Last night’s Lowell City Council meeting clocked in at just under 30 minutes. During that time, the council approved grants from the Lowell Cable TV Endowment Fund, gave a green light to start the accreditation process for the Lowell Police Department and discussed archival services for city social media accounts. The council also set a public hearing to receive comments about a Department of Natural Resources grant to help pay for a connector trail along the south side of town.
However, before any of that happened, Mayor Mike DeVore led off the meeting with a statement about the Riverview Flats project.
Mayor Chides Developers as “Petulant Children”
The Riverview Flats project has been proposed by developers Jerry Zandstra and Todd Schaal as a way to redevelop the site of the former Unity High School. Zandstra and Schaal would like to convert the property’s bus garage to condominiums and transform the high school building into a mixed use space that could combine condos with office or retail space.
The vision for the condominiums includes generous patio space, and to offer that, developers were hoping the city would swap them a seven foot strip of land in front of the bus garage for an adjoining square. Questions were raised about the land swap and others expressed concerns about the fate of a parcel of land which the developers own next to the library. Utility lines from Lowell Light & Power run under that parcel.
Negotiations between the city and the developers apparently fell apart last week, and the project was not on last night’s agenda as previously expected. Zandstra referred Lowell’s First Look to the city manager and city attorney when contacted for comment last week.
At the start of yesterday’s meeting, DeVore read a statement that said the council “decided it would not be in the best interest of the greater community to allow this project to move forward.” In response to the city declining their project proposal, Zandstra and Schaal apparently sent the city a hefty bill and said the green space near the library could no longer be used for community events as it has in the past.
DeVore’s statement went on to address this:
Like petulant children, they say our community may no longer use property where we have historically held the Riverwalk Festival, Pink Arrow Day and other community-wide celebrations and events. And even though they have only owned this property since November, they have sent us a $1.53 million invoice for “rent” for our underground power lines.
When reached by email earlier in the day, Lowell Light & Power General Manager Steve Donkersloot said the lines were placed on the property with permission, and developers were aware of their presence at the time of their purchase.
“In 2012, Lowell Light & Power had full authorization from Lowell Public Schools, which was the property owner at that time, to install the underground cables,” Donkersloot told Lowell’s First Look via email. “When the principals of Riverview Flats bought the property at 238 High Street in the fall of 2018, they did so with the full knowledge that city power lines were there.”
Lowell’s First Look is continuing to investigate this matter and will report on new information as it becomes available.
LCTV Grants Awarded
The main order of business during the regular meeting was awarding grants from the LCTV Endowment Fund. The fund was created after the sale of Lowell Cable TV in 2007. The proceeds from the sale were placed into an endowment fund that provides approximately $100,000 for community needs each year.
The 2019 grants total $104,370.93 and will be distributed to the following organizations:
- City of Lowell for fund administration expenses: $4,000
- City of Lowell for public restrooms as part of the Showboat replacement project: $50,000
- Englehardt Library for the library reading garden: $4,500
- Flat River Outreach Ministries for an updated security system: $13,760.93
- Junior Achievement for business education capital expenses: $2,000
- LowellArts for facilities rental and performances: $6,000
- Lowell Area Historical Museum for a new exhibit and gallery renovation: $3,000
- Lowell Charter Township for the North Grand River Riverfront Park: $20,000
- Lowell YMCA for Energize Lowell capital expenses: $1,100
Police Accreditation Ok’d, Social Media Archiving Tabled
Police Chief Steve Bukala and Sergeant Chris Hurst attended a training session in Lansing to learn more about the accreditation process for police departments. This process is offered through the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. Currently, just under 50 police departments in the state either are or are in the process of becoming accredited. Another 16 were at the training attended by Bukala and Hurst.
“Accreditation status signifies a significant professional achievement,” Bukala noted. It isn’t about reducing crime but about strengthening community trust that a police department is operating at the highest level of professionalism. Bukala believes accreditation will soon become a standard expectation of police departments.
Lowell City Council approved $1,500 out of the police budget to begin the accreditation process. It will take approximately two years to become fully accredited and then there is a $600 annual fee to maintain the designation.
Bukala and City Manager Mike Burns also brought to councilmembers a proposal to enter into a contract with ArchiveSocial to archive the city’s social media accounts. The service would sync to city accounts to ensure that there is a record of all content, regardless of whether it is later deleted. Having a complete record is needed to fulfill requirements under the Freedom of Information Act.
The annual cost of the service is $2,388. Councilmembers wanted to know what would happen to the archive if they discontinued the service and decided to table the issue until ArchiveSocial could be contacted for an answer to that question.
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be held on Monday, March 18, at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.