City Council Recap: Marijuana Amendment Voted Down

Lowell City Council met in open session for just more than an hour last night before going into closed session to discuss labor negotiations. All councilmembers were present, and four pieces of business were discussed. In addition, two officers with the Lowell Police Department were sworn in, and three citizens spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting.

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Full-Time Officer, Sergeant Sworn In

After the meeting was called to order and the Pledge of Allegiance recited, Police Chief Chris Hurst stepped forward to introduce two officers who would be sworn in.

Officer Aubrey Culver, who has been with the department since 2020 as a part-time officer, was sworn in as a full-time officer. Meanwhile, Gordy Lauren was promoted to the position of sergeant.

City Clerk Sue Ullery led the official oath of office for each position, and Hurst followed up with a separate oath of honor that included, among other things, promises to “not betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust.”

Public Comments: ROW Work, Sewer Line and Crosswalks

Three residents spoke during a lengthy public comments portion of the meeting.

First up was Perry Beachum who expressed concern that there may be some confusion about who to contact when there are issues with work completed in the road right-of-way. This appeared to be a reference to concerns about the quality of work completed by Point Broadband in the city.

Next, Greg Canfield presented paperwork to councilmembers which he says demonstrates that a sewer line running across the Main Street bridge to the buildings at 96-106 W. Main Street should be maintained by the city. While not viewed by Lowell’s First Look, the documentation purportedly indicates that the city installed the line at some point.

“How can we say that’s not a main [line]?” Canfield asked.

Typically, the city maintains sewer mains while lateral lines – which connect a building to a main – are the responsibility of property owners. Canfield, who owns buildings connected to the line in question, argues that since this line services multiple buildings and was allegedly installed by the city, it should be treated as a main. The city has pushed back on that assertation.

The discussion on Monday is the second time Canfield has addressed the council on the matter. The underlying issue in this dispute is who is responsible for making improvements to the line which is apparently prone to freezing during the winter months.

After some back-and-forth discussion between Canfield and city staff, councilmembers said they would need to look into the matter further to provide a proper response.

The final resident to address the council was Dave Bonga who lives on Riverside Drive. He said he lives by Hudson Street and was interested in seeing more crosswalks added for pedestrian safety. He noted that he had spoken to a planner in the Michigan Department of Transportation who said cities could add flashing lights to crosswalks and pass ordinances saying traffic must stop when lights are activated.

Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki and councilmembers agreed to look into the matter further, but some skepticism was expressed. Czarnecki said he previously worked in a city with this type of crosswalk and was almost hit by a car that did not stop. Councilmember Cliff Yankovich shared that downtown business owners had previously tried to get a crosswalk installed on Main Street and found it was not easy to work with MDOT or state officials.

Marijuana Ordinance Change Defeated

Planning Commission Chair Bruce Barker addresses Lowell City Council.

Under new business, councilmembers discussed a recommendation from the Planning Commission to prohibit marijuana businesses east of the Flat River. City Manager Mike Burns also recommended that the council adopt the change as did Andy Moore, the city’s professional planning consultant. Moore noted in a memorandum that “it is the opinion of staff…that these areas would not be suitable locations for adult use marihuana facilities.”

“It’s a unique situation in which we have residential heavily in that area,” said Councilmember Marty Chambers in explaining the reason for prohibiting the facilities east of the Flat River. Chambers serves as the council representative on the Planning Commission.

However, other councilmembers did not agree. “To say that the biggest reason is that it’s a residential area, that’s just not enough for me,” said Councilmember Leah Groves. “I live off Sibley. I’ve got them all around me.”

Other councilmembers expressed similar concerns and noted that there were residences near marijuana businesses on the west side of town. Yankovich added that he felt marijuana businesses were more regulated than other businesses that could be located on commercial lots.

Planning Commission Chair Bruce Barker was present during the meeting and addressed the council. He noted that the commission has approved 11 special land use permits for marijuana businesses in the city and spent hours on each one to ensure that local residents were protected.

“When [city stakeholders] first met…and set out the parameters [for marijuana businesses], one of the parameters was to shield residences as much as possible,” Barker said. “We have set up berms. We have set up fences, trees, everything we could do to protect those residential properties.”

However, in the case of an application for a marijuana business in the former RollAway building, those sorts of buffers were not possible given the layout of the lot. Barker added that the planning commission has now voted unanimously three times – twice for the proposed ordinance amendment and once in denying the special land use permit for the RollAway property – that the east side of town is not the appropriate place for marijuana businesses.

“The east side of Lowell is primarily residential,” Barker said. “The people who are around that particular property have rights too.”

Mayor Mike DeVore thought it was possible that at some point a marijuana business could create a plan that would meet the city’s special land use permit requirements so the possibility shouldn’t be rule out.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel said he didn’t think the discussion should revolve only around the RollAway property, and that there may be other properties on the east side of town that could be suitable for marijuana businesses.

Other than the RollAway property, the only other commercial lot east of the Flat River is the location of Progressive Heating and Cooling at the eastern border of town. (Keiser’s Kitchen is located on a residential lot, but since the restaurant predates the zoning, its commercial use is legal.} The only other potential sites of marijuana businesses east of the Flat River appear to be industrial properties owned by Atwood and Dependable LP Gas.

Chambers made a motion to approve the Planning Commission recommendation that marijuana businesses be prohibited east of the Flat River. Salzwedel seconded the motion in order that a vote could be taken. The motion then failed on a vote of 1-4 with Chambers voting in support and everyone else opposing.

Then, at the urging of an unidentified city attorney who was present, DeVore made a motion to reject the recommendation on the grounds that this area is not any closer to residences than other marijuana facilities, that marijuana facilities are closely regulated, that it was eliminate other potential locations east of the river and that the council shouldn’t rule out the possibility that a marijuana business could someday be located in the RollAway property. Yankovich seconded the motion, and that motion passed on a vote of 4-1 with Chambers being the sole no vote.

Other Meeting Items

Other action items and information discussed on Monday included the following:

  • Councilmembers voted unanimously to pay $9,900 to Plummer’s Environmental Services for sewer repair work on Bowes Road.
  • Councilmembers voted unanimously to purchase a new mower for the Lowell Airport from Riverside Motorsports at a cost of $6,327. The money will come from the Airport Fund.
  • DeVore read a proclamation in honor of Professional Municipal Clerks Week.
  • Burns shared that the budget for the upcoming year was prepared and could be viewed on the city website.
  • Salzwedel said that the Showboat Committee was about 2-3 months out from finishing the process of becoming a non-profit. The boat had about 25 reservations so far. Ashley Dunn of Creative Party Bug had approached the committee about helping to be the boat’s event planner, but “At this time, we’re not there financially to bring her on,” Salzwedel said.
  • Chambers noted that it was National Linemen Appreciation Day, and he will be hosting a dinner for linemen and their spouses in honor of the event.

The open session was adjourned at 8:09pm, and the council then went into closed session to discuss labor negotiations. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be Monday, May 2, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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