a debt exclusion,” Kennedy said. “I can’t emphasize enough how much we need to have these modern middle schools in the city of Lynn.”

Latham said if the schools aren’t approved, the district would be in dire need of more classroom space. There might need to be a return to half-day kindergarten, she added.

Donald Castle, president of Protect Our Reservoir, Preserve Pine Grove Cemetery, said the land on Parkland Avenue belongs to Pine Grove Cemetery. The city’s law department became aware of documents from 1893 in the fall suggesting that the land belongs to the cemetery.

“We’re not against the schools,” he said. “We’re against the site.”

Lamanna said it’s the opinion of the law department that the city owns the land, and would prevail in court if challenged.

Following the unanimous vote, city councilors weighed in on the potential schools. City Council President Darren Cyr said building two new schools to replace 100-year-old buildings was about providing students with the same opportunities kids in neighboring communities have.

“If we don’t build these new schools, we could have as many as 40 to 50 kids in a classroom,” Cyr said.

City Councilor Dan Cahill said Lynn can’t be a community of folks who don’t invest in their youth. “If we don’t make this investment, I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen in the city of Lynn,” he said.

In other news, a public hearing was set down for Feb. 14, regarding moving 57 custodians from city employment to the jurisdiction of the school department.

Michael Donovan, the city’s Inspectional Services Department director, said the move was to meet the net school spending requirement. When they worked for the city, he said, their health insurance didn’t work toward net school spending. If the move is passed, their benefits would be going toward that.

Donovan said the custodians are working for inspectional services now, which cleans school buildings. They would just have a different employer in the school department.

“The school will be paying for them if this proposal passes,” Donovan said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

 

Construction continues to build in Lynn

ITEM PHOTO
New construction is seen on Liberty Street in Lynn.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — Towering construction cranes may not be on every corner of the city, but for the third straight year the number of building permits in Lynn has soared.

Builders have pulled 5,916 construction permits in 2016, up from 5,200 last year, a nearly 14 percent rise, according to the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

The mini-boom has added a whopping $873,576 to the city’s coffers in fees. That’s up from $775,619 last year, a 12.6 percent hike and nearly double the amount collected a decade ago when the city began tracking the data.

Lynn has seen an steady rise in building permits per year since 2006, and a nearly 14 percent rise in the last year alone.City of Lynn

Lynn has seen an upward trend in building permits per year since 2006, and a nearly 14 percent rise in the last year alone.

“We’re seeing lots of residential construction going on, including homes, condominiums and renovations,” said William DeIulis, a project manager at DeIulis Brothers Construction Co. The Lynn-based firm is completing work on a $21 million expansion to the North Shore Community College.

Lynn’s numbers are in stark contrast to what’s happening in Boston, Eastern Massachusetts and the state as a whole.

In the Hub, the number of permits fell by 29 percent and statewide permitting slipped by 35 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In its most recent housing survey, the Boston Foundation said the number of permits for new housing units issued in Eastern Massachusetts is expected to fall by nearly 20 percent this year, the first decline since the construction boom began in 2011.

In Boston, where more than $5 billion worth of new apartments have gone up in the downtown over the last four years, construction of high-priced apartments is finally leveling off.

Clint Muche, Lynn’s deputy building commissioner was careful to say that the number of permits does not equate with the total housing units built this year. The city does not have data on how many apartments or condominiums were added.

He attributed the rise in permits to a combination of new apartments and the renovation of existing housing, as well as the number of homes that are adding solar panels.

“There’s not a massive rise in new construction,” Muche said. “Most of the activity is renovations to existing structures.”

Still, the former Beacon Chevrolet site received a foundation permit for construction of 355 apartments on a 9-acre site on the Lynnway, two projects on Fairmount Avenue were greenlighted for 100 units and the Gateway Residences on Washington will feature 71 units of mixed-income housing on a formerly vacant 2.5-acre parcel near the downtown.

Nicholas Meninno, owner of Meninno Construction, whose Lynn firm lays the groundwork for larger commercial projects, said there’s a buzz about the city.

“In addition to one of the biggest projects going up at Market Basket, there are lots of residential projects citywide,” he said. “Developers are discovering Lynn and what it has to offer.”

Waterfront development backed up by questions


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn council takes up tax talk

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Lynn City Hall.

By THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — For more than 90 minutes on Tuesday night, Peter Caron, the city’s chief financial officer, faced tough questions from city councilors about Lynn’s financial problems and how to solve them.

After the talking ended, councilors agreed to hold a public hearing in December to set the property tax rate and seek state approval to send a preliminary tax bill before year’s end.

Caron’s request to mail the tax bills early buys time to figure out how to deal with the lack of cash.

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy faces several big ticket spending items: A $7.5 million shortfall in school spending and a wage increase for the Lynn Police Department over four years that was negotiated earlier this year with more than a $3 million price tag.

Add to this list the city’s prospective share for the cost of building two new middle schools is $68.5 million and The Lynn International Association of Firefighters Local 739 is in arbitration discussions on a wage hike.

With questions raised about a possible Proposition 2 ½ override to deal with a budget shortfall, Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi said he was distressed to learn about the city’s financial woes and asked if the administration was considering cuts before tax hikes.

“There’s a storm on the horizon and I’m very unhappy with what’s coming down the road,” he said. “The buck has to stop somewhere. What I haven’t heard are the steps being taken to start saving money now. Should we be asking departments to cut 5 percent across the board? I don’t want to raise taxes.”

In response, Caron said everything is on the table including raising building fees in the Inspectional Services Department to a local option meals tax that could raise $600,000 annually.

Caron noted that if the council and the voters did not approve raising taxes either by a Proposition 2 ½ override or a so-called debt exclusion to pay for two new schools, the city would be forced to make cuts in the police, fire or the Department of Public Works to make up for the shortfall.  

“It would take a very high toll on personnel,” he said.

Ward 3 Councilor Darren Cyr said based on Caron’s projections, the city is facing layoffs.

“We are in extremely dire circumstances,” he said.

Kennedy signaled last week that given the rise in student population, the city is at the point where it can’t fund basic city services. As a result, she is willing to ask the voters to approve a tax hike.

“I’ve said from the beginning of my administration that my absolute last resort is laying people off, and this is the only way to avoid that,” she said.   

The city’s finances came into focus earlier this week when the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the mayor that the city’s contribution to school funding was short by $7.5 million. As a result, the department was prepared to withhold $11 million in Chapter 70 school funds this month until City Hall makes the cash available for schools.

The fix would require an infusion of new revenue into the school budget as a way to address the problem.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn plots pot plan

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — After nearly a year of debate, officials are set to invite medical marijuana treatment centers to open their doors in the city.  

Prospective clinic entrepreneurs have until Tuesday, Nov. 22 to answer the city’s request for proposals. The public will have an opportunity to hear presentations by the bidders and ask questions at a city council hearing scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 29.

Last summer, the city council approved a plan to bring two medical marijuana clinics to Lynn. Under the controversial ordinance, the treatment center zoning district includes the non-waterfront side of the Lynnway from Market Street to the General Edwards Bridge, two sites on Commercial Street and all properties on Route 107 from the Belden Bly Bridge to the intersection of Western and Murphy avenues.

So far, two potential operators have made it clear to Lynn officials that they intend to apply. Former City Councilor Paul Crowley, trustee of the Lynnway Sportscenter, a 12,000-square-foot facility at 497 Lynnway, has filed an application with the Inspectional Services Department to change the use of the center to a medical marijuana clinic.

Under the terms of the application, the 81-year-old candlepin bowling alley would become a pot dispensary operated by the New England Patient Network Inc. The East Boston-based company is seeking approval from the state Department of Public Health for a retail shop in Lynn and another in the western Massachusetts community of Deerfield.

Also, Patrick McGrath, owner of the Lynnway Mart Indoor Mall & Flea Market, told the council he wants to be the owner and operator of one of the clinics at his property at 491 Lynnway. He’s already invested $100,000 in licensing fees and intends, if he is granted permission, to employ 20 people at the dispensary, he said.

James Lamanna, the city’s assistant city solicitor, said based on the number of inquiries he’s received, the city expects as many as a dozen firms to respond to the RFP.

Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre said the RFPs come on the heels of a series of public hearings on where the clinics should be located.

“We heard from the public and tried to zone them in the proper places,” he said. “Now, it’s time to let the process take shape.”

Peter Capano, the Ward 6 city councilor who lives in the neighborhood behind the Lynnway, made unsuccessful attempts to keep the dispensary locations off the Lynnway.

The council has appealed to Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy to select a representative of the panel to work with the mayor on a so-called host agreement, LaPierre said. The RFP calls for negotiations between the mayor and the applicant. Typically, the deal calls for an amount of cash to be paid to the city to operate the facility.

“We haven’t heard from the mayor on this yet,” he said.

Kennedy could not be reached for comment.

In Deerfield, for example, the town and New England Patient Network Inc. signed a three-year agreement that calls for a one-time payment of $50,000 and 2 percent of the gross annual revenues for the first two years, with an increase to 3 percent for the third year. Deerfield expects to net about $100,000 annually.  


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Lynn seeks prescriptions for marijuana dispensaries

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — City Councilors and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy are set to invite marijuana dispensaries to the city as early as next month.

James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, presented a 19-page draft request for proposals for medical marijuana treatment centers Tuesday for the council to consider.

The city plans to invite applicants who have complied with the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) regulations and have been invited to submit an application to the state. Applicants will be required to negotiate a host agreement that will provide the city with funds, guarantees of safety and assurances that the products will not be sold to minors. The council will take up the matter at its next meeting on Oct. 11.

While no one has applied to the state’s Department of Public Health for approval, a handful of dispensary proponents have notified city officials that they tend to apply.  

Landlord Patrick McGrath, who owns the Lynnway Mart Indoor Mall & Flea Market, told the council earlier this year that he intends to be the owner and operator of one of the clinics at his property at 491 Lynnway. He’s already invested $100,000 in licensing fees and intends, if he is granted permission, to employ 20 people at the dispensary, he said.

Former City Councilor Paul Crowley, trustee of the 12,000-square-foot Lynnway Sportscenter facility at 497 Lynnway, has filed an application with the Inspectional Services Department to change the use of the center to a medical marijuana clinic.

At a previous meeting, the city council approved a plan to bring two medical marijuana clinics to the city. Under the ordinance, the treatment center district would include the non-waterfront side of the Lynnway from Market Street to the General Edwards Bridge, two sites on Commercial Street and all properties on Route 107 from the Belden Bly Bridge to the intersection of Western and Murphy avenues.

Massachusetts voters legalized medical marijuana in 2012. In November, a ballot question will ask voters to legalize non-medical marijuana. Question 4 would legalize and create a commission to regulate marijuana in Massachusetts. Today, marijuana is only permitted for medicinal purposes. If approved, individuals at least 21 years old would be able to use, grow and possess pot.

The measure stipulates that individuals could possess less than 10 ounces of marijuana inside their homes and under one ounce in public. They could also grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes.

In other business before the council Tuesday, a group of neighbors urged councilors to oppose a 24-hour-a-day operation for a proposed Taco Bell at the Lynngate Shopping Plaza.

The eatery is planning to build a 2,500-square-foot restaurant on a portion of the parking lot in the shopping center at Boston and Stetson streets. Taco Bell is seeking approval from the Licensing Commission for special approval for the extended hours.

Residents who live behind the plaza say the late night hours will exacerbate traffic problems on Boston Street and disturb the neighborhood at all hours.

“You can count the number of fast food places we have within a quarter of a mile from Primo’s all the way down to Atha’s, enough is enough already,” said James Ferragamo, who lives nearby. “How many restaurants does Lynn need?”

Michael Rose, marketing coach for Charter Foods, the firm that franchises more than 200 Taco Bell, Long John Silver’s and KFC locations, said the Tennessee-based company has 24-hour operations in other regions of the country. Typically, he said, the restaurant closes at 11 p.m. and only the drive-thru is open all night. He promised to work with the neighbors.

Jack Griffin, a resident of the nearby 162-unit Stadium Condominiums on Locust Street, pleaded with the Licensing Committee to reject the plan.   

“I am opposed to the 24-hour for the drive-thru,” he said. “Our community is a very beautifully-maintained operation. A Taco Bell is not a good fit.”  

The council has scheduled a hearing on the matter for Oct. 11 and could take a vote on that night.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Stalemate over city election commissioner job continues

Lynn City Hall. File Photo

By Thomas Grillo

LYNN — The City Council may have chosen Michele Desmarais as the city’s new deputy election commissioner in time for this fall’s elections, but she likely won’t take the post until next year.

The fight between the City Council and Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy heated up this week over creation of the new job that the mayor said the city doesn’t need and can’t afford.

Despite a warning from the mayor that the position will not be funded, last week the council voted unanimously to hire Desmarais, a city Inspectional Services Department employee, to the newly-created post.

While the the 11-member panel knew the mayor would not pay for the job this year, City Council President Daniel Cahill said the position is critical to the smooth operation of polling places.

Its creation by the council guarantees the slot will be funded in the next fiscal year, which starts next July.

“All the council can do is present a structure and the mayor has the ability not to fund it,” he said. “This is a unique case because we created the job after the passage of our annual budget earlier this year. Next year, it will be funded.”

As a result of the stalemate, City Clerk Mary Audley will continue to manage elections through next June including the September 8 primary and the November 8 presidential race.

Neither Audley nor Joseph Driscoll, the city’s personnel director, returned calls seeking comment.

In an interview at her City Hall office, Kennedy said the $73,000 salary quoted by the council is inaccurate.

“When you add Michele’s master’s degree and her longevity as a city employee, that brings the pay to more than $100,000, not including benefits,” she said. “The council presented me a proposal for a financial transfer for $100,000 to finance the job so they know the real cost.”

The new job is unnecessary, the mayor said. Since her first term, the mayor has added two employees to the city clerk’s office to manage elections, she said. In 2013, Audley told the mayor that she needed more help. That year, Kennedy added a Spanish-speaking clerk and provided Audley with a $15,000 annual stipend because election duties got more complicated. The mayor also raised a head clerk’s salary by $26,000 for increased responsibility on elections and added an election coordinator, Mary Jules, at a cost of nearly $40,000.

“I have been more than fair through the years to this department particularly the election side,” she said.

The stipend, new hires and increased salary add up to more than $80,000, the mayor noted.

City Councilor-at-Large Brian LaPierre acknowledged that Desmarais salary will cost more, but insisted the job is essential.

“Anytime you have a new hire there are costs associated with that position,” he said. “But the responsibility of managing elections continues to grow with early voting and registration. That office has high demand and the election function will come off her plate with this new job.”  

LaPierre said Desmarais was chosen from eight qualified candidates and the list was narrowed to three finalists.

“Michele Desmarais, with her master’s degree and experience managing polling places when she is relieved from the ISD duties,  was the favorite,” he said. “She’s a hard working, knowledgeable person who will work with Mary Audley in the transition. More importantly, she will be a good face for the community.”

Still, Kennedy said she will need all available cash as negotiations with the International Association of Firefighters Local 739 is set to begin soon. The mayor recently negotiated the police contract that calls for a more than $3 million wage hike over four years.

“Every dollar matters,” Kennedy said. “I don’t believe that adding another person to an office that has already been granted upgrades over the last several years is a way to live within our means. ”

Lynnway car-lot plan hits red light

ITEM FILE PHOTO
The Lynnway.

BY THOMAS GRILLO

LYNN — The owner of the shuttered Logan Furniture store on the Lynnway is facing a stop sign for plans to turn the facility into a used car dealership.

On Monday, workmen were painting the interior of the 44,824-square-foot closed store when they were visited by the city’s Inspectional Services Department, according to Michael Donovan, building commissioner. Workers told the inspector  that Everett-based Inman Motor Sales was planning to open a used car lot on the property.

But the city’s new waterfront zoning prohibits car dealerships on the Lynnway.

“Our inspector informed them they can’t open a dealership there and told them to tell their boss to have him call the landlord because they do not have permission,” Donovan said.

In order to get approval, the property owner needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. If they start to move walls, create offices or install electrical outlets, they need a building permit.

The Logan Furniture store at 730 Lynnway, which closed last spring, is owned by Car Realty LLC, an entity managed by Kenneth Carpi, according to state records. Carpi and his attorney, Thomas Demakis, did not return calls seeking comment.

This is not Carpi’s first controversial project. Despite zoning that prohibits a contractor’s yard, Carpi has sought approval to move Leahy Landscaping to his property at 732 Lynnway. The ZBA approved the petition while the matter is pending before the City Council.

James Cowdell, executive director of the Economic Development & Industrial Corp. of Lynn, said he opposes the contractor’s yard and the car dealership.

“We moved the power lines so that we could have real development along the waterfront,” he said.

Cowdell met with Carpi last week to talk about long-term plans because he is one of the city’s largest waterfront landowners.

“We had a very good conversation, but the car dealership was not mentioned,” he said.


Thomas Grillo can be reached at tgrillo@itemlive.com.

Council to plant marijuana rules

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — Medical marijuana clinics could be coming to the city.

Officials are considering amending Lynn’s zoning bylaws that would clear the way for the controversial dispensaries.

If approved by City Hall, the treatment center district would include portions of 453-543 Lynnway — across from the ocean — two sites on Commercial Street and all properties on Route 107 from the Belden Bly Bridge to the intersection of Western and Murphy avenues, according to city documents.

The proposal comes as a group of local, state and federal officials led by Jay Ash, the governor’s Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, have committed to finding resources that can revitalize the city and spur development on vacant and underused parcels, including the city’s waterfront on the Lynnway.

At least one councilor is uncomfortable with the idea of locating the centers on the city’s gateway.

“It’s not a good idea to have it on the Lynnway because of all the stuff that’s going on,” said City Councilor Richard Colucci

Among the projects in the pipeline include a proposed $90 million mixed-use development by Minco Development Corp. that will include 348 one- and two-bedroom apartments at the former Beacon Chevrolet site. Joseph O’Donnell, founder of Boston Culinary Group and Belmont Capital in Cambridge, is developing the 17-acre former hotel site on the Lynnway into apartments.

“I don’t know why they’re all restricted to one area,” said City Councilor Peter Capano, whose ward includes the proposed district. “I would prefer that if we had to do it, that there would be more options than just the ones that are right there.”

Darren Cyr, City Council vice-president, said the locations were selected because they are not in a neighborhood. While he is opposed to making medicinal marijuana legal, he said by establishing areas where it can be sold, it provides the city with control.

Several proposals are being floated for potential treatment centers on the Lynnway. But no one has filed an application for a dispensary with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

City Council President Dan Cahill said the current medical marijuana ordinance is unenforceable because it bans dispensaries.

Former Attorney General Martha Coakley issued an advisory opinion that municipalities were not allowed to restrict medical marijuana clinics because they were approved by voters in 2012.

“If we don’t try to create some type of overlay district somewhere, a potential dispensary lease agreement could be for anywhere in the city,” Cahill said.

Without the new district, companies seeking to open a clinic could ask for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, be denied, challenge it in court and win, Cahill said.

“If we don’t site these things properly, they’ll go anywhere, and we’ll see infinite amounts of them.”

Any proposed medical marijuana treatment center would also have to obtain an annual operating permit from ISD.

While the zoning change will be discussed at a public hearing next month, Cahill said the process is just starting.

“This is going to take weeks and months,” he said. “At the end of the day, either we zone this in a way we can control this. Or, they will be everywhere and we will not be able to control them.”


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley.

 

Medicinal marijuana high on council’s agenda

BY GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNNMedical marijuana dispensaries will eventually be coming to Lynn, but according to the way the current city zoning ordinance is written, there is no location for where they could be implemented.

“The way the current ordinance is written, [there is] no conceivable location in the city of Lynn where the medical marijuana facility could be located,” City Council President Dan Cahill said.

Cahill said the Attorney General’s office has “opined that such exclusionary ordinances are effectively unconstitutional and therefore, would not be upheld, if challenged” in court.

Cahill said the City Council, Mayor’s office, the Law Department, Economic Development team, Lynn Police, and Inspectional Services Department are looking towards “redrafting an acceptable medical marijuana ordinance that protects our residential areas and properly locates potential dispensaries, away from schools.”

The Ordinance and Rules Committee met Tuesday night to discuss an ordinance amending the Zone Ordinance of the City of Lynn to establish a medical marijuana treatment center overlay district.

“The intent is to cite these facilities in the least intrusive areas in the city and we will be focusing heavily on commercial areas, excluding the downtown,” Cahill said. “The intent is to look at a map and come to an agreement on a potential site and/or sites to bring to the public for input.”

Cahill said the ordinance issue was just brought to the committee’s attention, by the Law Department, as something that needed to be addressed.

Councilor-at-Large Buzzy Barton said the committee will continue to discuss how many dispensaries there will be and where they will be located.

“We have to be aware of where we’re putting these because we don’t want them too close to the schools,” Barton said.

Barton said having dispensaries is state law, saying “if they want to come to your city, [you] have to have them in the city.”

“We want to make sure we get it right,” Barton said of placing the dispensaries.

City Council Vice-President Darren Cyr said he would like to see fewer dispensaries come into the city.

“I’m in favor of doing something,” Cyr said. “I’m nervous that because of the reputation of the city that you’ll have every single distributer wanting to come here. The last thing Lynn needs is to have 15 to 20 dispensaries opening up.”

Cyr said he would like to see “maybe two” dispensaries, which he said would mean two areas that “we can all come together and agree on,” and would be “fair and equitable to the dispensaries, but also to the community.”

Cahill said that four years ago he voted against the original zoning ordinance, which excluded the dispensaries everywhere.
“[I was] concerned that we we would be challenged in court and lose because there was nowhere to locate them,” Cahill said.

Cahill said there is no timetable for finding a location for the dispensary or dispensaries and implementing them. Discussion will continue at the next Ordinance and Rules Committee meeting.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right,” Cahill said.


 

Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley

Donovan — the man mayors turn to — deserves raise

ITEM FILE PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan looks at a zoning map.

Lynn City Councilors have not scheduled a public hearing to discuss a pay hike requested by  Inspectional Services Director Michael Donovan, but a quick drive around the city should easily demonstrate the merits of Donovan’s request.

Donovan currently earns $153,000, according to city records. His request to boost his base salary from $122,400 to $140,000 would increase his pay to more than $170,000 when the 25 percent education incentive he is entitled to receive is factored in to the increase.

City Councilors reviewed the proposed hike during a Feb. 9 committee meeting, but pushed it off to an unspecified future public hearing instead of acting on it.

When, and if, he gets a chance to state his case for a pay hike, Donovan says he will point out that he has no plans to leave his job if the increase is not granted. He has also said, for the record, that his job responsibilities have significantly increased since he took his job in 2004.

Don’t be fooled by Donovan’s quiet-guy-who-likes-bowties demeanor: He is the man who mayors turn to when they want to accomplish big projects.

Donovan was working as a civil engineer in 1997 when the late Mayor Patrick J. McManus hired him to be an associate public works commissioner. Donovan was McManus’ pick, two years later, to be acting public works commissioner and Donovan immediately tackled two big projects: Boston Street’s reconstruction and Fraser Field renovations.

When former Mayor Edward J. Clancy Jr. rolled out a plan, in 2003, to streamline the city’s snail-pace permitting system, he picked Donovan — who was DPW commissioner by that time — to head up the new Inspectional Services Department.

The newly-created department won council support in early 2004, by a narrow margin, only after three councilors argued Donovan should not be given city tenure credit for his DPW experience if he was going to be hired to head up a new department. Wiser heads prevailed and none of three are now councilors.

In characteristic Donovan fashion, the new ISD head hit the ground running by helping to oversee work on the Manning Field project, beginning in 2004. He went on to help craft a plan to stabilize a sinking Classical High School and played a central role in planning the new Marshall Middle School, slated to open this spring.

Donovan drew fire from a DPW union representative at the Feb. 9 hearing and more than a couple of councilors looked a little spooked by the tirade, but Donovan’s resume and loyalty to the city speak for themselves. If he is good enough to win the confidence of three mayors, he is good enough to merit a raise.