City Council Recap: Splashpad Agreement, Downtown Parking

Lowell City Council met for approximately 2.5 hours last night as they discussed 11 pieces of new and old business. Among the items on the agenda were presentations from the Lowell Area Fire Department and Lowell Area Historical Museum as well as action items such as approval of a cost sharing agreement for a splashpad.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel was absent for the meeting which was well-attended by members of the public.

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Citizen Comments: Appreciation, Disagreement with the Council

At the start of the meeting, four residents spoke during the citizen comments portion of the agenda.

Resident Perry Beachum led off by standing to say that while he doesn’t always agree with the council, he supports the work they are doing. “They are doing the best they can,” he said. “Citizens can be passionate about their views, but everyone deserves respect.”

Another resident, Eric Bartkus, echoed Beachum’s comments. “I would also like to thank the council for all they do,” he said. “You don’t get the recognition or the thanks or the pay you deserve.”

As Bartkus left the podium, Councilmember Cliff Yankovich quipped, “I move that we end the meeting now.”

The next speaker was Jeanne Havey from Belding. Although she does not live in the city, she has grandchildren here, and she was concerned about the Lowell Pride event scheduled for this summer. “Do you know what this puts in kids’ minds?” she asked. “This is just an agenda for transgenders. They are trying to get into the schools and teach their methods.”

Ron Janowski was the final speaker. At the last meeting, he expressed his unhappiness with the elimination of two-hour parking on Main Street, and last night, he commented on how the city council communicates with its constituents.

Janowski noted the meeting agendas are only available the Friday before each meeting and while councilmembers hold a monthly Coffee with Council meeting and “minutes” are posted in the local paper, he felt more could be done to keep citizens aware of upcoming issues. He added that his emails were not returned, and phones at city hall ring without going to voicemail after hours. According to Janowski, this represents “complacency at best and arrogance at worst.”

Splashpad Cost Sharing Agreement

After citizen comments, the first piece of business was a cost sharing agreement with Lowell Charter Township for a splashpad planned for the North Riverfront Park.

At a previous meeting, councilmembers requested additional information about the cost and also expressed reservations about how water would be provided for the splashpad given that the city’s water system is near capacity. Last night, Lowell Township Supervisor Jerry Hale was on hand to discuss the matter.

“When the new pumps are installed in the pump station, that won’t be an issue anymore,” Hale said about the water capacity concerns.

“I’m not so sure about that,” City Manager Mike Burns replied. He noted that while the pumps were part of the problem, the bigger overall issue was the capacity of the plant itself.

After further discussion, it was decided that if watering restrictions were enacted, then the splashpad would need to be closed temporarily or restricted to only certain days of the week. At the suggestion of City Attorney Jessica Wood, an amendment to that effect was made to the agreement.

As for the cost, Hale thought he might be able to raise funds for the remainder of the splashpad’s construction. But if not, in a worst-case scenario, the city would need to contribute $24,000 for the initial costs. The city and township will split the estimated $8,000 annual maintenance expense.

“I think 24 grand is a pretty small investment for something that benefits the entire community,” said Councilmember Marty Chambers.

Lowell City Council approved the amended cost-sharing agreement unanimously.

Downtown Parking Discussed

In February, Lowell City Council amended the parking ordinance to eliminate overnight parking along Main Street in the historic district, eliminate overnight parking in city lots and eliminate the two-hour parking limit downtown. After the change, several businesses contacted councilmembers to share their concern and opposition to the removal of the two-hour limit.

Last night, parking was once again on the agenda as councilmembers discussed if and how further changes should be made.

City Clerk Sue Ullery read two letters into the record first. One, from business owner Karen Waid, expressed frustration with the manner in which the issue has been handled and asked councilmembers to reinstate the two-hour limit. The second letter was from Michael Lowery, who owns Lowell Hemp Co and who also wrote in support of the two-hour parking limit, noting his older customers benefit from easily accessible parking spaces in front of his store.

Greg Canfield, who owns Main Street Inn, asked why it was decided that there would be no overnight parking along Main Street year-round. In the rest of the city, overnight parking is only prohibited during the winter months to allow the streets to be cleared of snow.

Councilmembers could not recall why that decision was made and, at one point, looked ready to make a motion to change the ordinance so only overnight parking on Main Street during the winter months would be restricted.

However, Councilmember Leah Groves suggested it may not be wise to quickly pass an amendment. “Is anybody curious to go back to the meeting minutes or watch the YouTube video to see how we got to no on-street parking year-round?” she asked.

It was subsequently agreed that it would be better to table the topic before taking action.

Loading, Pick-Up Zones a Possibility

During discussion of parking, councilmembers at times expressed frustration with what they said was incorrect information being disseminated in the community.

“I question what some of the businesses are being told,” Chambers said after noting that he had discussed the matter with an owner who had been given incorrect information.

“I don’t appreciate letters being read that are full of assumptions,” Yankovich noted.

Mayor Mike DeVore took exception to allegations by Janowski and Waid that the change to the parking ordinance was done suddenly. “It has not been [done] abruptly or surprisingly,” he said, adding that the council has been considering the matter for months.

A review of meeting minutes and videos by Lowell’s First Look found the first mention of the parking ordinance occurred during the November 7, 2022 meeting.

During his final comments of that meeting, Chambers mentioned that he would like to see the ordinance changed to prohibit overnight parking and eliminate the two-hour restriction. Chambers also made comments about the parking ordinance during the December 5, 2022 and January 3, 2023 meetings.

The issue was on the agenda for the first time during the January 17, 2023 meeting. Initially, Burns presented an amendment to eliminate overnight parking in municipal lots during the winter and on Main Street year-round. Chambers asked if elimination of two-hour parking could be added, and Burns said he would make that change and return with a corrected amendment at the next meeting. It was at the next meeting, on February 6, that the ordinance change was approved unanimously.

No decisions were made at last night’s meeting, but councilmembers floated the idea of having several short-term spots designated as loading or pick-up zones in front of certain businesses, such as Sweet Seasons coffee shop. That, coupled with a longer time limit for other spots, was considered as a possible compromise.

“Eighty-five percent of the people who walk into my store are not from town,” said Beryl Bartkus, who co-owns Ability Weavers. She was in favor of having a longer limit or no time limit for parking. “I really do not want to discourage people from exploring our town.”

The issue will remain on the agenda for additional discussion at the next council meeting.

Other Meeting Items

The following also took place during Monday’s meeting:

  • Presentations by the Lowell Area Fire Department and Lowell Area Historical Museum. The organizations provide these updates annually to the city, Lowell Charter Township and Vergennes Township.
  • Unanimous approval of $53,357 to replace the Lowell Area Historical Museum’s front steps which are in disrepair. The replacement steps will be historically appropriate and have been approved by the city’s Historic Commission.
  • Unanimous approval of $13,950 to remove the house and outbuilding at 990 N. Washington Street.
  • Unanimous approval of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce’s request to display fireworks and close streets for the annual Riverwalk Festival.
  • Unanimous approval of the dissolution of the Lowell Showboat VI Committee, which is no longer needed now that the Showboat has its own non-profit.
  • Unanimous approval of utility easements and quitclaim deeds needed for a USDA construction project.
  • Unanimous approval of the recommended LCTV grants, shown below.

City Manager and Councilmember Comments

In his manager report, Burns shared that the city would be applying for a county grant to complete roadwork on Riverside Drive.

The city is also receiving $363,000 in marijuana excise taxes from the state. This amount represents close to 10% of the city’s general fund. Burns said the money would immediately go into the local streets fund. He was looking at adding roadwork on Ottawa and Brook Streets but wanted to save some of the money for a future project to repair all cross streets along Monroe. That is expected to cost $1.4 million.

In her final comments, Groves shared that she is an LGBTQIA+ ally. “I feel that it’s my responsibility to stick up for that community,” she said, presumably in reference to earlier public comments made in opposition to Lowell Pride. She added that the organization’s “gay-la” event recently raised more than $5,000 for the group’s June event.

“I’m not going to be part of any governmental body that stifles free speech,” DeVore said after Groves finished her comments.

Lowell Pride is a private organization, and its annual event is not affiliated with or sponsored by the city.

To wrap up the meeting, DeVore again noted that councilmembers are accessible and took issue with those who say otherwise. “To go around town and tell people we’re not accessible and are making quick decisions is just ridiculous and frustrating and sad,” he said.

The meeting adjourned at 9:28pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be on Monday, March 20, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

1 Comment

  1. I really appreciate the context LaPonsie gives regarding parking. This is where the crucial value of reporters who know how and where to get context cannot be overstated. And I’d like to thank officials of all our local public bodies who address rumors and disinformation, exhausting as it may be, which only serve to sow division and undermine efforts of those who truly and honestly want to make their communities better. This isn’t easy work they do, and it’s often thankless, but it is vital. Greater Lowell seems to have little patience for rumor-mongering aimed at eroding our institutions, and that’s something to be very proud of.

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