City Council Recap: Councilmembers Object to Vacating Horatio

Lowell City Council met for approximately an hour and a half on Tuesday night to discuss six pieces of business. Of those, a lawsuit filed by a developer to vacate Horatio Street took up the lion’s share of the time. All councilmembers were present for the meeting except Marty Chambers.

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Public Comments: Support for Lowell Light & Power

Before discussing any business on the agenda, the floor was opened for public comments. Perry Beachum approached the podium to share thoughts on several matters.

As chair of the Lowell Light & Power Board, he noted that after a severe thunderstorm blew through the area on a Thursday night, all LLP customers had their power restored by Friday night except a few homes that needed work completed by an electrician first. In contrast, some Consumers Energy customers in the area were without power as late as the Tuesday after the storm.

Beachum thanked the Holland Board of Public Works for providing mutual aid and arriving with specialized equipment to get into backyards in instances where LLP trucks were too large.

According to Beachum, one of the candidates for city council has floated the idea of selling the utility, and he didn’t think that would be wise. Beachum did not mention any candidate’s name or share specifics about where he heard the information.

Jake Davenport and Eric Bartkus, who were in the audience and are city council candidates, both spoke later during the public comments period to say they fully support LLP. Bartkus added that it was his understanding that LLP rates are 32% lower than those charged by large utilities and co-ops. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Mike DeVore and Councilmember Jim Salzwedel, who are both up for reelection, also said they support LLP.

In wrapping up his comments, Beachum reminded everyone that Pink Arrow Community Day is on Thursday, Sept. 7, and Pink Arrow XVI shirts can be purchased then or at Heidi’s Farmstand, Red Barn Market or 123 W. Main Street, which is the former location of Springrove Variety.

In addition to Beachum, Davenport and Bartkus, resident Dennis Kent spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting to thank LLP as well. Kent also appreciated the brush cleanup offered by the city and LLP. He thought it might be nice to have similar pickups twice a year.

Response to Township About Water System

Last month, the City of Lowell sent a letter to Lowell Charter Township asking them to respond in 60 days regarding how they would like to address capacity issues in the city water system. Currently, city and township residents who use the city water system are subject to outdoor irrigation restrictions.

The two municipalities have been discussing for years how to address capacity issues in both the water and wastewater systems. The city’s position has been that the problem stems from growth in the township so the township should be responsible for footing the bill for any expansion to the facility. The township, meanwhile, has a contract that allows them to be a wholesale customer of the city’s water system without limit.

In response to the city’s letter, the township said it needed additional information regarding the costs involved in adding new, higher capacity pumps. It also apparently said that it did not think it could provide a response in 60 days.

Councilmembers expressed frustration with the township response.

“What don’t you know?” asked Councilmember Leah Groves, referencing the township’s statement that it didn’t know if it would be able to respond within 60 days. “This should have been front of mind for quite a while.”

“They are not putting enough value in a what a quality product it is,” DeVore said of the city’s water. He added that he was adamantly opposed to city ratepayers having to foot the bill for equipment needed because of increased demand in the township.

After discussion, it was determined that City Manager Mike Burns would gather estimates for the cost of new pumps and a second clarifier to treat additional water. Since the current pumps are old – some are original to the system – councilmembers agreed they would be willing to share the cost of the pumps with the township but not the clarifier.

A motion to that effect was approved unanimously.

Election Precinct Consolidation and New Equipment

Beginning in 2024, municipalities will need to provide 10 days of early voting for state and federal elections. To prepare for that change, Lowell City Council unanimously approved $7,103 to be spent on a tabulator, ballot bin and firmware licensing. City Clerk Sue Ullery noted the state is offering grants to help offset the cost.

Michigan law also allows municipalities to consolidate precincts so long as a precinct doesn’t exceed 5,000 voters. There are currently 3,231 voters in the City of Lowell, and councilmembers voted unanimously to consolidate the two precincts. Both precincts previously voted at Lowell City Hall, and that will continue to be the polling location for everyone going forward.

With Split Vote, Council Objects to Vacating Horatio

The longest discussion of the night centered on legal paperwork filed by CopperRock Construction for the vacation of Horatio Street. When a street is vacated, it ceases to be a public right-of-way, and the land is split between adjoining property owners. In this case, LLCs formed by a project developer own both adjoining properties.

The developer would like the city to vacate the street so it can combine properties for the purpose of constructing a mixed-use building. As proposed, the building would encompass the former RollAway Fun Center property, the land currently used for Horatio Street and 112 Horatio Street. It would house 44 residential units along with a 3,800 square foot restaurant. The proposal has been met with significant opposition from neighbors. (Note: The author of this article owns property in the 700 block of E. Main Street.)

By law, a party that wishes to vacate a street must sue the city, the county, residents within 300 feet and any entity that is entitled to use of the road, such as telecommunications companies. Those who have been named in the lawsuit can sign a form saying they do not contest or object to the road being vacated, and this was the matter that was before Lowell City Council last night.

Before discussing that, though, councilmembers shared their concern with the manner in which residents were notified of the lawsuit. The cover letter listed two LLCs as plaintiffs – People’s Elbow and Schone Afwerking – but did not mention CopperRock. Residents were not notified in advance of why they were being sued, leading to some confusion and panic among those served.

“I think it’s very off-putting,” DeVore said. “I’m not a huge fan of the way this went down.”

Later, City Attorney Jessica Wood noted that the process for vacating a street is “archaic” and having to sue homeowners “seems aggressive.” Still, she noted: “For what it’s worth, this was done correctly.”

Four neighborhood residents spoke in opposition to vacating Horatio, with several noting it is used by many in the area as a way to avoid turning left into driveways from Main Street. They also expressed concern that vacating Horatio Street and allowing the development to proceed would lead to more vehicles parking on Main Street and increase difficulty in safely leaving their homes.

“It scares me to death, literally. We can’t get out of our driveway,” said Pam Rowley, who lives on E. Main Street. “We are hoping you will vote to keep our street.”

Greg Taylor, speaking on behalf of CopperRock Construction, apologized for not sending a letter to residents in advance of serving the legal paperwork. He also acknowledged that the proposed development would be a significant change for the neighborhood. “We certainly understand that this is a lifestyle change for anyone in that area,” he said.

Taylor mentioned that the company had met with city officials multiple times in previous months and agreed to meet with residents during an open house-style meeting last week. He noted about 30 residents attended, and company representatives spent about four hours speaking with them.

While Taylor thought that meeting had been fruitful and said it resulted in “minor tweaks” to the plan, others in attendance didn’t agree. Resident Paula Patterson said in her comments, “The response we received (to concerns) was that, well, we hope that isn’t going to be a problem.”

In looking at MDOT data, Taylor noted that about 5,300 cars travel that section of Main Street each day, but he didn’t feel that the numbers had changed significantly in recent years. He added that other streets had been vacated in Lowell in the past.

“We can either build 30 apartment units on one property or vacate a street and build 44 apartment units plus add a nice commercial user that can add to the community,” according to Taylor.

After Taylor finished his comments, a resident from the neighborhood responded: “Thirty units at that corner — while that’s not exciting — is better than 44. And if we can put in 30 units without having to vacate Horatio Street, why wouldn’t we entertain that instead of the 44?”

DeVore seemed to concur. “This is just me personally, but if there’s so much neighborhood pushback and concern…and there is already a backup plan for [30] units without a restaurant…and they are as concerned about community feedback as they say they are, why are we even talking about it?”

“I’m in favor of consenting because other people are not consenting already…” Councilmember Cliff Yankovich said, referencing Patterson’s comments that neighbors were consulting with an attorney to file an objection.

After some additional discussion, including conversation about whether the city could simply not take action – Wood advised against that – Groves made a motion to object to the vacation of Horatio Street and file an appearance with the court on the matter. DeVore seconded the motion and it passed by a vote of 3-1 with Yankovich being the dissenting vote.

Other Meeting Action Items and Updates

During the Monday meeting, the following occurred as well:

  • Lowell City Council voted unanimously to adopt a resolution proclaiming Pink Arrow Pride Day.
  • Lowell City Council voted unanimously to approve a bid of up to $47,000 to complete concrete repair work on a tank at the wastewater treatment facility.
  • Burns shared that there has been a change to the roadwork on Shepherd and Grindle Dr. Instead of being completed concurrently, crews would work first on Shepherd and then on Grindle.
  • In his final comments for the night, DeVore noted the Lowell Area Fire Department responded to about 60 calls as a result of the August storm, and he appreciated the hard work of the community’s firefighters.

The meeting adjourned at 8:29pm, and the next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, September 18, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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