All councilmembers were present on Tuesday night for the second regular Lowell City Council meeting of January. Seven pieces of business were on the agenda, including the latest Parks and Recreation Master Plan, a sidewalk waiver request and a cost-sharing agreement for a proposed splash pad.
Citizen Comment: Scout Park and Arbor Board
Before getting to the business agenda items, Lowell City Council heard from one person during the citizen comments portion of the meeting. Resident Perry Beachum addressed the council on two matters: Scout Park and the Arbor Board.
In regards to Scout Park, Beachum said he had been on the Parks and Recreation Commission for more than 30 years and wanted to clarify that the commission had been approached only once in his tenure about whether the property at 990 N. Washington could be folded into Scout Park if the tenants were to vacate and the land annexed by the city.
“We said yes, but there was a but,” Beachum said. That caveat was that some money would need to come with the property to make improvements. For instance, Beachum wonders whether the parking lot should be upgraded and handicap spaces created to make the park more accessible. “I would be in favor of that property being in (the park), but citizens have to understand there is a cost involved,” he says.
As for the Arbor Board, Beachum was frustrated that the recent board meeting was cancelled without any reason given. Apparently, the chair had not been consulted about the cancellation either, which in Beachum’s view, showed the diminished value of the board to the city.
Parks and Recreation Master Plan Approved
The first piece of business on the agenda was a final public hearing on an updated Parks and Recreation Master Plan.
Peggy Covert, who lives on N. Washington Street, expressed her disappointment that the updated master plan did not include any language specifically supporting the inclusion of the 990 N. Washington property in Scout Park.
Lowell City Clerk Sue Ullery also read three letters into the record. Mary Ann Geldersma wrote to share her support for keeping 990 N. Washington and Scout Park a natural areas for families to enjoy. Two other letter writers shared fond memories of childhood time spent at the Scout Park property.
After public comments were received, Mayor Mike DeVore mentioned that public hearings would be held in February and March about annexing the 990 N. Washington property now that it is vacant. While the property is owned by the City of Lowell, it is currently part of Vergennes Township.
City Manager Mike Burns added that until that happens, the property can’t be added to the park. “It’s not in the city limits,” he said. “You can’t put property in the park plan if it’s not in the city limits.”
Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki added that Goal No. 5 was specifically added to the plan with the N. Washington property in mind. That goal states that the city should consider designating undeveloped natural areas for future park space.
The updated Parks and Recreation Plan needs to be filed with the state by Feb. 1 if the city is to be eligible for spring grant programs. Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the Parks and Recreation Master Plan update with DeVore noting that it could be amended later if needed.
Water Advisory Committee Update
Next, the council heard an update from Burns and Councilmember Marty Chambers about a water advisory committee meeting that had been held with representatives from Lowell Charter Township. The committee was formed to discuss how best to expand capacity for water customers in the township.
Last summer, a partial sprinkling ban was enacted because the water system was near its peak capacity. New housing developments in the township are driving demand, particularly during warmer months.
Currently, Lowell Charter Township is a wholesale customer of city water and has its own distribution system to pipe water to its residents. The township has asked if the city would be willing to create an authority which would allow for joint ownership of the water system – similar to how the Lowell Area Fire Department is jointly run by the city, Lowell Township and Vergennes Township.
At their Tuesday meeting, councilmembers appeared open to the possibility of an authority if the township provides an appropriate amount to buy into the current system.
“We’re creating tax base for them that we’re not getting anything from,” Burns noted.
DeVore said he was not inclined to have representation on an authority board split evenly as it is for the fire department. Instead, he thought representation should be based on water flow levels. However, it was pointed out that could mean the township takes a majority stake on the board since demand for water in the township is steadily growing.
In the end, councilmembers asked for additional information about how much the township would be willing to pay into the system to create an authority. The matter will be discussed further at a future meeting.
Splash Pad Discussion
Later in the meeting, councilmembers were asked to consider approving an agreement to share maintenance costs for a planned splash pad with Lowell Charter Township. However, the agreement didn’t include a specific amount that would be required for maintenance, and questions regarding water usage were raised by councilmembers.
DeVore noted that the actual cost wouldn’t be known until the final design had been determined. He mentioned that he had plans to visit splash pads in Plymouth Township and Wayland and would talk with local leaders there about their costs.
He also mentioned that the plan was to use a non-recirculating system. A closed loop system which recirculates water is “a nightmare,” according to some people DeVore has consulted.
“How does this affect our water?” asked Councilmember Leah Groves. “It’s on my mind that if there is a sprinkling ban (this summer), people might be unhappy with 60 kids splashing in the water for 12 hours a day.”
Burns noted he had not considered that, and it was a good point.
Beachum approached the podium to ask if the water would be going to the wastewater plant and require treatment there. “I think there are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said.
Councilmember Cliff Yankovich wondered whether the city assisting with costs for the splash pad could be used to leverage a township contribution to the library building. Yankovich has mentioned several times in the past his concern that township residents benefit from the library but only the city pays for its upkeep.
DeVore stated his support for passing a motion to share costs with the township, but by consensus, it was determined that the matter would be tabled until more information could be provided on the issues raised.
Other Meeting Items
Other action from Tuesday’s meeting included the following:
- Consideration of a request by new residents who are building a home on Hillside Court to forego installing a sidewalk. Apparently, no other property on the road has a sidewalk. The council did not take any action, but it was determined that city staff could defer enforcement of the sidewalk ordinance until such time it was deemed appropriate for a sidewalk to be installed. At that point – presumably if and when other homes on the street install sidewalks – the homeowners would be required to add a sidewalk at their own expense.
- Review of an ordinance change that would prohibit all overnight parking on Main Street in the Downtown Development District and that would prohibit overnight parking in city lots unless a resident obtained a permit from the Lowell Police Department. It was not expected that a fee would be charged for these permits. The ordinance will be brought to a future meeting for a vote.
- Review of a cost recovery ordinance for the police department. This ordinance would be similar to one already enacted for the fire department. It would allow the police department, under certain circumstances, to bill for its services. This would not affect normal calls for assistance from residents but rather apply to situations in which there are, for example, an unusually high number of false alarms called in.
- DeVore read a proclamation declaring February as Community Support Month. The Lowell United Methodist Church is working to spread awareness of the month as a way for people to thank those in public service — such as teachers, health care professionals and public safety officers.
The meeting adjourned at 8:31pm, and the next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, Feb. 6, at 7pm.