Lowell City Council met for 76 minutes on Tuesday night for their second regular meeting of February. All councilmembers were present, and there were four pieces of business on the agenda.
Most seats in the audience were filled as residents and business owners attended to share their concerns on two topics: two-hour parking in the historic downtown and the fate of 990 N. Washington.
Public Comments: Downtown Parking, LaughFest
During the public comments portion of the meeting, three people spoke and three letters were read into the record.
First up was Ron Janowski who spoke on the recent elimination of two-hour parking on Main Street. The change was made during the previous city council meeting, and Janowski expressed frustration that business owners had not been made aware of it in advance. Janowski’s wife, Karen Waid, owns the Flat River Antique Emporium.
“Time restrictive parking is proven,” Janowski said, noting that it is used across the country.
Patricia and Annelyse Dlouhy from Sweet Seasons sent a letter echoing similar concerns. They noted their customers often leave carrying baked goods, drinks and other orders, and without convenient parking, people may be more likely to go elsewhere. Already, they have experienced situations in which cars or trailers park in front of their business for extended periods, blocking access for others. If two hours were not considered long enough, they suggested perhaps a three-hour limit instead.
Liz Baker from the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce also sent a letter. She agreed that there should be timed parking on Main Street and that it benefited local businesses. She suggested a three-hour limit.
The final letter came from Karen Waid who noted that while it is currently illegal to chalk a vehicle’s tires, there are other ways to enforce time limits on parking. She has called the police when a vehicle exceeds the two-hour limit and shows a photo of the vehicle to the responding officer. Then, two hours later, if the vehicle hasn’t moved, she calls the police a second time so a ticket can be issued.
“By the time the vehicle is ticketed, they have been there more than four hours,” Waid wrote.
She questioned why the police were unable to take more enforcement action and noted on a recent occasion, police were notified several times that vehicles were parked illegally in front of Main Street BBQ but officers did not appear to anything in response.
Eric Bartkus, who co-owns Ability Weavers, also spoke in favor of timed parking as did resident Perry Beachum.
In his comments, Beachum also shared that there would be a LaughFest performance at the Lowell UCC church on March 10th. Organizers are looking into getting a liquor license to serve beer and wine during the show.
At the end of public comments, city attorney Jessica Wood spoke to clarify a statement made by Janowski. He said he was told the two-hour limit was never in the city’s parking ordinance in the first place. Wood said that was true, but that the city didn’t need to have the time limit in their ordinance. Because the city has adopted the state’s Uniform Vehicle Code, it can create time restrictions on parking simply by erecting signage.
Due Diligence Report for Contaminated Soil
After public comments, the first piece of business discussed was a due diligence report for a property that contains contaminated soil. Often called the Moose property, this land is a city-owned parcel that runs from Front Street to the Grand River. Decades ago, debris from street cleaners was deposited on the land.
Testing conducted on the dirt mounds last year detected arsenic, chromium and mercury. Of these, arsenic and chromium exceed the drinking water criteria for non-residential sites. They also exceed the level for what is known as the groundwater surface water interface, which refers to the possibility that contamination could seep into a nearby body of water.
“The drinking water criteria really isn’t applicable because there are no wells on the property,” explained Nichole Mason, a due diligence manager with engineering firm BLDI. However, additional testing was completed to see if any contaminants were in the soil near the Grand River.
“The lab didn’t pick anything up, which is great news,” Mason said. She added that, at this point, the city has no obligation to put up signage or fencing. Currently, the contaminated mounds are covered with vegetation and trees which means there is little risk of erosion or soil moving off the site.
Councilmember Cliff Yankovich asked if Mason would be comfortable with her children playing on the mounds. She replied that she “wouldn’t love it,” particularly since she has a child who likes to eat dirt, but she wouldn’t be too alarmed either. Mason said there is a level deemed safe for the ingestion of these materials, and the contamination on the site does not exceed that level.
No action was required of the council on this matter. The city will keep a compliance report on file and that must be provided to anyone who might do work on the site in the future.
Update from Representative Gina Johnsen
State Representative Gina Johnsen was invited to attend Tuesday’s meeting and provide a legislative update. She spoke briefly and noted that she had regular office hours in Lake Odessa to hear constituent concerns.
She then asked if there were any questions for her, and City Manager Mike Burns noted an issue with state funding that was approved to help cities with unfunded pension liabilities. Pension liabilities refer to the amount of money a city must have reserved to fully cover the cost of city employee pensions.
While some cities, such as Lowell, have been flagged for corrective action in the past and worked to save more for their pension fund, they will not be eligible for any of the $750 million approved by the state. Instead, that money will go to cities that have less than 60% of their expected pension costs funded and no corrective action will be required of these municipalities.
“I hear you on this because it’s not fair,” Johnsen replied. She added that it was something she was already looking into.
First Public Hearing on 990 N. Washington
Next was the first of two public hearings on what the city should do with the property at 990 N. Washington. The property is located in Vergennes Township but owned by the City of Lowell. For decades, it was rented to a couple, but Lowell City Council recently decided to get out of the landlord business.
Bruce Matthews of the Lowell Scout Park Association was first to speak and supported annexing 990 N. Washington and folding it into Scout Park.
“The property is completely surrounded by Lowell’s popular Scout Park,” Matthews said. By turning the property into parkland, the city would be following the will of the people and preserving the legacy of natural use of the property, according to Matthews.
At previous meetings, some residents expressed concern that adding parkland would require a greater investment from the city for upgrades and maintenance. However, the next speaker, Bill Schreur disagreed. “The park is not and will not be a financial burden to the city if it leaves the park as it is,” he said.
Elaine Gregersen, who lives next door to the property, said she would like to have it taken care of as soon as possible. She noted that recently a trailer was apparently parked for some time by the vacant house on the property. She feels uncomfortable with this activity near the house, presumably because the former tenants left on unhappy terms with the city.
Later, Councilmember Leah Groves addressed that concern. “A call to the police is always (warranted) if you feel afraid in your own home,” she said.
After public comments had been received, Groves and Mayor Mike DeVore signaled their desire to preserve the property as parkland while Councilmember Marty Chambers said he would hold his opinion until after the second public hearing. Yankovich and Councilmember Jim Salzwedel did not comment.
Removal of Trees on Monroe Street
The only other item on the agenda was removal of several trees on Monroe Street to make way for roadwork slated for later this year.
Councilmembers unanimously approved a bid for the work, and Director of Public Works Dan Czarnecki said he would talk to property owners about planting replacements after the project is done.
The meeting adjourned at 8:16pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, March 6, at 7pm.
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