Citing conflicts of interest, three city councilors abstained from voting on a proposed expansion of the Arts Overlay District during last Tuesday's city council meeting. Councilor Steven Camara, who proposed the district be expanded north to Locust Street, abstained because that expansion would include several properties that he owns. Councilor Lund, who had legal counsel propose an expansion to the south that would include the former Quaker fabric site on Ferry Street, abstained because the proposal also included his property - the Borden Light Marina. Councilor Viveiros abstained because she lives in the area that Councilor Lund proposed to expand the district to.
It's troubling that two city councilors would advocate for an arts overlay district to be expanded into areas that place them in a conflict of interest and at the very least perceive to be self-serving.
Now to be fair, other than the benefit of revitalizing efforts, expansion to Locust Street seems to have little direct benefit for Councilor Camara. This expansion seems to have enough merit to at least be discussed and it has the support of that neighborhood association.
More troubling is the proposal championed by Councilor Lund. Although including the former Quaker site in the Arts Overlay District as a way to fast-track waterfront development has its merits, including the Borden Light Marina raises all sorts of concern.
In March 2006, Michael Lund proposed the construction of a 15-story building near Borden Light Marina. A special permit was needed to build a residential facility in an industrial district and a variance to have a structure within 20 feet of Almond Street and neighboring properties. Despite protests from prospective neighbors of the building, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a special permit and variance for Michael Lund’s family to build a 15-story luxury apartment building near Borden Light Marina. That decision was challenged by Save Our Neighborhoods, a committee that formed as a result of the ZBA's actions.
The aims of the Arts Overlay District ordinance include: nurturing artists, energizing the atmosphere for new shops and restaurants and reducing crime by having a business area that’s open longer and thriving better.
The question is, in light of Mr. Lund's own efforts to develop the area that he now proposes be included in the AOD, is this truly in the best interests of the city to include it in the AOD, or is it a tool to misuse softer zoning laws?
Lefty's View: Almost everyone I've talked to believes that creating an Arts Overlay District is a good idea. The goal is to create an environment of bustling arts and commerce. Artists can add culture and vibrancy to a neighborhood and can fuel an economic revitalization. However, for an AOD to really have an effect it needs to be implemented in an area where we really want to see such development. Expanding the Arts Overlay District could result in too much of a good thing. More concerning is the motives for the proposed expansion, particularly in the case of Councilor Michael Lund. What are Councilor Lund's motives? After having a proposed condo complex stalled by challenges he runs for the city council. Once on the council, his first actions are to slacken the zoning that effects this same area by having it included in an Arts Overlay District. To cast further doubt on his motives, city records indicate that he purchased his current home in April of 2007 just months before announcing his council run. Previously records for his family's companies indicated he lived in Swansea. Now I'm not trying to say that Councilor Lund's motives have been to benefit himself and his family but the perception is certainly there. As a new councilor Michael Lund should be working hard to safeguard his reputation and to prove to the people of Fall River that deserves his city council seat. So far he's blundered. I urge Councilor Lund to halt any efforts to expand the AOD. No matter how worthy the expansion may have been it is now tainted with the stigma of selfish motivation.
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