With Monday being Presidents’ Day, Lowell City Council held its second meeting of the month this past Tuesday on February 16.
The meeting was held via the Zoom videoconferencing platform, and councilmembers are now required to share their location when attendance is taken. All councilmembers were present with Councilmember Marty Chambers logging in from Ludington and the remainder joining the meeting from Lowell.
Over the course of 70 minutes, the council tackled a variety of issues including updates from the Planning Commission and Fire Department, approval of repairs to the water system and passage of a Fire Cost Recovery Ordinance.
COVID, Showboat and Social District Updates
The first few agenda items were updates from City Manager Mike Burns.
In his update on the city’s COVID-19 response, Burns said he would like to keep City Hall closed to the public for another month. There has been little traffic to the building, and the current system of requiring appointments has been working well. Burns added that very little information has come through about when staff will be eligible to receive COVID vaccines.
As for the Showboat, the project to create bathrooms on the Riverwalk has gone out to bid with responses due in March. The non-profit that is forming to oversee the Showboat has met and a maintenance plan is being formed.
Lowell’s social district will open today and as of Tuesday, four out of the five participating establishments had their permits approved by the state. Portable restrooms will be placed on Monroe Street and the Riverwalk. Hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout the district.
Later, during the city manager’s report, Burns mentioned an email he had sent and said all councilmembers should have received a copy. Although not specifically stated, it appeared the email was sent in response to suggestions made by Ashley Dunn during the previous meeting.
Her suggestion was for the city to consider implementing pop-up shops similar to those utilized in Sparta to allow small businesses without a storefront to operate in during the pandemic. She also suggested placing igloos on the Riverwalk and offered her business, Creative Party Bug, to help with the project.
However, Burns did not think the idea was viable. “It would be very difficult to put pop-up shops in the same area as the social district,” he said.
While city attorney Jessica Wood noted at the last meeting that igloos were a possibility if changes were made to the social district’s layout, Burns said on Tuesday that only people who would be able to put up these structures are those entities that have a liquor license and are participating in the district.
“I don’t think there is much interest in it,” said Mayor Mike DeVore. He said he had talked to business owners on Main Street and none seemed inclined to move inventory to pop-up shops. He also felt the suggestions involved too much legwork for the city. “I just don’t see any upside for us.”
Fire Department Ordinance, Annual Report
The final piece of old business was a review of a Fire Cost Recovery Ordinance. This ordinance will allow the Fire Department to bill for services rendered in certain situations, such as calls made for repeated alarms at industrial plants. The ordinance was passed unanimously by Lowell City Council.
Lowell Fire Chief Shannon Witherell was in attendance and presented the annual report for the Lowell Area Fire Department as well. The report is available online and highlights personnel changes, call volume and department initiatives.
Overall, the department received 819 calls for service in 2020, an 8% decrease from the previous year. Witherell said the reduction was a result of the COVID-19 stay-at-home order and the lack of severe storms last year.
Planning Commission Annual Report
Bruce Barker, chair of the Planning Commission, was also present to share the commission’s annual report.
“We were dominated by marijuana zoning questions,” Barker said, noting the commission had approved seven adult use marijuana businesses last year by his count. However, he added that the commission did review plans for a number of other local businesses including New Union Brewing, RiverView Flats, Culligan and King Milling.
After Barker’s presentation, Councilmember Jim Salzwedel asked if there was anything the council could do to help the Planning Commission.
“I think the public is concerned about the numbers [of marijuana businesses], and I think anything the council can do to address that would be helpful,” Barker replied. He thought an article in the city newsletter would be one option to dispel misinformation.
Water System Repairs
For the final agenda items of the evening, Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki presented a trio of requests related to the water system.
- The first was the installation of new water service to 211 Grove Street at a cost of $24,500. The house is currently undergoing rehabilitation, and a city review of its water service discovered that it had been, at one time, connected to the watermain by a lead pipe connector. State law requires municipalities to replace water lines if they were ever connected with lead.
- The second was to replace a motor starter on the second high service pump at the water facility. The starter has begun to malfunction randomly, and its replacement cost and upgrades to the wiring will cost $31,227.60. However, the city should receive a $3,750 rebate from Lowell Light & Power for the electrical upgrades.
- The final item was the purchase of a clarifier gear drive to replace a gear box that has begun emitting loud noises that are not typical. The installation of the new gear box costs $14,934.43, and there is a $375 rebate available from Lowell Light & Power.
All three requests were approved unanimously.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, March 1, at 7pm.