City Council Recap: Full-Time Firefighters and No Easy Answers on Hudson/Main Intersection

The Lowell City Council held a Committee of the Whole and a regular meeting on Monday night. All councilmembers were in attendance, and the evening’s agendas covered a wide variety of topics including traffic, adult use marijuana, full-time firefighters and more. In between the meetings, there was a special reception for one city employee who has spent 25 years keeping the peace in Lowell.

Committee of the Whole: Discussion Regarding Hudson/Main Intersection

The evening started with a Committee of the Whole at 5:30pm to discuss how to improve traffic flow at the intersection of Main Street and Hudson Street. Since Main Street is a state highway, any changes would need to be approved by the Michigan Department of Transportation, and a team of representatives from the department were present for the discussion.

The City of Lowell had previously requested a left turn light to facilitate traffic moving from Main Street to Hudson. MDOT has declined that request so far and came to the Committee of the Whole with street simulations to show how the addition of a left turn light could actually back-up traffic further and cause additional delays.

“[A left turn light] can be done, but it’s not going to make things better,” said Jason Cole of MDOT.

Art Green, another MDOT representative, noted a significant problem is that Main Street is the only route across the Flat River in the city. What’s more, there are limited options for motorists to cross the Grand River. As a result, many people have no choice but to travel through the Main and Hudson intersection.

Ideally, the best long-term way to address the problem, according to Green, would be to create another Flat River crossing to the north, perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of Howard or Foreman. In the meantime, efforts could be made to divert traffic around the intersection using Bowes, Chatham and Amity streets.

MDOT officials also suggested the possibility of sending traffic up South Broadway to turn right on Main Street. However, councilmembers quickly dismissed that idea. “We’re going down that path,” said councilmember Marty Chambers. South Broadway was recently reconstructed but closed to public traffic and is now reserved for trucks traveling to and from King Milling.

Before adjourning the Committee of the Whole, councilmembers agreed city staff should continue discussing this matter with MDOT and county officials. Mayor Mike DeVore was also interested to see a traffic simulation of what would happen if left hand turns were completely eliminated, which was one option floated during the meeting.

Sgt. Hurst Honored for Service to City

At the start of Lowell City Council’s regular meeting, the floor was turned over to Police Chief Steve Bukala for a special presentation. Bukala invited Sgt. Christopher Hurst to the podium for an award in honor of his 25th anniversary with the Lowell Police Department.

“I got this job by accident,” Hurst said in accepting the award. He noted that he had been hoping to work for the Kent County Sherriff’s Department but was informed he couldn’t be hired there because of his military service. Kent County’s loss was Lowell’s gain as Hurst has been integral part of the police force since 1994.

“This has been a great place to work,” Hurst said. In recognition of the occasion, Lowell City Council took a 10 minute break so people could enjoy some cake and take photographs.

Adult Use Marijuana Update

When Lowell City Council resumed the meeting, they first heard an update on the adult use marijuana ordinance. City Manager Mike Burns explained he recently learned that state regulations allow the city to only consider applications for recreational marijuana facilities from people who already have medical marijuana business licenses. This restriction will be in place for 24 months, per the state.

This could limit who can apply for an adult use marijuana business license in the city. An option to opening up the applicant pool might be to allow medical marijuana facilities in the city right now. “From an administrative standpoint, I’d rather not deal with it,” Burns said, but “we felt the need to at least tell you about it.”

Councilmembers agreed they were not inclined to revisit the issue of medical marijuana facilities which they discussed extensively in 2017 before deciding to opt out of allowing those businesses in the city limits.

Income Tax Video Unveiled

Next, councilmembers received an update on the city income tax proposal and viewed a video that has since been published by the City of Lowell to its YouTube and Facebook pages.

Later in the meeting, councilmembers unanimously voted to update the resolution language for the proposal to indicate that net proceeds from an income tax shall be used for street repairs. In public hearings on the proposal, some residents felt the previous resolution language was not strong enough and opened the door for the money to be diverted for other purposes.

No Vote on Full-Time Firefighter Study

Next on the agenda was a discussion of whether the City of Lowell, Lowell Charter Township and Vergennes Township will pay $20,250 for a fire/rescue assessment. The Lowell Area Fire and Emergency Services Authority voted in September to have the assessment done as a first step to determining if and how to add full-time firefighters to the Lowell Area Fire Department.

The expenditure now needs to be approved by two of the three municipalities before the assessment can proceed. Vergennes Township unanimously approved the assessment at its September meeting and Lowell Charter Township tabled their vote until October, according to Authority Chair Jim Herb. So far, the City of Lowell has not held a vote on the matter, and it is not clear when the council intends to do so.

“Before we wade into a long-term commitment that is going to be a couple of million dollars or more over 10 years, we owe it to our taxpayers to have someone a little smarter than us look at this and make a recommendation,” said councilmember Greg Canfield said in support of the assessment.

“I’d be fully 100% supportive if that’s what we were getting, but we’re getting so much more,” DeVore replied. “There is so much in this proposal that we don’t need.” He asked if the department would have to buy an aerial fire truck if that’s what the assessment recommended or if the authority would need to pay for four full-time firefighters 24 hours a day if that’s what the study found was optimal.

“But these are only recommendations, right?” said councilmember Jim Salzwedel. “We don’t have to accept them.”

The matter was tabled without further discussion or indication when a vote would be taken.

Vaping Facility Moratorium Declined

In light of recent health issues surrounding the practice of vaping, the Lowell Planning Commission asked the council consider placing a moratorium on new vape shops in the city. Burns said he felt this might result in legal action against the city and recommended against the moratorium. Councilmembers were in agreement.

“I want to stay as far away from this fight as we can,” DeVore said. “Whether you’re for it or against, there’s going to be a long fight and we don’t need to be involved.”

Other Items from the Agenda

Lowell City Council also took a number of other actions during their Monday meeting:

  • Approved a 10-year lease of the Riverwalk building housing the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber will pay $1 per year for the lease and be responsible for all building maintenance and utility bills.
  • Approved changes to the resolution which provides for a tax abatement for King Milling. Additional language was required by the Michigan Treasury Department to process the abatement. City Attorney Dick Wendt said the requested language is intended to specifically acknowledge that by granting this abatement, the city’s ability to provide services isn’t affected.
  • Heard a presentation from Suez, the company currently managing the wastewater treatment plant. The contract with Suez will be up for renewal shortly.
  • Approved a local pavement warranty program.
  • Approved the sale of a sewer truck from the wastewater fund to the equipment fund as a way to simplify recordkeeping.
  • Ok’d a project to update City Hall with LED lighting.

The next regular Lowell City Council meeting will be held on Monday, October 21, at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.

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