Lowell City Council met for approximately 45 minutes last night as they discussed four pieces of business. They also approved HVAC agreements for city hall and the Lowell Area Historical Museum building as part of their consent agenda and heard from two citizens during the public comments portion of the meeting. All councilmembers were present.
Officer Dave Oesch Honored for Service to LPD
Before doing anything, though, councilmembers invited Police Chief Chris Hurst to the podium for a special presentation.
Hurst shared that Officer Dave Oesch was celebrating 20 years of service as a part-time officer with the Lowell Police Department. Prior to joining the force in 2002, he had worked for 30 years in the Department of Corrections.
“My first impression was, man, this guy is kinda old to be starting as a police officer,” Hurst said. At the time, Jim Valentine was the Chief of Police, and Hurst met Oesch when the two were responding to a call. However, Oesch quickly put any doubts to rest when he chased down a young suspect who fled from the scene.
Since then, Oesch has become an integral part of the department and is known for his commitment to service and personal integrity.
“He’s always done the right thing at the right time for the right reasons,” Hurst said. In addition to recognizing his years of service, Hurst presented Oesch with a Professional Excellence Award. He also recognized Oesch’s wife Karen, noting the spouses of officers often have to give up nights and weekends with their loved ones while they are away on the job.
Both Oesch and his wife received a standing ovation at the end of the presentation.
Citizen Comments: Trail Clean-up, Danger Along the Showboat
Two citizens spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. First was resident Perry Beachum who thanked everyone who helped with the trail clean-up that occurred over the weekend.
The second speaker was Karen DeHenau, a Caledonia resident who was concerned about the lack of a barrier to the river near the Showboat. DeHenau was visiting Lowell with her family on December 10, 2021. While the family was waiting to see Santa on the Showboat, DeHenau stepped out of line and walked toward the Showboat to get a better look at its front windows.
“I found myself in the river,” she said. While DeHenau was not badly injured by the fall, she was concerned that there was no barrier along the Riverwalk by the front of the Showboat. She received a letter in December 2021 stating that steps would be taken to block off the area.
In June 2022, DeHenau visited Lowell and was surprised to see only a few benches, flowerpots and a rope set up in the area. In July, she sent a letter to city officials and received an email from Hurst the same day saying that the city’s insurance company recommended putting up a fence.
“It is now October 3rd,” DeHenau said. “I’m disappointed and am genuinely concerned that nothing has been done.” She worried that if a child were to fall into the river in that area, the outcome could be tragic.
After DeHenau’s comments, City Manager Mike Burns said the issue was on the agenda for this month’s Downtown Development Authority meeting.
Split Vote on Riverside Dr. Line Shack
Under old business, the first item for discussion was what to do with the former Lowell Light & Power line shack building located at 115 Riverside Drive.
City Council had previously accepted proposals and held interviews with developers who wanted to purchase the property. While councilmembers favored a proposal from CopperRock Construction to develop a multi-story residential building, strong public opposition nixed that plan.
Mayor Mike DeVore asked for the opinion of the Lowell Light & Power Board on what they would recommend for the next step. While the building is considered to be LLP’s and proceeds of the sale will go to the utility, it is not allowed to own real property. As a result, the City of Lowell owns the property, and Lowell City Council must approve any sale.
LLP General Manager Charlie West read a long statement recapping the board’s discussion on the matter. Citing rising interest rates and a desire to sell the property quickly, they voted unanimously to recommend Lowell City Council select another applicant from the proposals received over the summer. They were not in favor of restarting the bidding process and did not feel that demolishing the building – which was one option presented – would be a good use of ratepayer dollars.
The board also voted unanimously to recommend Lowell City Council accept the proposal from Greg Canfield to buy the property and expand the Main Street Inn. They noted that Canfield has a proven record of developing properties in the city, had the highest bid and verbally offered to return the property to the city if his development did not materialize within two years. The LLP board also noted that much of the public opposition to the CopperRock proposal centered on parking concerns, and Canfield’s proposal would have significantly fewer parking requirements.
DeVore thanked the LLP board for their input and noted that it made sense for Canfield’s proposal to be second in line. When councilmembers reviewed proposals initially, four out of five included Canfield in their top three choices.
DeVore then made a motion to accept the recommendation and create a resolution to sell the property to Canfield. After a long pause, Councilmember Jim Salzwedel seconded. The motion passed on a 3-2 vote with DeVore, Salzwedel and Councilmember Marty Chambers voting yes, and Councilmembers Leah Groves and Cliff Yankovich voting no.
Neither Groves nor Yankovich made any comment or otherwise indicated why they voted in opposition to the LLP board recommendation.
Burns said he would draft the resolution and start the 20-day waiting period that must be observed prior to a final vote on the sale of the property. City Attorney Jessica Wood seemed to dispute whether the 20 days could begin without the council voting with the resolution in front of them. Woods suggested she and Burns discuss the matter later, and it is unclear what will be the next step.
Tenants at 990 N. Washington to be Evicted
Long-time residents of 990 N. Washington Street will receive an eviction notice after failing to vacate the property on September 30 as previously agreed. Gary Dietzel and Sandy Bartlett have lived at the city-owned property for nearly 45 years.
For years, the couple lived in the home without a formal rental agreement in place and paid only $75 a month in rent. When the issue was brought to the attention of Lowell City Council, it created a formal rental agreement and increased the rental rate. While some past councils have held the opinion that the couple, given their long residency, could remain in the house indefinitely, the current council decided it no longer wanted to be in the landlord business.
Councilmembers voted not to renew the lease earlier this year. When Dietzel approached the council to request an extension given the difficult housing market and their need to move so many items, the council agreed on a September 30, 2022 termination date.
However, when DeVore, Chambers and Hurst stopped by the house on September 20th, they were not welcomed by the couple and no progress toward moving appeared to have been made. If anything, DeVore thought the house looked in worse condition than he’d seen it before. “It is my opinion that the extension has done nothing to assist and only to enable,” he said.
Other councilmembers agreed, and they voted unanimously to begin the eviction process.
Request to Park on Grass Denied
A resident at 855 N. Jefferson requested an exception to the ordinance requiring vehicles be parked on hard surfaced drives. He wanted to store a vehicle on the grass where the sidewalk ends on his property.
Chambers, who lives nearby, noted the property owners are good neighbors. “The are neat and clean, always keep their lawn mowed,” he noted.
However, councilmembers had concerns about debris from snowplows in the winter hitting the vehicle. There was also discussion about whether granting this request would open the door for other people to ask for the same ordinance exception.
“I don’t want to be rude, but you have a two-stall garage,” Groves said. She believed that the person could park the vehicle there if storage was needed.
Councilmembers voted unanimously to deny the request.
Other Meeting Action and Discussion
The following also occurred during Monday’s meeting:
- Councilmembers voted unanimously to extend a tax abatement for Big Boiler Brewing. A public hearing was held on the issue, but no one spoke on the matter.
- An advisory committee is being created by the City of Lowell and Lowell Charter Township to discuss an expansion of the city’s water plant. Burns, Chambers and Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki were chosen as the city’s representatives to the committee.
- New Union Brewery has plans to pave their lot on Oct. 16, which should bring them into compliance with their site plan requirements.
- Burns noted that he was a finalist for the Grand Haven city manager position but was not selected. The city chose to go with an internal candidate instead.
The meeting adjourned at 7:44pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, Oct. 17, at 7pm.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 11:40am on Oct. 4, 2022 to correct the purpose of the advisory committee being formed by the City of Lowell and Lowell Charter Township. It is being formed to discuss an expansion of the water plant, not the wastewater treatment plant.