The first meeting night for new city councilmember Jim Salzwedel was a doozy.
The evening started with a Committee of the Whole at 5:30pm to hear public comments about whether medical marijuana dispensaries should be allowed in the city. That wrapped up at 7:10pm, and then the council went into its regular Monday meeting. After that was adjourned at 8:17pm, the group stuck around for another hour to hold a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to consider whether to allow an oversized sign in front of the Tractor Supply shopping center.
Look for a separate article to cover the medical marijuana hearing, but it was a topic that spilled over into the regular meeting as well. Three additional speakers can forward to address the issue. One resident of Lowell was opposed to the idea while a resident of Lowell and a resident of Grand Rapids spoke in support.
However, for the regular meeting, the Showboat was the main topic of discussion.
Showboat Plans Displayed, Requests Made
Members of the Rebuild the Lowell Showboat Committee were on-hand to show off renderings of what they hope will be the next showboat. While the original plan was to create a permanent structure that would look like a boat, the state controls what can be built on the river and apparently nixed the idea. Now, the committee is back with a concept that will have an actual boat built, using some materials from the existing boat.
Lou D’Agostino, the committee chair, addressed the council and made three requests on behalf of the committee.
- Name the new boat the “Lowell Showboat”
- Donate the old name “Robert E. Lee” to the Lowell Area Historical Museum
- Allow some items from the existing boat – most likely the paddlewheel and smokestacks – to be salvaged and used in construction of the new boat
The council unanimously agreed to these requests. D’Agnostino noted the committee thought a ballpark figure for building a new boat would be $1.5 million. He wasn’t sure if there would be an additional cost to dismantle the existing boat.
Currently, the committee has about $1.1 million raised. Of that $1 million is a state grant that must be used by next October or be lost. Beyond that, Lowell Rotary has raised $130,000 for the cause, and the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce’s fundraising has so far netted $10,000.
After the hearing, committee member Mark Mundt told Lowell’s First Look that the boat would not have motors and would be stationary. He also noted the plans could change once they are reviewed by a boat builder. “What this represents is the concept the committee has for the boat,” he said.
Liz Baker, executive director of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, says the new boat, as currently envisioned, will be slightly larger than the existing boat. It would also have multiple entrance and exit points. However, the biggest difference is that the majority of the floor space on the new boat would be enclosed and protected from the elements.
Software and Water Asset Management Plan Approved
Lowell City Council also approved the purchase of new forecasting software and ok’d money be spent on the start of a water asset management plan.
The software, Munetrix, came to City Manager Mike Burns attention while he was at a conference in Texas. The program offers a number of tools that Burns feels would be beneficial for the city, particularly when it comes to five-year forecasting.
Munetrix is offered as an annual subscription at a basic and premium level. Burns recommended the premium level which has a cost of $4,661.30. However, he noted the State of Michigan is encouraging municipalities to use the software and will rebate back half the price. Salzwedel asked if that rebate would be offered every year, and Burns said he wasn’t sure but “Munetrix thinks the state will reimburse every year.”
The council unanimously approved the purchase of the software.
The council also unanimously approved more than $9,000 to be paid to engineering firm Prien & Newhof to start a Water Asset Management Plan. The plan is required by the state and will inventory the city’s water system to develop an appropriate maintenance plan.
Crosswalk Addressed and No More Bucket Rides from LLP
During public comments, Cliff Yankovich, owner of Chimera Design in Lowell, addressed the issue of the crosswalk on Main Street. He noted that the city was packed for Christmas Through Lowell, and visitors had a hard time walking from one side of town to the other.
“When are we going to do something about it, gentleman?” Yankovich asked. Burns mentioned that recent media attention regarding the crosswalk must have made its way to MDOT, and Burns along with Police Chief Steve Bukala and other city staff would be meeting with state representatives soon.
Before the close of the regular meeting, council members provided updates from their respective committees. Among the news shared was the decision to no longer allow bucket rides on the Lowell Light & Power truck during community events such as Expo and the Harvest Festival. Apparently, to continue to do so, the city would need to purchase a one-day insurance policy that costs $7,000.
Zoning Board of Appeals Approves New Shopping Center Sign
After the city council wrapped up its regular meeting at 8:17pm, it took a short break before calling a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting to order at 8:25pm. Mayor Mike DeVore was excused from the meeting, but the other members stayed for about an hour to discuss the sign in front of the Tractor Supply shopping center.
When someone requests a variance – or exception – to an ordinance, those are handled by the Zoning Board of Appeals. In Lowell, the City Council serves as the Zoning Board of Appeals.
In this case, Nipun Nath was on-hand to request an approximately 120 square foot sign in front of the shopping center on West Main Street that houses Tractor Supply Company and other businesses. Currently, the ordinance only allows signs of 72 square feet on a property of that type.
The current sign is already 120 square feet. It was erected prior to the current ordinance requirements being enacted, but it was placed farther back from the road than what is allowed. “When you drive by on either side, it is very hard to see,” Nath said, noting neighboring business signs are closer to the road. Nath would like to move his sign forward, but changing its location requires a variance if he wants to keep the size the same.
Nath added that he has owned the property for only a few months and is trying to improve the safety and vibrancy of the commercial district there. He has made improvements to the lot and the lighting and is planning to add a 48 square foot sign for the Ada Lowell 5 theater near the far entrance.
After extensive discussion, the Zoning Board of Appeals agreed the request met the requirements for a variance. The board unanimously approved the variance request which will allow the sign to keep the same square footage but be moved closer to the road, as currently allowed by the ordinance.
The meeting adjourned at 9:21pm.