City Council Recap: Sidewalk Ramp Nixed, Land Put Up for Sale

The grassy area in front of the substation is part of a parcel of land being put up for sale by the city.

There was a short agenda during the Lowell City Council’s first July meeting. All members were present, and the legislative body took four votes to address a sidewalk ramp, the sale of city land, the spending authority of the Lowell Light & Power general manager and AT&T’s use of the city right of way.

Sidewalk Ramp Debated

When work was recently completed on North Broadway, a sidewalk ramp was removed from in front of the Lowell Light & Power building. City Manager Mike Burns noted a resident had inquired into why it was removed. “There was a concern we weren’t meeting ADA,” Burns said, referencing the Americans with Disabilities Act which requires government buildings be accessible.

While there is an accessible route from the handicap parking spaces in the city parking lot south of the LLP building, there is now no ramp leading directly to the parking spaces on N. Broadway Street. These parking spots are general use and not reserved as handicap spaces. Burns said a new ramp could be added at a cost of $1,500-$2,000.

“Dick Wendt, I am so pleased you are here because you are the expert on these things,” said councilmember Greg Canfield in opening the conversation on the issue. Wendt, the city attorney, uses a wheelchair for mobility.

“For convenience, obviously to have something closer would be better,” Wendt said. “Legally, I think you’re fine.” Wendt added that when he visited the building, he had previously always used the ramp leading to the street. That is the ramp that is now gone.

Mayor Mike DeVore noted the city is in compliance with the ADA, and he thought the money could be better spent elsewhere. “I think that the ramps that are there are adequate,” he said. He made a motion that the City Council not approve the installation of the ramp.

The motion passed on a vote of 4-1 with Canfield voting no.

City Land Put Up for Sale

At one time, Lowell residents were faced with the thrilling prospect of a Big Boy setting up shop in town. However, that dream died, and a parcel of land associated with the project reverted to the city for non-payment of taxes. Now, Vergennes Broadband is interested in buying the parcel at 2560 Bowes Rd.

The lot is a pie-shaped piece of land nestled between a LLP substation and Lowell Township’s North Grand River Riverfront Park. While there was some question about accessibility to the property, LLP general manager Steve Donkersloot said it shouldn’t be a problem to grant an easement for a drive if needed.

Vergennes Broadband is interested in constructing a building on the property to house data center equipment. City Council members seemed receptive to the idea, particularly since the property currently doesn’t generate any property tax revenue for the city. “I think making money is better than making no money,” DeVore said.

Per the city charter, property can only be sold after it is put out for public bid, and it must be sold at near market value. The Lowell City Council voted unanimously to start the bidding process.

LLP Manager Gets Expanded Spending Authority

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel, Councilmember Jeff Phillips and City Attorney Dick Wendt (l to r) listen to discussion during Monday’s City Council meeting.

Next up was a proposal to allow the LLP general manager greater authority to make purchases. Up until last night, the general manager was only allowed to spend up to $10,000 at his discretion. Anything above that amount needed to be approved by the LLP Board.

“As far as we can tell, there isn’t any logic as to how this amount came about,” Donkersloot said. He added that the limit appeared to have been established in the earlier 2000s.

This low spending limit resulted in inefficiencies and delays in completing projects. For example, the LLP Board might approve a project with a budget of $250,000, but then also have to approve every individual expenditure within the project that exceeded $10,000.

After three months of discussion, the LLP Board unanimously recommended the City Council adjust the amount the general manager could spend without board approval. They suggested two tiers of authorization: $50,000 for expenses related to already budgeted and/or approved projects and $25,000 for other discretionary spending that falls within the utility’s budget. Those numbers correlate with 6/10 percent and 3/10 percent of the LLP overall budget.

The recommendation was passed by the City Council unanimously.

AT&T Right of Way Permit Approved

Lowell City Council also unanimously approved a five year extension on AT&T’s permit to use the city right of way. The company has had a continuous agreement with the city since 2003. They are allowed to operate in the city’s right of way in exchange for payments set by the METRO Act.

Council members unanimously approved extending the agreement until 2023.

City Manager and Council Member Comments

In his city manager’s report, Burns said work on South Broadway should be done in time for the Riverwalk Festival parade. He also reviewed a recent Downtown Development Authority meeting. The group is looking at placing flower boxes on the Main Street bridge to improve the aesthetics of the area. They are also in the process of reviewing a recently completed walkability study to determine which recommendations could be implemented.

In his comments, DeVore noted that he, Burns and Ryan Teachworth from Lowell Light & Power visited Idaho to see the Litehouse facility there. The Lowell City Council has already approved a 10-year lease with the company to process wastewater at the old biodigester facility, but DeVore said they wanted to see the company’s current operations in person. He was impressed by what he saw.

At the conclusion of the open meeting, Lowell City Council went into closed session to complete their annual review of the city manager.

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