Mob rule, pandering and a healthy dose of stupidity tainted this week's vote by the New Bedford City Council to kill a proposal by Cruz Management to convert the former Phillips Avenue School into housing units.

The Cruz plan would have created 17 units of affordable and market-rate apartments while putting the crumbling brick structure on the tax rolls for the first time. One hundred and seven people signed a petition seeking to pressure the council into rejecting the proposal, largely they say because it would have put a strain on an already-tight parking situation in the cramped neighborhood, a claim that has been disputed by supporters of the project.

Mark Champagne, Director of Facilities and Fleet Management for the City of New Bedford, told the committee the building does not meet code and is "uninhabitable" in its current state.

It costs the City some $16,300 annually just to maintain a building that is uninhabitable so that neighbors can use the lot for off-street parking. How absurd is that? Mayor Jon Mitchell tells me that it is likely that residents will be prohibited from parking there in the near future due to concerns about debris falling from the building. It would cost an estimated $1 million to rip the thing down.

The city council, in my view, allowed itself to be intimidated by unruly opponents of this project and pandered to the self-interests of a few rather than the best interests of the city as a whole. Shame on Councilors Morad, Giesta, Carney, Abreu and Dunn for not doing what was right for the taxpayer.

Debora Coelho/Facebook
Debora Coelho/Facebook

And why was the meeting not postponed when it was learned that At-Large Councilor Deb Coelho could not attend due to a prior commitment? She lives in the neighborhood and should have participated in the discussion and the vote on this matter.

Additionally, shame on Cruz Management VP Daniel Cruz for falsely suggesting the vote to oppose his project was motivated by race. Ward Two is among the most racially diverse in the city and quite frankly we just don't do things that way in New Bedford.

The Cruz project would have taken a dilapidated former school building and rehabbed it at the developer's expense. It would have created additional housing units at an affordable rent and would have generated additional tax revenue for the city.

The city council failed in its role to provide for the common good of all citizens and instead pandered to the special interests of a few. As a result, all taxpayers will suffer. It's no wonder the public faith in government continues to erode.

Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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