The Lowell City Council’s meeting on Tuesday, January 3, was packed full of concerned citizens, most of whom had come to hear discussion about the 990 N. Washington property and possibilities for its future use. The four-acre parcel of land is surrounded by Scout Park, and now that the tenants of the house on the city-owned property have been evicted, the council needs to decide what to do with it.
Absent from the meeting was Councilmember Cliff Yankovich.
990 N. Washington Property Disposal
The first piece of business regarding the 990 N. Washington property was the matter of what to do with the existing house there and also property left by the former residents.
City Manager Mike Burns said that after the tenants were evicted from the home in early December, city staff arrived to find there were many items left behind, both inside and outside of the home. These include two cars and numerous smaller household articles.
Councilmember Marty Chambers, who owns Red Barn Consignment and Antiques in downtown Lowell, said that there were a few items of value that the city could attempt to sell to recoup the money that would need to be spent to clean up the property and dispose of unwanted items. According to Chambers, the items sold “…might at least pay for a dumpster or two.”
At this point in the meeting, Gary Dietzel, one of the former residents of 990 N. Washington, stood to address the council. He said that in the notice of eviction he received from the city, it was stated that any items belonging to the couple living there that had been left behind would be “put out on the curb.” He said that this was not done as promised, and that there were many personal items on the property that he still wanted, including various tools, art and memorabilia. Speaking directly to the council members, Dietzel asked to be able to reclaim his property, saying, “This is my life you’re taking from me. You took my house, you took my livelihood…”. He said that before the items were sold or disposed of, he’d like to have a meeting with the council and his attorney.
City Attorney Jessica Wood responded directly to Dietzel and said that the City of Lowell followed the proper procedure for evicting him “…after attempting to accommodate (Mr. Dietzel) for months.” She added that she would welcome a dialogue with an attorney representing Dietzel.
The councilmembers then took a vote that Red Barn Consignments and Antiques should be charged with handling the sale of any items of value remaining at 990 N. Washington, and that motion passed unanimously.
Future Use for 990 N. Washington
Burns said that because 2.65 of the four acres that make up the property at 990 N. Washington are part of Vergennes Township, the council would need to decide whether to annex the parcel of land into the city limits. He added that to do so, all buildings on the property would need to be demolished. He said that he saw four options regarding the future of the property for the council to consider:
- The parcel of land could be added to the existing Scout Park.
- The land could be developed for residential units.
- The land could be used for affordable housing.
- The city could treat the land as if it were part of the park without legally making it part of the park.
Burns said that there were some factors to consider when making a decision, including future projected property taxes and possible environmental issues of the land. He said that personally, he would stay away from option 4 because he felt the council’s decision should have more finality than that.
Burns emphasized that for as long as he has been city manager, there has never been any consideration regarding changing or developing the existing Scout Park in any way. He said that he’d been battling the false narrative that the city wanted to tear down the existing Boy Scout cabin or develop Scout Park “for months.”
Mayor Mike DeVore said he wondered if “…we are getting ahead of ourselves.” He said the land couldn’t be designated as a city park if it wasn’t in the city limits, and he thought the council should be looking at clearing and cleaning up the property, annexing the property into city limits and then, at a later date, take another look at what to do next.
Citizen Comments About Property
There were many community members who then stood to voice their concerns for the future of the property, and several letters on the matter read into record as well. The overwhelming majority of the comments were in support of making 990 N. Washington a permanent part of Scout Park.
Bruce Matthews, representing the Lowell Scout Park Association, said he worried that developing the land in any way could affect the experience of hikers using the North Country Trail, which is a big draw for people all over the country. He said that though the property was not a part of Scout Park, the park currently surrounds the property, and anything that happens to that land will undoubtedly affect Scout Park itself. He asked that the council preserve the unique natural setting of the park by voting to make this parcel part of it rather than developing it.
Former City of Lowell Councilmember Sharon Ellison stood to speak and said that she was elected to the council in 2007 on the platform of protecting Scout Park when there was initially talk of developing it. She said that at that time, she was told that the 990 N. Washington property could not be made a part of the park because there was a residence there that was occupied at the time. However, the understanding was always that when that changed, the land would become part of Scout Park. She said that if the city wanted to sell and develop the property, the city should ask the people and let residents of Lowell decide with a vote.
Jason Meis, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 102, took to the podium to express his wish that the property be added to the existing park. He said that not all troops have such open, undeveloped land to use for hunting, fishing, camping and other scout activities. He said that he would “…like to see the vacant land remain vacant…” rather than disturbing the natural area in any way.
A motion was made that the city start the process of clean up and demolition on the property and then, at a later date that would be announced to the public, bring the discussion back to the future use of the property. The motion passed unanimously.
City Manager Report
Burns wished everyone a happy New Year and thanked the Department of Public Works employees for working overtime and keeping the roads clear during the recent blizzard.
Councilmember Leah Groves said that she loves nature and wouldn’t vote to develop the 990 N Washington property.
Chambers echoed the city manager’s thanks to Public Works.
The meeting adjourned at 8:35 pm. The next city council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, January 17, at 7 pm.