City Council Recap: Short Meeting Covers Police Updates and More

Lowell City Council met for 34 minutes on Monday night for their first regular meeting of May. The meeting was held in-person with an option for participants and the public to join via the Zoom videoconferencing platform. All members were present in City Hall for the session.

Speed Enforcement in Historic Downtown

Of the eight items on the agenda, two pertained to the Lowell Police Department.

The first was a review of traffic on Main Street through the historic downtown. Police Chief Chris Hurst presented an overview of traffic enforcement activity in the area before making recommendations for encouraging slower speeds.

From October 2020 through April 2021, Lowell police officers issued 74 tickets to vehicles stopped on Main Street between Hudson and James Streets. Of those, 10 were for speeding and the remainder were for other offenses.

There were also 8 accidents on this stretch of roadway during that time period. They included the following:

  • 4 incidents of vehicles being rear-ended at the Main/Hudson traffic light
  • 1 incident of a vehicle hitting a deer near James Street
  • 1 incident involving a lane violation in a left turn lane at the Hudson/Main intersection
  • 1 incident of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian who was crossing Main Street at Broadway
  • 1 incident of a bicyclist falling off their bike and injuring themselves (no vehicle involved)

Only the last two accidents involved injuries.

Hurst suggested the city may want to consider traffic calming measures such as curb bump-outs or additional electronic speed signs to help reduce speeds on Main Street. He also noted there was usually only one officer on patrol at any given time which meant speed enforcement wasn’t always possible. “As a police department, we have to consider the whole city, not just a three block [area] downtown,” Hurst said.

In a press release issued by the Lowell Police Department after the meeting, it was announced that officers would start directed patrols in the area to begin strictly enforcing the speed limit. The press release read, in part:

The Lowell Police Department, along with the city council, has been receiving complaints of speed violations in the downtown area along East & West Main St. near the downtown merchants…The downtown area can be congested with parked vehicles, shoppers, Social District goers, and people enjoying the Riverwalk Plaza. We also have a mid-block crosswalk [at the Riverwalk]. The posted speed in the downtown area from Hudson St to Jefferson St is 25 mph…traffic enforcement will begin soon.

When vehicles are pulled over for speeding during the directed patrols, the press release also notes, “officers will have limited discretion on whether or not to give a warning or issue a citation.”

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Purchase of New Detective Bureau Vehicle Approved

In a second piece of police business, Lowell City Council unanimously approved the purchase of a new detective bureau vehicle for the department. The detective bureau vehicle is used for transporting evidence and is only used during working hours or when called upon for use at a crime scene.

Normally, the detective bureau uses a retired patrol vehicle, but the patrol vehicle being replaced this year is already in subpar condition. Instead, the Lowell Police Department has identified a 2015 GMC Acadia as a suitable replacement. The vehicle has approximately 80,000 miles on it and is being sold by One Way Auto for $22,000. As a larger vehicle, Hurst said it could also be used to take officers to training exercises. Currently, officers travel in multiple vehicles for training activities.

One Way Auto has suggested the department trade in the current detective bureau vehicle – a 2011 Chevrolet Impala – and the former DARE truck, which is a 2001 GMC Sonoma. The dealer says the vehicles have a combined trade-in value of $6,000, and One Way Auto will donate another $6,000 toward the purchase of the Acadia. The remaining $10,000 will come from the department’s salvage fund.

Garden Sale on Riverside Drive Ok’d

Tonia North of North Star Antiques requested that Riverside Drive be closed on May 22 for a Garden Sale to be held from 10am-4pm. About 15-20 vendors are expected to participate in the event, and a similar request was approved last year.

Councilmember Marty Chambers said he had been in touch the Backwater Café to confirm they didn’t have an issue with the closure. Chambers also asked if North could be provided a letter stating the council had approved for the road closure. Apparently, the police and fire departments weren’t made aware of the event last year and that caused some confusion.

Councilmember Cliff Yankovich noted someone was collecting signatures for a political petition at last year’s event and asked if the letter could specify that the event be limited to the garden sale and avoid anything political. City attorney Jessica Wood said she would have to look into the matter further since it may be an infringement of free speech to make that requirement. Yankovich said he would rescind his request instead.

Lowell City Council then unanimously approved the road closure for the sale.

Other Meeting Items

Monday’s meeting also included the following information and agenda items:

  • City Hall is now open to the public.
  • The Showboat fundraising committee has officially completed its work. The final total raised was about $2,000 – $4,000 below the target, but members are hopeful that money will be raised as donations continue to be made.
  • Lowell City Council unanimously approved a zoning ordinance amendment recommended by the Planning Commission. The amendment allows vehicle towing services as a special use in the light industrial zoning district.
  • Lowell City Council unanimously approved a Memorial Day presentation to occur in Oakwood Cemetery. The event will be coordinated by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Like last year, there will be no parade on the holiday.
  • Construction on Foreman Street will begin around June 7 and is expected to take 35 calendar days to complete. Work on Jane Ellen will begin in July.
  • Dan Czarnecki, director of the Department of Public Works, has begun sidewalk inspections.
  • A public hearing on the 2021-2022 budget has been scheduled for the next meeting.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on May 17, 2021 at 7pm in City Hall.

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