City Council Recap: Heated Discussion about Marijuana Ordinance

Voices were raised in a rare, heated disagreement between councilmembers during last night’s meeting of Lowell City Council. The issue at hand was whether the city’s marijuana ordinance should be amended to prohibit establishments east of the Flat River, and one councilmember questioned how the amendment came to be on the agenda.

Beyond that, councilmembers addressed 10 other agenda items, including another marijuana issue, restrooms on the Riverwalk and budget amendments. All councilmembers were present for the meeting which lasted 85 minutes.

Last night’s meeting was also the last to be offered on the Zoom videoconferencing platform. With the Kent County state of emergency slated to expire at the end of the month, the provision allowing for virtual city meetings will expire as well. Councilmembers noted that even if Kent County renews the state of emergency, relatively few people log-in using the Zoom option. Going forward, it appears meetings will be streamed on Facebook Live for those who want to watch from home.

Marijuana Ordinance Amendment “Dead on Arrival”

Connor Baker address Lowell City Council.

At last week’s Planning Commission meeting, commissioners unanimously recommended Lowell City Council amend the adult use marijuana zoning ordinance to prohibit establishments east of the Flat River.

In introducing the ordinance amendment, City Manager Mike Burns said the few commercially zoned properties on the east side of town were in residential areas and “it is becoming apparent the facilities are most suitable in the west end commercial area.”

After his introduction to the topic, Councilmember Cliff Yankovich asked how the issue happened to come before the Planning Commission.

“If you will recall, we did have individual discussions about it,” Burns replied, adding shortly after that, “It was discussion with staff to bring it to you.”

Yankovich then said that someone had purchased property on the east side of town with the express intent of opening a marijuana facility. This was apparently a reference to the RollAway building on E. Main Street. Yankovich also noted that no one was at the Planning Commission’s public hearing to speak on the issue, and Burns said a public hearing notice had been published in the local newspaper, as required by law.

“For me, I’m kinda displeased with how this went down,” said Councilmember Leah Groves. She said she didn’t have a problem limiting marijuana businesses to a certain part of town, but she was concerned to hear that someone had confirmed with the city that a property was eligible for a marijuana business and had purchased that building with that understanding. “And now we’re going to change it on them, now that they’ve bought it and are starting renovations on it?” she said.

Yankovich, who owns Chimera Design in downtown Lowell, used the example of buying his building only to be told after the purchase that Lowell City Council didn’t want jewelry stores on Main Street.

“You do understand that there is a patent difference, right, between a jewelry store and a marijuana facility in the middle of a neighborhood?” asked Mayor Mike DeVore.

“I’ve got it,” Yankovich responded, “but if we were aware that that building was purchased with that intent and it wasn’t even mentioned by staff or anyone at the [planning commission] meeting, I thought it was kind of duplicitous.” He added that he was concerned prohibiting marijuana establishments on the east side of town was setting the city up for a lawsuit.

City Attorney Jessica Wood said the issue was considered by the Planning Commission as a “big picture policy decision” and not in terms of an individual property owner or proposed business. That apparently helps insulate the city against any legal claims.

“We’re focusing on one building [in this discussion] when the ordinance is about east of the Flat River which is a sizeable section of town, mostly residential,” Devore said. He added that he felt there were abundant opportunities to establish marijuana businesses on the west side of town.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel took exception to a section of a legal memo provided to councilmembers which stated the property would maintain its value with other uses. Salzwedel disagreed, saying the land would not be worth as much if it were, for example, a pizzeria instead of a marijuana facility. “We are controlling the value of the property [by changing the ordinance],” he said, “and I don’t think that’s our job.”

Yankovich returned to the question of who originally brought the matter before the Planning Commission, which led to a brief heated exchange in which Burns said he had put it on the agenda and Yankovich responded with “Why didn’t you just say that 10 minutes ago?” Burns replied that he had.

DeVore then cut off the conversation between Yankovich and Burns and turned the floor over to resident Perry Beachum at the podium. Beachum said he didn’t think it was necessary to prohibit marijuana businesses on the east side of town.

Next up was Brad Brillhart, a resident of Shepard Drive and pastor of the Lowell United Methodist Church. He said he was not in favor of having marijuana businesses on the east side of town. He added that he felt his neighbors and some members of the church would agree they are not needed east of the river. “We have what we need over there,” Brillhart said pointing to the west. “We have a plethora of what we need.”

Finally, Connor Baker addressed Lowell City Council. He read a statement, explaining: “Recently I purchased the property at 805 and 825 E. Main Street in good faith after speaking to City Manager Mike Burns who confirmed the property was now eligible for the opening of a marijuana establishment after the closing of a day care nearby.” Baker noted that he is about a week away from being able to submit his business application to the city.

Once discussion wrapped up, DeVore asked if anyone wanted to make a motion. When there was no response, the mayor said “dead on arrival” before moving on to the next agenda item.

That item, an ordinance amendment to ban special event marijuana licenses and consumption establishments, did not receive as much discussion and was passed unanimously.

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Construction Updates

Lowell City Council unanimously voted to approve the low bid from Wolverine Building Group to build restrooms on the Riverwalk.

As originally envisioned as part of the Lowell Showboat VI project, the restrooms received construction quotes of $367,000. However, after plans were amended to include more affordable furnishings and eliminate the need to pour new concrete on the entire floor, Wolverine submitted a revised bid of $251,721. Orion Construction also submitted a bid for $255,325.

The cost of the restrooms will be covered as follows:

  • $100,000 from Showboat fundraising
  • $75,000 from the Downtown Development Authority
  • $76,721 from city stimulus money to be received as part of the American Recovery Plan Act.

In other construction news, work on Foreman Street has been continuing and appears to be effective in eliminating rainwater infiltration into the city’s sewer system. Road construction will begin on Jane Ellen on July 7 and Amity on August 31.

King Milling Company is completing renovations to the McQueen Building and requested that they be able to close a portion of the S. Broadway Parking Lot on weekdays to facilitate the work. The lot would remain open on weekends. Lowell City Council unanimously gave their approval to the plan.

Other Agenda Items and Updates

Other action taken at the June 21 meeting included the following:

  • Unanimous approval of budget amendments for the current fiscal year. Higher than anticipated attorney fees were among the changes.
  • Unanimous approval of the closure of a portion of Riverside Drive on July 31 for the 2nd annual Weaving Fair hosted by Ability Weavers.
  • Unanimous approval of placing the Lowell Area Historical Museum millage renewal on the November 2021 general election ballot.
  • Unanimous approval of a resolution that will allow Brent Slagell to purchase a Downtown Redevelopment Liquor License. If approved by the state, the license will be used at Rio Plano Taqueria, a Mexican restaurant planned for 101 W. Main Street, the former Serenity Club building.
  • Unanimous approval of a rezoning request for 746 and 728 W. Main Street to allow for the renovation and expansion of the Betten Baker GMC dealership.
  • Unanimous approval of renewing the city’s membership in PROTEC – The Michigan Coalition to Protect Public Rights-of-Ways.

The next regular meeting for Lowell City Council will take place on Tuesday, July 6, 2021 at 7pm.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article stated an incorrect date for the next Lowell City Council meeting. The story has been updated with the correct date.

1 Comment

  1. If the city council is so gung-ho on keeping the dispensaries on the west side of the town. Away from their precious downtown and showboat. Then any revenue from the dispensaries should stay on the west side of town. Since we pretty much know the dispensaries will bring in lots of revenue. They’re only guessing how much the showboat will bring in especially considering it won’t go up the river. Or last I knew won’t have running bathrooms

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