Lowell City Council met in open session for nearly 50 minutes on Monday night before going into a closed session “to discuss a legal opinion subject to attorney client privilege.” All councilmembers were present, and one person spoke during the citizen comments portion of the meeting.
Dispute Over Sewer Line Maintenance
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Greg Canfield addressed the council about the maintenance of a sewer line under the Main Street bridge. This is the third time Canfield has addressed the council on the issue. He said he asked twice for the topic to be put on the agenda, but both Mayor Mike DeVore and City Manager Mike Burns denied that request on separate occasions.
“The pushback on this situation is sad and uncalled for,” Canfield said at the start of his comments.
The sewer line in question connects to four buildings on the south side of the bridge, and the city says maintenance of the line is the responsibility of property owners. Canfield, who owns one of the properties, argues it is a city line since it serves multiple buildings and that there is precedent for the city maintaining lines under the bridge.
Canfield provided a letter from Mike Sprenger, former owner of Springrove Variety, which stated that when the city rerouted a sewer line on the north side of the bridge, it took responsibility for its maintenance. Dan DesJarden, who is a previous longtime director of the Department of Public Works, also wrote in an email that the city has always maintained the sewer line running from south to north under the Main Street bridge.
Canfield expressed his frustration with the current administration’s unwillingness to resolve the issue. “When you have people who invest in your community, this is not how you treat them,” he said.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Canfield asked if the issue could be placed on the agenda or if he needed to return with a lawyer. At that point, City Attorney Jessica Wood interjected, “This is not a question and answer. Please wrap it up.”
Lease Extended for N. Washington Property
The other resident concern raised during the meeting involved the lease of property at 990 N. Washington to Gary Dietzel and Sandra Bartlett. The couple have lived at the property for more than 40 years. During that time, their lease has been subject to controversy, with some councils objecting to the city being landlords and others questioning the low rents charged for many years.
Earlier this year, Lowell City Council agreed not to renew the couple’s lease when it expires in the summer. In April, Dietzel spoke during the public comments portion of a meeting and asked to be placed on the agenda of a future meeting to discuss an extension of the lease. He noted it was difficult to find housing in Lowell right now.
While the property wasn’t on the agenda for the second meeting in April, Councilmember Jim Salzwedel asked that it be placed on the May meeting agenda. During his comments on Monday night, Dietzel again made his case for an extension of a few months, noting that it was difficult to find a new home and he had more than 40 years’ worth of accumulated items at the Washington property to sort and move.
“It was the council’s direction two years ago that this was going to be the final lease,” DeVore responded. He believed the couple has long known they would have to move and should have been preparing in advance.
Dietzel disagreed. “I think if you review…there’s no saying this is the last lease,” he said. Later in the meeting, DeVore reiterated that this was to be the last lease and said it had been made “crystal clear” in 2020.
Lowell’s First Look reviewed the meeting recaps, minutes and videos from 2020 and found that it was never explicitly stated that this would be the final lease although it was implied. During a lengthy discussion on February 18, 2020, the council appeared to agree that at the end of the current lease, Dietzel and Bartlett would be given the opportunity to purchase the house and one acre of land. The remaining two acres on the property would be split off.
The minutes from that meeting state:
“The board discussed at length and directed the City Manager to create a lease agreement for the current leasee for 24 months for the one acre with a rent increase to $500 starting July 1, 2020 and then July 1, 2021 increasing to $520 with a three one-year lease option.”
However, when the lease was returned to the council for final approval on June 15, 2020, there was no mention of the three one-year lease options or the sale. In his June memo on the subject, Burns wrote:
“Council also directed me to prepare only a two-year lease and they would review future lease options for the property then.”
Burns also wrote that Dietzel had requested to meet with the council about the lease, but at this point, the COVID-19 pandemic had required meetings to be held virtually. Dietzel apparently could not or did not want to meet in this way.
The two-year lease passed in June 2020 after a brief discussion about the cost of rent. DeVore was the lone no vote in approving the lease.
Last night, the council voted 3-2 to allow Dietzel and Bartlett to have until the end of September 2022 to find new housing and move their possessions. DeVore and Councilmember Marty Chambers were the dissenting votes and thought the couple should move out at the end of June as previously decided.
“You’re losing your home…and I think I would be mad too,” Councilmember Leah Groves said to Dietzel during the discussion. “That doesn’t mean that I disagree with the city’s stance; I just also want to validate that your feelings are valid.”
Other Meeting Agenda Items
Other items on Monday’s agenda included the following:
- Review of the 7-year street plan.
- Unanimous approval of a 10-year lease for Wind Craft Aviation (also known as Orb Aerospace) to use hangar space at the Lowell City Airport.
- Unanimous approval of a $335,345 bid by Youngstrom Contracting in Ionia to do roadwork in the Valley Vista neighborhood.
- Unanimous approval for the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce to hold a fireworks show in conjunction with the Riverwalk Festival.
- Unanimous approval to close a portion of the parking lot near the Riverwalk boat launch for the Lowell Pride event on June 4, 2022.
- Unanimous approval to lease a new copier at a cost of $421.50 a month, which is $11.53 less per month than the lease on the city’s current copier.
Council went into closed session at approximately 7:50pm. Although the Michigan Attorney General recommends municipalities provide detailed information, such as the name of a pending lawsuit, when going into closed session, no specifics were provided on Monday night. It was unclear whether the legal opinion being discussed in the closed session pertained to one of night’s agenda items or was an unrelated matter.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, May 16, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.