City Council Recap: Parks and Recreation Plan Up for Review

Lowell City Council met for approximately 45 minutes on Monday night for their second regular meeting of November. Four pieces of business were on the agenda, including a new police vehicle and a draft of the city’s updated Parks and Recreation Plan. All councilmembers were present.

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Citizen Comment: Remove Contaminated Soil from Moose Property

There was a one citizen comment for an item not on the agenda. Resident Perry Beachum rose to share his support for removing contaminated soil from the Moose Property along Front Street.

“It’s a concern I think the city needs to address,” Beachum said.

In the 1990s, street sweepers used to deposit debris on the property. A question was raised about the possibility that the debris could be contaminated, and the city contracted with engineering firm BLDI to test the soil. It tested positive for contamination of arsenic and chromium.

Further testing showed that the contamination was only in the mounds left behind by street sweepers and not in other soil or groundwater. A representative of BLDI said that removing the soil was not necessary, particularly given the vegetation that currently grows on the property. The removal cost has been estimated at more than $200,000.

Police Department Switching Gears for New Vehicle

Earlier this year, Lowell City Council approved the purchase of a 2022 Ford Police Explorer to replace an older patrol vehicle that is about to hit 100,000 miles and is no longer reliable for the Lowell Police Department.

“The biggest issue with a police vehicle is the type of work a patrol car does,” said City Manager Mike Burns when commenting on the new vehicle. “It’s driven a lot differently than you or I drive.”

However, supply chain issues have meant that the new vehicle approved in April won’t be ready until next year at the earliest. Police Chief Chris Hurst doesn’t think the old vehicle will last that long and asked councilmembers on Monday to instead approve the purchase of a used vehicle from the Western Michigan University Department of Public Safety. The university is apparently switching to Chevy vehicles and liquidating their Ford fleet.

The vehicle in question is a 2021 Ford Police Interceptor Utility with 15,200 miles. The vehicle has never been in an accident and will come with some policing equipment already installed. To purchase the vehicle and outfit it with remaining equipment will cost $51,315. The city has budgeted $62,000 for the purchase of a new vehicle.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to reallocate funds from a new vehicle purchase to the purchase of the used vehicle from WMU.

Parks and Recreation Plan

After months of work, the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission has developed a new 5-Year Parks and Recreation Master Plan with the help of engineering firm Williams & Works.

Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki noted that public input was incorporated into the plan via a community survey in June and focus groups in September. In response to that input, a goal was included in the plan to consider designating undeveloped natural areas as future city park space.

“We had a lot of input about scout park,” Czarnecki said. “Somehow in the community there has been some talk that the city wants to develop that land.”

Two members of the Lowell Scout Park Association spoke during the meeting to thank members of the commission and Czarnecki for taking their concerns about the future of scout park under consideration. With 990 N. Washington currently being transitioned from a city-owned rental property, there is some concern that parcels attached that property could be developed rather than included in the adjacent parkland.

“It should be noted that in the Parks Master Plan Community Survey, there were 22 written comments in the survey urging complete preservation of Scout Park, which was more supportive comments than all of the other parks combined,” said association member Bill Schreur in his comments before Lowell City Council.

In addition to creating five broad goals, the new Parks and Recreation Plan includes a wish list of park-specific enhancements, including improved accessibility and the development of Recreation Park after the departure of the Kent County Youth Fair.

The plan is now in a 30-day public review period. A draft can be viewed online or at City Hall. Lowell City Council is expected to vote on final approval of the plan no later than the first meeting of January.

Other Council Action

For other pieces of business, councilmembers took the following action:

  • Unanimous approval of a new 5-year contract with Rockford EMS to provide emergency services in the City of Lowell.
  • Unanimous approval of Manszewski Landscaping in Lake Odessa for mowing and trimming of city properties for 2023-25. The company currently does mowing for the city and bid $42,600 for each of the three years. The two other bids received were significantly higher, at $91,800 and $146,040 for the first year alone.

Manager Report and Councilmember Comments

In his manager’s report, Burns noted that the tenants at 990 N. Washington did not move out by the deadline so the next step is to connect with a court officer. He also noted that the 20-day waiting period to sell the former LLP line shack to Todd Schaal was also underway.

Burns commented on the roadwork completed on Gee Drive. Apparently, there have been complaints about the aesthetics and noise that is created when people drive over it. The contractor has been contacted, and it was determined that the asphalt was rolled “too hot.” The contractor agreed to return in the spring to fix the problem although Burns said it was possible that snowplowing in the winter could remedy the situation before then.

Under Proposal A, which was passed in 1994, annual increases in the taxable value of most properties are capped at the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is less. Burns shared that the this year’s taxable value increases will hit that 5% limit for the first time ever. Without the limit, the inflationary increase would be 7.9%.

In their board comments, all councilmembers expressed appreciation to members of the Department of Public Works for keeping roadways and downtown sidewalks clear during the weekend snowstorm. Czarnecki noted that five workers logged 175 hours snowplowing over a three-day period.

Councilmember Leah Groves noted that she heard Christmas Through Lowell, which was going on over the weekend, was successful despite the storm.

Councilmember Marty Chambers commented on last week’s joint meeting with the Planning Commission in which it was decided that to ask engineering firm Williams & Works to help draft a new city master plan. Chambers noted that the firm might be at events such as the Lowell Expo to gather input from people outside the city regarding what should be in the plan. “They have found someone in another community could have an excellent idea,” he said.

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich appreciated the city replacing the Styrofoam cups set out for councilmembers with paper ones. He also noted that the Look Memorial Fund received grant requests far in excess of their available money and not all projects could be funded.

Mayor Mike DeVore shared that the Lowell Area Fire and Emergency Services Authority conducted an annual review of Fire Chief Shannon Witherell and voted to provide him with a more competitive compensation package.

The meeting adjourned at 7:46pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, December 5, at 7pm.

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