Loan Order for Lowell High Land-taking Approved
LOWELL -- The land-taking of 75 Arcand Drive, relocating six well-established doctors for the high school project, is moving forward despite questions about the final cost of the eminent-domain process.
The Lowell City Council voted 7-2 on Tuesday to approve a $2.6 million loan order to pay for the downtown property. Six votes were required for the land acquisition order.
The city’s Law Department still has to negotiate with the doctors on this price.
In addition, there’s a relocation cost as part of the eminent-domain process, which the city’s consultant has estimated in the $4 million range, while the doctors’ consultant estimated around $6 million.
While none of the costs have been agreed upon, the city moved ahead with the loan order Tuesday night.
City Manager Eileen Donoghue said the city needs to have this loan-order money to offer for the taking.
“The loan order moves this process forward,” she said.
It’s important to stay on track with the schedule set by the Massachusetts School Building Authority, Donoghue added. The city has to file the land-taking with the state by February.
The land-taking is necessary for the high school project, according to MSBA Executive Director John McCarthy.
The City Council still needs to follow up with a vote later this month on the land-taking itself.
“It’s a process for the good of the city,” Mayor Bill Samaras said. “This is a necessary move.”
The state will not compensate the costs associated with the land-taking or the relocation of the affected tenants. Funding for this will come from the city, specifically via bonds.
Two councilors, Rita Mercier and Rodney Elliott, spoke adamantly against the land-taking on Tuesday. They both supported a high school at Cawley Stadium last year, while the seven others supported a downtown high school.
Mercier said this will displace businesses and put people out of jobs.
“I want to be able to sleep at night,” she said about Tuesday’s vote.
“Eminent domain is if there’s no other option available,” Mercier added. “In this case, there was another option.”
The majority of Lowell voters supported a downtown high school last November, so Mercier said she will follow the people and support the loan order for the high school project next year. However, she will not support the eminent domain portion.
Elliott pointed out that the numbers for the land-taking are not final, and that the estimates have ballooned over the last year.
Demolition and site cleanup costs are not included with this, he added.
“It seems like we’re moving in the dark without any definitive direction or concrete numbers of what we’re voting on,” Elliott said.
He emphasized that he’s concerned about the high school project costs, along with the operating budget deficits.
The city has some significant financial challenges, he stressed.
“We need to really take a look at how much we can really spend on this project,” Elliott said.
City Councilor Jim Milinazzo said the city has been watching the taxpayer’s dollar.
“We know this is something we can afford,” he said.
Tuesday’s meeting packet included ancillary costs for the formerly proposed high school project at Cawley Stadium. The total was $17.42 million, more than $3 million in additional costs not provided to the council last year.
This was from transportation costs, permitting costs, and acquisition costs for right-of-way needed for the transportation improvements.
“There are costs of doing business no matter what we do,” Samaras said.
He added that they’re not putting doctors out of business. They’re working with them, giving them a fair price, and helping move them to a new spot in the city, the mayor said.
“This is the price of looking at the future of our students in Lowell,” Samaras said.
Mercier responded to the ancillary costs for Cawley, calling it a “dead issue.”
“Why did we even receive it?” she asked about the report. “We should just be dealing with the issues affecting Lowell High School downtown.”
Mercier added that the Cawley numbers were over-inflated to justify the higher-than-expected costs downtown.
“I’m not impressed with any of these tactics,” she said.
The owners of the medical building can challenge the $2.6 million assessment from the city, resulting in litigation, but that will not stop the high school process, officials have said.
The city solicitor recently sent a letter to the attorney for the doctors with the city’s $2.6 million offer. It was recently appraised at that figure, according to City Solicitor Christine O’Connor.
The relocation draft plan lists nearly two dozen properties for lease across Lowell. None of them are suitable for the six doctors, their lawyer has said.
The doctors at 75 Arcand Drive are: Dr. Evan Coravos, Dr. Stephen Reichheld, Dr. Christopher Ross, Dr. Michael Szarek, Dr. Aaron Watman and Dr. George Montminy.
Follow Rick Sobey on Twitter @rsobeyLSun.