City Council Recap: Lowell Trailway Grant Application Approved

Lowell City Council met for approximately 70 minutes last night in what was their first in-person meeting in months. All councilmembers were present for the session which included the option for members of the public to log-in from home via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

While the council heard updates on a number of issues and voted on three matters, a public hearing for a proposed connector trail through the city garnered the most attention.

Grant Application for Trail Approved

Last night was the third time the Lowell Area Recreation Authority (LARA) has approached Lowell City Council to submit a grant to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund for a River Valley Rail Trail Connection Project. The grant application has been submitted and approved twice in the past but because the project was unable to gather sufficient matching funds, it was withdrawn each time.

LARA is hopeful this year will be different. The group says it needs to raise approximately $515,000 to complete the $5.755 million project.

The majority of the money — $3 million – is coming from a Michigan Department of Transportation grant program that only funds alternative transportation options such as trails. That program makes use of federal dollars to award grants. Another $1.26 million has been raised from private donors, and the remainder comes from other grant and funding sources.

The City of Lowell has been asked to partner on the project since the MDOT grant requires applicants to be Act 51 agencies. That is, a government organization that is eligible for state road funding. Since LARA is not an Act 51 agency, it cannot submit a grant application to that program on its own. While the city is submitting grant applications, the municipality is only funding a small portion of the project. The City of Lowell has committed $25,000 to the trail while the Downtown Development Authority is expected to contribute $300,000.

In presenting the proposed trail route – which would run from Alden Nash Ave on the west side of town to Montcalm Avenue on the east – LARA representative Dave Austin said the goal was to connect parks and keep pedestrians safe.

“One of the things the grant programs like is that [trails] connect people to these amenities,” Austin said. The proposed route touches on the North Grand River Riverfront Park and Stoney Lakeside Park while following a path that keeps people away from the road.

While some people have asked why LARA didn’t take the trail across the bridge connecting the Riverfront Parks in Lowell Charter Township, Austin said there were several problems with that option. For one, it would require pedestrians to make a midblock crossing on a relatively busy road and then walk along the shoulder of Grand River Drive. LARA did not feel this was safe, and some large private donors said they would not contribute to a project that used roadway shoulders. This route would also bypass the city completely and miss park connections that would be helpful for grant approval.

The proposed route will cross under Hudson Street at the fairgrounds and then go over the Grand River on a newly built pedestrian bridge that would run alongside the current Hudson Street Bridge. Mark Anderson, who represents Lowell Township on LARA, said this may be the community’s last chance to get a state-funded pedestrian bridge across the Grand River.

During the public hearing, Austin read a letter LARA received from one resident on Grand River Drive who was upset that the trail would pass behind her house. She said there had been no communication from the city regarding the matter. There were no other public comments offered during the hearing.

Lowell City Council voted unanimously to submit the grant application for the trailway project.

Other Agenda Items

The following items were also discussed or voted on during last night’s meeting.

COVID-19 update. The city’s ability to hold virtual meetings will end on March 31 unless additional legislation is passed by the Michigan Legislature or Kent County or the city mayor declare a state of emergency. City Manager Mike Burns did not expect the state Legislature to take any action on the matter but thought Kent County might declare a state of emergency. As for reopening City Hall to the public, Burns said he is hoping to wait until city workers have been vaccinated.

Showboat update. The low bid for the restroom project on the Riverwalk came in at $367,000 which was about double the amount budgeted. The low bid for renovating the former DPW building on the Riverwalk was about $800,000 which was in line with what was expected. Councilmember Marty Chambers suggested perhaps building one unisex bathroom for now until money could be raised to construct the restrooms as envisioned.

Showboat wi-fi. Lowell City Council voted unanimously to pay $7,332 to extend the city’s wi-fi service to the Showboat. “This is the most economical way to provide internet access to the Showboat,” Burns said.

Little League contract. Lowell City Council voted unanimously to approve a contract with Little League of Lowell for use of city ball diamonds. Little League will pay $5,200 to use the fields, but they can recoup some of that cost since the contract includes a provision to allow them to schedule other organizations’ use of the fields.

Marijuana tax revenue: The city received $28,000 in state tax revenue from adult use marijuana sales. That was based on the city having one establishment open last year. Next year, Burns estimates the city could receive $168,000 to $220,000, assuming the per-business allotment remains the same. “That’s significant new revenue for the city that we can’t generate any other way,” Burns said.

Stimulus money. The recently passed American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 will result in the City of Lowell receiving $411,000 in stimulus money. The money has to be spent by 2024 but can’t be used to pay unfunded pension liabilities or fund roadwork, two of the city’s biggest needs. While the money can’t be used for roadwork, Burns thought it could be used for sewer projects that are often completed in conjunction with road construction. That would free up money in the city’s budget for road repairs. The city might also use a portion of the money to accelerate the purchase of a new police vehicle.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, April 5, 2021 at 7pm.

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