Thursday, July 27, 2006

The DeSalvatore Manifesto

I got this e-mail from City Councilor Ted DeSalvatore this afternoon. I won't comment on the policy ins and outs throughout -- I'd be here a while. But it's a pretty interesting read and exceptional insight into where the guy stands right now. Rarely would I dub something here a must-read, but this certainly rises to that level. Here's my favorite line: "Fear of being seen as too aggressive has frozen our city officials in there tracks." Councilor, thanks for sharing. He asked if I run part of it, to run it all. Enjoy.

Thanks for the conversation the other day; it gave me an opportunity to

Is Crime my number 1 issue? No but it may seem so since it is
tied to so many other antagonizers and bringing attention to it is imperative to
accomplish anything. We have much to do but without the truth there is no
incentive and that is where we’ve been.

Now for a direction of
where we can go.

I’ve provided a link to the ultimate alternative
to turning our problem neighborhoods into parkland.

Parkland will
always be an option but in the meantime...

need a Community Redevelopment Corporation of sorts.

A CRC could
be publicly owned and funded for the greater good with the ultimate goal of
eradicating the habitat used by those giving us the bad name.

transfers the responsibility of the City due to an abuse of a slumlord or an
overwhelmed landlord to a party or parties that would oversee the management and
renovation of the problem properties. Overseeing the properties, instilling
proven practices, upgrading neighborhoods and finely renting to responsible
tenants of good behavior is a must to bring this city back form the brink. The
brink of what? Receivership!

Crime and criminal behavior cause
city decay due to the effect on property value and burden of city resources.
Absentee landlords or better said, slumlords open the door to crime.
Inexperienced, overwhelmed or overextended landlords can emulate a slumlord but
the end result is still about the same. The safety and quality of life of the
neighborhood of one of their buildings ultimately does a nosedive. The cost to
the city is astronomical! Police, fire, health and building departments are
overwhelmed by the necessity of repeated visits and the value of the surrounding
homes plummet. This equates to a lose lose situation. That’s why I’ve hinted to
demolition albeit the process isn’t cut and dry the end result is an end to the
abuses of our city’s (taxpayer funded) resources.

Eliminate the
habitat and watch the problems melt away.

Fear of being seen as to
aggressive has frozen our city officials in there tracts. Nothing is stopping
the forward advancement of the criminally minded. Final outcome can only have
one result; we (as a city) lose! Every neighborhood, every ward, every

Crime needs to be hit commando style. Our present Chief of
Police likes the soft approach teaching in schools what would be better learned
in the streets by showing consequence to criminal behavior ending the reign of
terror permitted by turning the blind eye.
Slumlords must also be treated as
criminals using every tool the city can muster. Is that too harsh? NO! 48% of
all livable space in the city of Fitchburg is rental property. Nearly Half! Only
2 properties are legally licensed boarding houses but you can be assured there
are dozens being used housing multitudes of individuals!
In addition to
crime and slumlords, utility costs must be challenged as well as the
accessibility to this city via a Rout 2 connector. These are a must and must be
placed in the forefront, only then can we truly compete with our
Building new projects, adding new responsibilities, requiring more
diversion of our already stretched city recourses must come to an end to allow
opportunity for the rebuilding of our decaying infrastructure.

you think equal competitive utility bills will help business stay and new
business invest?
Do you think easier, faster accessibility to the city will
help that growth?
Would a Rout 2 Connector cause new interest in Main Street
or the Burbank Hospital?
Yes; to all three questions.

Are any of
our issues tied to exorbitant utility bills or lack of a good artery for
accessibility to the heart of our city? Yes
To much crime, to few jobs, low
housing market, urban decay, the list is endless and most is tied to root causes
but the answers are within fighting reach.

If you get the
opportunity, take a tour of B.F. Brown Middle School. If you don’t come out with
tears in your eyes I would consider you apathetic or heartless. Diverted funds
and patronage have taken Fitchburg on a downhill slide towards a very gloomy
fate. Add to that the soft hands approach of our police chief and you have the
disaster we have become. Once beautiful neighborhoods now lay virtual waste
lands of filth and those that grew up there are being penalized for enduring. Is
there no shame?

New or not this is my home. I have never been so
emotionally charged by any community and or inspired by its underlying issues.
We can make this city the hub of prosperity it once was but it will take the
collaborative efforts of the entire community with a leadership that challenges
the status quo and inspires change.

I offered myself in the guise
of a City Councillor because I saw the problems from a fresh unslanted
perspective. I have learned the problems won’t go away easy unless we can break
the hold of the old ways. Watching as different entities work against each other
trying to get a piece of the action is pathetic. We need leadership, we need
direction and we need a plan.

City council has some good people
with some good intensions on it however infighting and personal agendas cause us
to move at the speed of dark.

On city council we don’t always get
all the information we need to vote properly on any given

New information can change my vote or solidify

Moving petitions with an intended outcome is fine; moving
petitions, slanting information for an intended outcome is

Blocking any information gathering process is absolutely

Sitting on a petition or holding it in committee
just to keep an individual from gaining a feather in his or her cap is

I am discouraged by the behavior of some councillors yet
encouraged by the behavior of others.

The next election needs to
offer more choices and a greater understanding by those who

Fitchburg is known for our crime, drugs, and prostitution,
not our art museum, schools, roads, malls, parks or Main Street.
Time for
change is past due!
If we aren’t working on the real issues we will fail.

I’ve been told frequently that I am taking chances. I am
telling everyone that they are taking chances by turning a blind eye and
expecting it all to rectify itself through our present leadership. Unless we
make it move, it will sit still and we will continue to slide in the wrong
direction as a city.

As the Founder of Back Streets Association I
am proud to announce a mission statement aimed at the real issues for the only
appropriate reasons. “Our mission is to address and when possible eradicate
anything that diminishes the safety and quality of life of every resident of
this community.” The community is invited to join in the effort since it is you
all this is about.

My commitment and best wishes to

Ward 4 City Councillor
Ted E. DeSalvatore


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

DeSalvatore, The Independent

City Councilor Ted DeSalvatore has switched his political affiliation from Republican to unenrolled. This matters not a bit in terms of council politics, where candidates run without affiliation, but it does offer some insight into how DeSalvatore sees himself.

"I'm not owned by anybody, there's nobody pulling my strings," he told the Sentinel.

In the last few months, DeSalvatore has certainly worked independently. He is working on community building and has taken steps to create a team of city officials to work on the city's crime issues, but he's been staking this ground on his own and getting others to follow later and doesn't appear to be backing down.

A commenter yesterday noted that perhaps the city's newfound interest in out-of-town landlords is politically motivated. Obviously there is a lot of politics in play here.

And, this is the season to begin political rumors. Yipeee. And rumors start when public officials, like say a city councilor, begins to butt heads with a higher-ranking official, like say the mayor. Our wheels started spinning when Annie DiMartino went pretty hard after Mayor Dan Mylott in the spring, and they've been spinning for awhile over this DeSalvatore business. Now, we're really intrigued. DeSalvatore for mayor? It appears he has minimal love for Mylott, he could be more of an independent operator as mayor rather than councilor, and the whole independent man-of-people, "there's nobody pulling my strings" gig sure seems campaign ready. We're just saying.

The mayor's election is about 15 months away. People don't have to make decisions now, but they're at least thinking about mounting a run next fall. Let's put Mylott, DiMartino and DeSalvatore on the suspect list. Who else might run (not who should run, but who might run)? And who should win?


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Slumlord in Targets

The Health Department might take over six properties from an unresponsive landlord who owns some pretty sketchy buildings in the city.

The city is asking a judge to take the properties. A receiver would operate the property, collect rent, and pour some of that money into improvements.

This is a great get-tough move for the city. Not only does it offer a solution to a problem, but it should also be a warning shot to similar owners in the city. In fact, the city should mail a copy of the story or the legal documents to other owners with the implicit message that they're next.


To Your Rooms, Children

Joseph Altman, who is moving his consignment store from Fitchburg to Leominster, left town with guns blazing. At the Leominster City Council meeting last night, Altman made it clear how he feels about Fitchburg.

“I live in Fitchburg and I love Fitchburg. But I don’t feel Fitchburg is small-business friendly," Altman said to the Telegram.

“Fitchburg is in some troubling times,” he said. He then finished with: "I think somebody who measured inseams for a living does not a mayor make." (Hey, he sounds like a commenter.)

Mylott's response? “I won’t even respond to that. If Mr. Altman wasn’t able to make a go of it in Fitchburg, I think that’s his problem.”

Beyond his claims that the city is not business-friendly, Altman says his business struggled because of road work and the construction of the parking garage at the commuter rail station. To blame construction -- which should eventually lead to a more vibrant downtown -- is a little short-sighted and lame in our view. To take a swipe at Mylott is unseemly and unnecessary. Just head on out of town and let us worry about the future, sir.

As for Mylott's response, we're torn. He shouldn't have to respond to the inseam cracks. We elected him (many times) knowing full well what he did for a living. He's also been an elected official for over 20 years, which means he has a pretty good working knowledge of the city and its government. We'll all get a chance next year to review Mylott's performance.

The "I think that's his problem" bit is as unseemly and unnecessary as Altman's cracks. In fact, it is another one of those instances where we wonder if Mylott has ever had any kind of media or public-speaking training. Reporters must love this guy, because he has a knack for giving inflamatory quotes. As a resident and a public-relations guy, I'm begging Mylott to do a little better in his comments.

Couldn't he have said something like, "That space is going to be a key part of our future. It's a great retail location across the street from the parking garage and the rest of downtown, and we're excited about getting a new business in there to share in our growing future." It reinforces the benefits of the garage and downtown, keeps the focus on the future, and subtly knocks Altman for not making it in a good location. And it does it without being nasty. Mylott is the city's top cheerleader, but he comes across as angry and instigatory most of the time. The mayor needs to be eternally positive about the city and its future, while at the same time defending its interests. It's a skill Mylott doesn't really seem to possess.

Neither Altman nor Mylott are in the right on this one. Their squabble will blow over rather quickly. Hopefully the city can find a good tenant for that space that can be a good anchor for that section of downtown.


Monday, July 24, 2006

The Rich Are Coming, The Rich Are Coming

A developer is planning new project for the city that would include $500,000 homes. This has us more excited than most development news in the last six months.

Why? Someone thinks people with money will move to Fitchburg. Perhaps things are slowly swinging in Fitchburg's direction.

It probably isn't a secret that most people in the Boston don't know much about Fitchburg, and what they do know isn't very good. It's considered another worn out mill town somewhere out near Worcester, and is just insignificant enough that is get less attention than Brockton, New Bedford and other struggling areas.

But, as the Boston home market continues to be crazy ($450,000 for a three-bedroom ranch isn't that much better than $500,000 is it?), people are still looking for options. Fitchburg is becoming a palatable option.

There may have been a time when Fitchburg was wiped off a developer's radar screen by a simple decision that no one would want to live here. But that's changing. Route 2 and the commuter rail are considered assets, and the region's growth in general makes it more appealing.

We can't afford a $502,000 home, and wouldn't even know what to do with five bedrooms and 3,300 square feet. But other people can, and if those people want to move Fitchburg, it's a fairly pricey sign that the city is moving in the right direction.


Hell in the Market Basket

The Central Plaza Market Basket is slowly going through a move and renovation project at the plaza, and it can't happen soon enough.

Interestingly, we were talking about the Market Basket this weekend with a new Fitchburg family. They move in this week, but have already been warned to stay away from the Market Basket. Mrs. Save Fitchburg occassionally visits there, but wisely doesn't let us know when she does. The few we've been there haven't been impressive, and you can smell the pot from the parking lot pretty much every trip in.

So, Market Basket is going to move to the front of the complex, tear down some empty buildings, and work with the police to create a safer Central Plaza.

The quicker, the better. Central Plaza is a no-man's land that sets off a bad vibe for downtown. If you're coming to Downtown Fitchburg for the first time on Route 12 (which is likely), that's you're first impression of the city core. Ugh.

Central Plaza, and the Market Basket, can fulfill a major need in the city. Certainly, it would be easier to go there than Hannaford's from the train station to home, but the unfortunate reality is that is a distasteful option at this point. That's an area that needs to become a impressive gateway to the city center, not a signal that the city is in the dumps.

Certainly, Market Basket has done very well in Fitchburg. But it's encouraging to see a business drop some money into the city. Real estate developers are starting to invest in the city, but mid-sized to large business has yet to follow. As the condo developments move forward and Central Plaza and other rehab projects become reality, hopefully bigger investment follows.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Oh Boy

It would appear as if the rift between City Counicilor Ted DeSalvatore and the administration isn't getting better. Check out this paragraph from an e-mail DeSalvatore sent to Back Street Association members yesterday (the entire e-mail is at the bottom of the post):
"Due to miscommunication or the lack of cooperation by local obstacles the State
Gang Unit was not contacted so I will be taking it upon myself, for the benefit
of this community, to make that contact myself leaving nothing to be
misunderstood from this time forward."

DeSalvatore's message regards a meeting scheduled for tonight that he cancelled after he was told the State Police couldn't make it by other city officials. DeSalvatore said he will work directly with the State Police to reschedule.

Obviously, the "lack of cooperation by local obstacles" is what makes this all so interesting. DeSalvatore isn't going to let go of his effort to improve safety in his neighborhood, and he isn't going to back down from other leaders in the city.

DeSalvatore said he's trying to create a leadership committee for Back Streets, and then get out of the organization to let it run itself. He said he's gotten a lot of support from residents and businesses.

"There's people out there overwhelmed by my enthusiasm, and I'm overwhelmed by theirs," DeSalvatore said. "We're here to fix a problem, a problem that does exist."

DeSalvatore, like many others, feel the city is a soft landing spot for those with troubles -- criminals, those on the fringe who need social-service help -- and he wants to change that. He wants to eliminate the dark corners of the city where gangs and prostitutes hang out. He wants to get rid of the tenements where they live. If his long-term dedication matches his short-term energy on this, it's an issue that isn't going away.

It doesn't seem to be an absurd request on DeSalvatore's part to get the State Police gang unit talking to residents. Why it didn't happen -- either through miscommunication or "local obstacles" -- is important, but more important is DeSalvatore's commitment to getting the staties in one way or another.

Hopefully, DeSalvatore doesn't find too many more "local obstacles" as he moves forward. There's a lot of politics in play on this issue right now, and there will be for months, but at the end of the day DeSalvatore is on point with policy. He should get more help from the city than obstacles.

Here's the entire e-mail:
Dear Concerned Citizens,

It is my great regret to have canceled this Thursday’s meeting to be
held at the Armored Self Storage. It was our hope to have representatives from
our State Police Gang Unit to give a presentation that was made available to
City Council 4 years ago and also to local landlords recently through the
cooperation of the NWCLA (Northern Worcester County Landlord Association).

Due to miscommunication or the lack of cooperation by local obstacles
the State Gang Unit was not contacted so I will be taking it upon myself, for
the benefit of this community, to make that contact myself leaving nothing to be
misunderstood from this time forward.

Back Streets Association will continue to organize and notify the
public of coming events. Please feel free to contact me if you wish to help this
process move more expeditiously.

Those that wish to attend a leadership meeting are urged to contact me
as soon as possible through the numbers below or this email address.

Thank you,


Geoffrey Cayer

Lance Corporal Geoffrey Cayer was a 21-year-old from Fitchburg who was killed in Iraq this week. He is the first Fitchburg resident to die in the war.

If anyone knew Cayer or knows his family and would like to tell us a little bit about him, it would be very much appreciated.

(UPDATE: Here's the Sentinel and the Telegram with good pieces on Cayer.)

(UPDATE: Here's the text of the Department of Defense press release regarding Cayer:

DoD Identifies Marine Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a Marine who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Lance Cpl. Geofrey R. Cayer, 20, of Fitchburg, Mass., died July 18 from a non-hostile incident in Al Anbar province, Iraq. He was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The incident is under investigation.)


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Mayor

The Mayor's Office, and its current resident, has been the subject of much commenting this week. I've been thinking about a couple of different things regarding Mylott and the Mayor's Office, and because they go hand-in-hand so closely, I'll do it all at once.

First, the mayor is underpaid.

You can make an argument that Mylott himself isn't overpaid, based on performance, but the position itself is underfunded. Consider what we ask of the mayor:
  • Capably run a $95 million/year organization.
  • Capably oversee a $44 million/year education initiative.
  • Have an understanding of public safety.
  • Have an understanding of union contract negotiating.
  • Be able to spur economic development.
  • Understand housing development.
  • Be knowledgeable of zoning laws and applications.
  • Be knowledgeable of water and sewer systems, road work and other transportation, parks systems, and dozens of other entities.
  • Tirelessly promote the community.
  • Be on call 24/7.
  • Be a calming and optimistic voice in a crisis.
  • Play well with a City Council.
  • Play well with a School Committee.
  • Be accountable to 40,000 stakeholders.
It's quite a job. And we're paying someone $60,000 a year for it? Forget, for now, whether or not Mylott is worth it. Instead, look ahead. Who would put aside a career and a private life to take on this job? Could you afford it? Most people in general, and most capable people specifically, couldn't afford it.

Yes, being mayor isn't about money. It's an advocation, a love of the community, and a desire to see it be better. That doesn't pay the mortgage, though. The city needs to look at raising the mayor's salary in an effort to make it more attractive to potential candidates. There are enough reasons not to run for office -- the constant public demands, the loss of private time, the beating you take in bad times -- that money shouldn't be one of them. It's a hurdle that can be eliminated relatively painlessly, and should be eliminated.

If nothing else, having a quality group of candidates next year puts the pressure on Mylott, who most people here are itching to see gone next year. Some of the frustration was focused this week on Mylott's poo-pooing of Councilor Stephen DiNatale's "come together" plan to fight crime in the city.

It was, lately, a typically Mylott response. Undermining an idea but not really spiking it. Add it to the growing list of things that should be researched, but you know, might be a good idea. It leads me to believe Mylott is unwilling to take a risk, even a well-calculated one. Is it really bad to get the sheriff, DA, staties and everyone else together. Why not enthusiastically endorse the idea? What's so bad about it? Who cares if something similar is in place? Do it anyway.

When was the last time Mylott enthusiastically endorsed something? Even more importantly, when did he independently come up with an idea that he strongly backed? If you have examples, let us know.

Chances are we're going to spend a lot of time looking at Mylott's administration next year. We'll have plenty of time to pick apart the policy and the politics and the individual things that got Fitchburg to where it is right now and decide whether or not Mylott is worthy of another term. My feeling is that Fitchburg needs someone at the top who is willing to roll the dice a little bit, and energetically lead the city forward. That doesn't appear to be happening right now.

In the meantime, let's watch the council try to get meaningful things done. Dean Tran did it with his sex offender residency requirement and is working on the landlord issue. DiNatale and Ted DeSalvatore are working on crime. The problem is, the council can't work as nimbly and quickly as the mayor. DiNatale can put together a petition for his crime summit, gather the support, and demand it eventually happen. The mayor could get it done by the end of the week.

Whatever the issue, what the city needs most is a strong mayor who can make things happen quickly and isn't afraid to try something new, even take a risk, in order to make the city better. The City Council should work on raising the mayor's pay (starting in 2008) to ensure the best possible candidates are on the ballot next fall and into the future.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

The Herald has its usual trumped-up coverage on all things Turnpike today, including a look at the problems plaguing the overwhelmed South Station commuter rail, which is stuck with delays and broken air conditioning.

For the first time in a while we rode the commuter rail into work today. We were on time, and the A/C was working, but it was very, very crowded. There were about 30 people standing from South Acton to Porter Square, about a 40-minute ride.

Driving around Boston has been difficult lately. Getting from Fitchburg to downtown isn't that bad. But downtown streets are a disaster. Getting out of the North End and onto Storrow Drive has been particularly tricky.

The Turnpike problems create a great opportunity for the T, but so far it has received failing grades. Subway trains are jammed and the commuter rail isn't any better. Throw in the usual uncomfortableness factor and the super-long ride from Fitchburg (remember, the "express" is 1:40), and the commuter rail is not showing itself off to rave reviews this week.

Yeah, yeah, cronic complaints. But here's the thing: Fitchburg is staking a lot of its future on the commuter rail. Just having access and a relatively quick ride isn't enough. The service needs to be comfortable and able to withstand commuting hiccups -- whether it's increased demand from road issues or weather problems (like last winter, when the garage was closed for an FSC event and 18 inches of snow fell). Fitchburg officials, particularly those on Beacon Hill, need to work on making sure that not only is the train faster, but also plainly more attractive to riders. After today's ride (and we'll back on again at least twice in the next two weeks, so expect updates), it's clear there's work to be done.


Monday, July 17, 2006

Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?

The Sentinel has a good story yesterday on the growing interest in residential development along the Nashua River. (By the way, in recent months some of these Sunday issue stories in the Sentinel have been pretty darn good.)

It's an interesting story for a couple of reasons. First, it shows a genuine interest in the city and one of its chief amenities, the river. Waterfront, whether it's the ocean, a lake, or an urban river, is always a draw. Developers are starting to be drawn to the river.

Relatedly, there's information in the story that leads one to believe the city is working on improving public access to the river, mostly by demanding developers create riverwalks and other access to the river on their properties. Hopefully the city has a plan (or has at least considered) that will link up these privately-made riverwalks into a continuous biking or walking path along the river.

These developments are mostly in former mill buildings. They offer developers great space to built units, along with plenty of space for parking. Potential owners get condos with river views, a parking space, and some privacy away from other development.

Downtown housing is slowly building up (don't look at today, but a year or two down the line), and other significant housing proposals are popping up around the city. If you look at the proposed developments and their timelines, you're looking at hundreds of new housing units in the city by 2008 or 2009.

Hopefully, city officials can take a long-term view of downtown, and slowly start building a critical business mass for downtown in three or four years. Not tomorrow, but down the line. The Sentinel story refers to almost 400 new units in the city. That translates to close to 1,000 people, and that doesn't include other developments around the city and downtown. Now is an important time for city leaders to look ahead to the future of downtown, and make sure that as these housing units fill up, there is a growing downtown waiting for them.


Friday, July 14, 2006

One Soft Infested Summer Me and Terry Became Friends

Councilor Ted DiSalvatore and the Back Streets Association are back at it tomorrow, with a clean up alongside the Department of Public Works. Here are the details:

This Saturday we are working with the Civic Cleanup Corp and the City of Fitchburg’s DPW cleaning up the area around Elm, Johnson, Omena, High and Marshall Streets.

This is an effort to clean up and help instill pride among those that feel lost and or forgotten.


We meet at BF Brown, Saturday morning at 8am.

Worth noting: We get this info from DiSalvatore. Check you yesterday's post and comments for some thoughts on the whole media/politician relationship. We're please DiSalvatore thinks we reach enough folks to include us on his distribution list, but more importantly he's proactively publicizing these things and making sure as many poeple as possible know about it. While some folks are questioning his methods, his motivation and goals can't be denied.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

More Train Action; More Downtown Help

Over the course of the last few months, we've probably been a bit too preoccupied with the commuter rail issue, but it's an important one. Considering the lack of interesting news lately (it is the summer, after all) and we're back on the train beat today.

A handful of officials took the train to Boston yesterday. Partly because they needed to get to the State House, partly as an awareness piece for riding the train.

As often seems to be the case in these "events," the riders took the 7:27 train from Leominster to Boston yesterday morning. The train gets into North Station at about 9, so we don't really consider that a big commuter train. We kind of wish they got on the 6:47 train. It's packed, and exemplifies what passes for "express" service these days. We also would have like to have heard how they liked the trip in and out at the end of the day.

Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella makes a good point: The issue has gotten a lot of attention lately, but it shouldn't be an election year-only issue. Hopefully all this talk turns into action at some point.


The city announced an expansion of a federal grant program for exterior improvements for businesses yesterday. Awnings, signage and facades can all get upgrades through the program, which provides 70 percent funding for a project.

This is a core program that is very good for the city and its downtown center. You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can decide whether or not to go into a business based on its public image. These programs have been part of a working rebuilding in cities like Lowell and in larger programs like Boston's Main Streets program.

It does require a 30 percent investment from the business, which can be substantial on a $20,000 grant for a facade improvement. But for good businesses who want to lead the city forward, this is a great opportunity. The announced expansion yesterday adds more streets to the coverage area. We hope this doesn't mean Main Street, previously the only street involved, didn't step up to the plate.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Shift to Residential

The owners of a building on Newport Street, which is tucked away off Airport Road, want to turn their industrial factory space into a condo development.

The 48 one- and two-bedroom units would face the Nashua River. It's the latest proposal in a series of plans that is slowly remaking Fitchburg into a residential community.

As downtown buildings undergo transformation into condos, developers are also looking at the old factory buildings along the river as potential new homes. It's an encouraging trend, in that it shows a long-term interest in the city, and reinforces the conventional wisdom that people are looking to the region for housing.

There may be an issue with this one, however. The two owners of the building run businesses out of the building, and Planning Board Chairman Jay Cruz said it may tough to switch the zoning from industrial to residential with tenants in the building. However, the tenants are the owners (at least according to the story), so should that be an issue? Hopefully, the city can work out a plan that maybe finds the businesses a new home in the city (one owner said he might move to Leominster. Boo) and smooths out the process to change the zoning and allow the development to happen.

Months ago, City Councilor Dean Tran advocated a plan for bringing more people into the city, creating that critical mass of residents and consumers who would demand services and entertainment in the city. It appears the city is moving in that direction, and hopefully the government can do what it can to move quality projects forward quickly.


Monday, July 10, 2006

Buyback, or Not Buyback

Police Chief Edward Cronin wants guns off the streets, but doesn't embrace a gun buyback program, saying research doesn't conclusively prove they work. A Northeastern professor backs up Cronin's stance, saying gun buybacks are still unproven.

Professor Glenn Pierce and Cronin say there are still unanswered questions, but the story doesn't detail the questions. It seems simple. If a gun is off the street somehow, isn't that a success? We'd like to hear more about why these programs may not work.

Councilor Dean Tran is a supporter, and Pierce notes one thing a gun buyback program does do is create a public image of working to get guns off the street. That's an important point, and the public relations should be enough for the city to institute a program.

The story notes Worcester has gotten 800 guns back through its program. Boston is promoting its program all over the place (we saw an ad on Channel 25 featuring Mayor Thomas M. Menino last week on this very subject). Boston's program offers participants a $200 gift card to Target.

By instituting a program, Fitchburg can point to it as a piece to the puzzle of making the city safer (although someone other than Cronin might have to make that argument from now on). And if the program only brings in a handful of guns, isn't that a start?

This seems like a no-brainer. What are we missing here?


Friday, July 07, 2006

Rethinking the Downtown Block Party

Since last Friday, the shine has dulled a little bit from the block party, especially have hearing from a few folks about the event.

One city official noted the toys being sold on tables that lined the street. There were a lot of guns, knives and other non-family-friendly items being sold on the street. Should the city be allowing toy guns to be sold on the street? At a family event?

Second, a Main Street business leader noted the lack of interest organizers showed to Main Street businesses. This business didn't stay open for the event, feeling organizers shoved them off to the side. A restaurant stayed out of it, because organizers wanted a $165 fee to have space on the street.

Certainly, the event organizers need to raise money to cover costs and put on a quality event. We have no idea if that $165 fee is onerous or not. We'd like to think it's worth it, just to have hundreds of people walking by your signage for a night. If a few folks stopped to sample your food, and liked it, maybe that leads to new business.

But we digress.

The overarching message from the business leader was the general lack of interest from organizers to include downtown businesses in the event. I know commenter Donna had a role in organizing, does she want to respond?

This all comes back, for us, to the general lack of local businesses at the event. We're not sure what business was selling the toy guns, balloons and other stuff on the street, but they didn't have any signage, so we don't think they're a local company with a storefront somewhere. Where was the local stores with cool things to sell? Maybe they only make $30 or $40 for the night, as Donna noted last week, but don't they get more in terms of advertising to a captive audience that probably numbered in the thousands?

In the end, the block party was a good event. It brought people downtown, and anything that does that is a good thing in our book. But the event should be a showcase of local restaurants and business. If it can't do that, another event should be created that does it. And lose the toy guns. Especially after this week's incident (and we heard from the city official before the incident), it just doesn't seem proper.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

FPD Gets Its Man

Give the Fitchburg Police Department credit, they arrested someone in the convenience store shooting yesterday.

There are a lot of reasons for this to be a bad story for the city -- war veteran shot with an assault rifle on the overnight shift sums it up very briefly -- but a quick arrest is a decent silver lining.

The PD takes its beating around here, but in this case they got the job done quickly.

While we're on the subject, a bit of media commentary: Yesterday afternoon, the Sentinel had a streaming banner at the top of the web page with one sentence on the shooting and a refer to today's paper. In the meantime, the Telegram,, and every TV station website had stories on the incident. The Sentinel didn't even use its twin cities blog to advance the story. Why? The local paper finishes dead last in the breaking news race yesterday.


Meet the Candidate

If you're into this kind of thing, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Gabrieli will be in town tonight to talk to voters. The open-to-the-public event is at 6 p.m., at the Oak Hill Country Club.

Feel free to make your own rich-guy joke, if you want.

All set?

Why is Gabrieli holding town hall events at country clubs? Does he really need to reinforce -- again -- that he's a rich guy? Shouldn't Gabby be holding these things in a more man-of-the-people-ish venue? While his money is going to go a long way to helping him this fall, there's still that public distaste for obscene wealth (unless you have obscene wealth. Which we don't). Especially in a town like Fitchburg, which is middle-class at best.

He bought a spot on the ballot, and then made a bad joke of the public campaign financing process. Now he's holding town hall events at country clubs. It's OK to start thinking he just doesn't get it.

Anyway, he's in town tonight, so if you're interested, stop by (we would, but we have big plans with the 3-year-old). Tell him Save Fitchburg sent you.


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Good for the Sentinel, Bad for Fitchburg

The Sentinel reports today that the School Committee did, in fact, break the Open Meeting Law when it met behind closed doors to discuss Supt. Andre Ravenelle's job performance last month.

After the Sentinel questioned the legality of the meeting (we discussed here at length also, but we're guessing the Sentinel took some formal steps), Mayor Dan Mylott asked the City Solicitor to investigate. The clear-cut answer was the meeting was illegal.

What has us itchy about it now is Mylott's discussion that the closed-door session was an oversight because no one checked to see if an executive session was legal in this instance.

In our experience, most boards are very cognizant of the Open Meeting Law. In some communities, new officials are given some kind of written primer on the law and how it works and the exemptions for executive session.

Let's put this way: A reporter knew the session was likely illegal. Shouldn't at least one member of the School Committee have known? Mylott has been a public official for 20 years. Shouldn't this have at least led to a question before the session was held? Reporters are taught the Open Meeting Law in their first job, but should they know it better than public officials?

Why was the School Committee even considering evaluating Ravenelle in private? Shouldn't the city's top educator be reviewed in public? What did the School Committee not want the rest of the city to hear? Unfortunately, these are the questions that come out of such a situation.

Whether it was innocent ignorance or blatant disregard, the fact of the matter is the School Committee clearly doesn't understand the law even enough to ask a question in advance, forget violating the law. Would an elected official please ask the City Solicitor to prepare a memo that outlines the OML, and have the memo distributed throughout City Hall? And have the memo delivered to new people as they are elected? This eliminates the whole "we didn't know excuse," and hopefully puts an end to illegal meetings. It isn't very hard.


Robber Uses AK-47 in Fitchburg Store

We're not sure what to make of this one. A man walked into the Boomtown Variety Store early this morning and held up the clerk using an AK-47. He shot the clerk in the hand and took off.

Channel 4 has a good wrapup this morning.

This is a disturbing story on a couple of levels. It's a reminder that the police can't be everywhere all the time. This poor clerk -- reportedly on his first night on the job -- is all alone at 2:30 in the morning. Fitchburg police have taken a pounding for not being on top of crime in the city, but this fits more in the "these things happen" category. It appears from all reports the police are pulling out the stops to find this guy.

More importantly -- and more disturbing -- is the fact that guys are toting around AK-47s in Fitchburg. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about the rifles (as always, take Wiki's words with a grain of salt, but this seems pretty straightforward).

Except for the guy shot in the hand and his boss (and the guy working the overnight tonight, although it sounds like the Boomtown's all-night hours might be ending), this is a psychological issue for the rest of Fitchburg. AK-47 automatically conjures up the crazy, aggressive, out-of-control criminal or gang member image. It's magnified in this case in that the guy actually shot the gun.

Hopefully there aren't too many of these things floating around the city, and hopefully police make a point to squeeze those who might know about these things -- well-connected local criminals, a gang member or two -- to identify where they might be and get rid of them.


Monday, July 03, 2006

The Best (and Worst) of Downtown

Friday night's Downtown Block Party illustrated everything that downtown Fitchburg can offer, but also was a reminder of it's current struggle.

By 7:30, the closed-to-traffic Main Street was packed with visitors. There was music, balloons for the kids, and stuff to eat. There was also a string of closed storefronts, many of which you wouldn't visit even when open. It was the ultimate good news/bad news situation.

Here's the bad news: Downtown Fitchburg doesn't have a whole lot to offer. The busiest business was Espresso pizza, and while the pizza is tasty, shouldn't there be a shop or two able to be open and attractive to hundreds of visitors to downtown? While the street and the vendors were active, the day-to-day businesses were dead (as usual).

Here's the good news: Give people a reason to come downtown, and they'll be there. It doesn't take a whole lot to turn downtown into a vibrant place to visit. People will come if they have a reason. Friday night provided a reason. The trick now is to create a mass of restaurants and shops that will turn downtown into a permanent go-to spot.

It also is a reminder, along with tomorrow's fireworks, that Fitchburg still has the potential to be the core of the North Central Massachusetts region. The title as urban hub is earned through a series of little things -- like hosting the regional chamber of commerce, being home to the region's biggest and best fireworks, and nursing along a vibrant urban core -- that Fitchburg is accruing.

Friday night was a one-night snapshot that mirrors very well the city as a whole: There are blemishes, but it's slowly rebuilding toward the potential that is just under the surface.