City Council Recap: Plans for Social District Take Shape

Lowell City Council met for 30 minutes on the Zoom videoconferencing platform last night. All councilmembers were present during the session which saw them approve bank signatories for 2021 and OK an update to the Community Development Block Grant agreement with Kent County.

However, the main topic of discussion was a resolution and ordinance to create a social district in downtown Lowell. While council took action on the issue last night, it could still be a few more weeks before people can mill around downtown with a beer in their hand.

Social District Boundaries

The Michigan Legislature approved the creation of social districts last year to help restaurants and other businesses during the pandemic. Cities who create social districts have common areas where people can consume alcohol that is purchased from a participating establishment. Grand Rapids and Rockford are two communities that have set up social districts, and these areas often include outdoor seating and warming stations.

In Lowell, the social district is expected to run along both sides of Main Street from Hudson Street to Washington Street. It will also extend north along the Riverwalk to Riverwalk Park and south to include the public parking lot that is located just east of the Flat River. It will extend north a block on Broadway, Riverside and Monroe Streets as well.

The city expects to close Monroe Street from Main Street north to the alleyway behind the adjacent buildings. In addition to creating more space for the social district, this is hoped to alleviate traffic issues in the area.

“Left hand turn traffic is extremely dangerous, and this would also stop trucks from coming onto Monroe and forcing them to go to the truck route which is Jefferson,” City Manager Mike Burns told Lowell’s First Look after the meeting.

For enforcement and monitoring, the city is asking the Downtown Development Authority to consider funding a full-time, part-time officer to patrol the district.

Council Adjusts District Hours

To create the social district as proposed, Lowell City Council must pass a resolution to create the district and also amend an ordinance to allow alcohol to be consumed and possessed in Riverwalk Park. Currently, alcohol is not allowed in any city park.

The management plan presented to city council stipulated the social district will be open daily from 12pm to 10pm. That was a provision that gave pause to Councilmember Leah Groves.

“During school [and] normal working hours, do we really want people walking up and down the street holding a beer?” she asked. Groves worried about the possibility of people drinking excessively at the same time when families with young children may be heading to the park or Riverwalk. “It makes me a little uncomfortable,” she said.

During discussion on the matter, Councilmember Marty Chambers noted that most participating establishments might not even be open until 3pm on the weekdays. It was decided to change the times from 4pm-10pm on weekdays and keep 12pm-10pm on weekends and weekdays that have special events.

Mayor Mike DeVore asked if someone wanted to make a motion to change the hours. Councilmember Cliff Yankovich did so, and Groves seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

No action was taken on a proposed ordinance to allow alcohol in Riverwalk Park. That is expected to be brought before the council at their next regularly scheduled meeting.

With Martin Luther King Jr. Day falling on January 18, the next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be on Tuesday, January 19, at 7pm.

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