City Council Recap: Lowell Pride, Fire Dept. Reports

Lowell City Council met in open session for about 50 minutes on Monday night before going into a closed session “to consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”

All councilmembers were present for the meeting which started with approval of a consent agenda that included authorization of payments for invoices totaling $683,194. Six pieces of business were on the agenda, including several road closures and an update on activities from the Lowell Area Fire Department.

Lowell Pride Festival Recap

Although not an agenda item, the Lowell Pride festival which took place on Saturday, June 1, seemed to garner the most discussion during the meeting.

Paula Patterson, president of Lowell Pride, spoke during citizen comments. She noted that the festival had been a success, with nearly 4,000 people attending – an increase from previous years. This year’s event included food trucks, new security and more musicians and vendors than in the past.

“That was all…despite the protestors who showed up to harass and disrupt the events we were putting on,” Patterson said. According to Patterson, protesters tried to pass out literature to children even after parents asked them not to and attempted to search the bags of some attendees as they were leaving.

The event had “protester protocols” this year that Patterson said were communicated to attendees several times during the day. While the details of those protocols were not shared during Monday’s meeting, they were presumably intended to minimize engagement between Lowell Pride participants and protestors.

During his public comments, resident Perry Beachum became emotional when commenting on the protestors at the event. Noting that Lowell Pride rents the Riverwalk for the festival, he said, “They rent that facility…and for people to come in and disrupt it is wrong.” According to Beachum, it was the equivalent of someone going into the protestors’ open church on Sunday to “scream and holler.”

During councilmember comments at the end of the meeting, Councilmembers Leah Groves and Marty Chambers congratulated Lowell Pride on a successful event with Chambers calling it “world-class.” Groves said that the organization handled protestors with dignity and grace and added, “I am sure it is exhausting to have to deal with that.”

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel thanked organizers for addressing security concerns, and Mayor Mike DeVore echoed Beachum’s comments about protestors. “They stand unencumbered on the street every Wednesday…and shove their message down people’s throats, but they don’t want to allow other people’s messages out without being interrupted or accosted or, at a minimum, annoyed,” he said.

Other Public Comments

During his public comments, Beachum also mentioned a planned city meeting with Riverside Drive residents to discuss possibly reconfiguring traffic flow on the road. Beachum – who lives on Riverside – encouraged the council to also speak to a traffic engineer before making any changes.

He noted the Michigan Department of Transportation had warned that adding left turn lights at the Main and Hudson intersection would back up traffic, and many people downplayed that concern. However, it had proved to be right. “There are consequences in what we do,” Beachum said, and residents and city staff might not be able to anticipate those consequences as well as a traffic engineer.

Resident Dennis Kent spoke about a notice he received from HydroCorp about an inspection of his home. While the notice was on city letterhead, the company said the notice had not been sent by the city. Kent wanted to be sure that the letter was legitimate, and Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard confirmed that the company has been contracted by the city to perform cross connection inspections for the water system.

Noting the language used in the letter, Kent said, “Maybe they could have been a little smoother in their delivery.”

“I understand they come across as terse, but they are quoting the ordinance,” LaBombard replied.

Gold Star Dedication OK’d

Last month, councilmembers declined a request from the Lowell Showboat Garden Club to close the Main Street bridge for a Gold Star Memorial dedication. This past Monday, members of the club appeared before the council to clarify that they were only hoping to close five parking spaces on the north side of the Main Street bridge.

Councilmembers unanimously approved that request, and the dedication ceremony will take place on Saturday, July 12, at 10am. At that time, the club will rededicate the Blue Star Memorial which was originally installed in 2012. Then, it will dedicate a new Gold Star Memorial.

Blue Star Memorials commemorate those who were deployed in the Armed Forces and later returned home. Gold Star Memorials commemorate those who never returned from active service.

Lowell Fire Department Update

Lowell Fire Chief Cory Velzen attended Monday to provide the first of planned regular updates to the council. While he hopes to provide presentations quarterly in the future, this initial update covered department activity since the start of the year.

Velzen noted the Lowell Area Fire Department responded to 172 calls in the City of Lowell during the first five months of 2024, and 62% of those were medical calls. That number is down from 198 calls in the city during the same period in 2023. However, overall calls are up by 50 when activity in the townships is factored in.

During the first half of the year, Lowell firefighters also completed 950 training hours which included a variety of exercises at a donated house and culminated in a live burn. Other training activities included HAZMAT and electrical safety training and a field burn exercise in the township.

For community engagement, the Lowell Area Fire Department has received a new shipment of fire detectors that it will provide and install in area homes at no charge. During a recent pancake breakfast fundraiser, a record 400 people attended, and the department has been busy hosting about 200 local students who have come through the station recently for tours.

In terms of equipment, the department was able to purchase 18 sets of turnout gear, licensed its Medic 2 vehicle and made warranty repairs to Engine 1. Velzen said the department may be looking to hire more firefighters later this summer or in the fall.

At the end of Velzen’s presentation, Salzwedel said he appreciated the information and would like to hear in future updates whether the department is staying within its budget.

Chambers said he had a concern about on-call firefighters driving at high speeds through the downtown to reach the fire station. While he understood the need to respond quickly to calls, he was concerned that a pedestrian could be hit, especially on days when special events are happening in the city.

Other Meeting Activity

Lowell City Council approved the following on unanimous votes:

  • $20,600 to Williams & Works for engineering work related to an upcoming resurfacing project on Foreman Street. The city has received $385,000 from the MDOT Small Urban Program for the work which will mill and resurface the roadway from Gee Drive to Beech Street.
  • Closure of the north parking spaces on Main Street and sections of Hunt Street and Riverside Drive on June 15 for the River Trail Triathlon.
  • $10,700 to LT’s Asphalt to resurface the 300 feet of public roadway on Deborah Street
  • Five-year contract with MDOT to allow for reimbursement of up to $15,000 annually for routine maintenance activities on Main Street.

While DeVore did not ask City Manager Mike Burns to provide a manager’s report during the meeting, Burns told Lowell’s First Look afterward that the main news in the community is the ongoing work on Washington Street. There have been two water main breaks at the site which have been addressed with the contractor, and there will be a 30-day period in which truck traffic will be diverted around the city as concrete cures after the installation of a utility pipe across Main Street.

Councilmembers went into closed session at 7:51pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, June 17, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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