During a 65-minute meeting last night, Lowell City Council spent most of the time discussing roadwork. They were presented with a 7-year road plan and also talked about what do with a dusty turnaround on Hillside Court. All councilmembers were present for the meeting which took place in City Hall.
Citizen Comments: Request for Trail Money
During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, resident Greg Canfield requested Lowell City Council consider funding a connector trail being planned by the Lowell Area Recreation Authority. The $5.7 million project has been in the works for years and, once completed, will fill the only gap in 125-mile regional trail system.
The 4-mile connector trail includes portions in both the City of Lowell and Lowell Charter Township, and Canfield said the township has agreed to match whatever money the city is willing to put toward the project. The project needs to raise $200,000 to reach its goal so $100,000 from each municipality would complete the trailway. If $200,000 isn’t pledged by October 1, the trailway will lose a significant state grant.
Canfield noted the township is planning to pay for its contribution from federal stimulus money to be received under the provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act. The City of Lowell is slated to receive $435,000 in these funds from the federal government.
Supporting the trailway would be a good investment for the city, according to Canfield. He explained that revenue in trail towns generally jumps 33%.
Councilmembers seemed agreeable to the idea although City Manager Mike Burns wasn’t sure if the American Rescue Plan money could be used for this purpose. However, he had other ideas about where the money could be found.
The issue will be placed on the agenda of a future meeting for further discussion.
7-Year Street Plan Revealed
Under old business, Burns presented a street improvement plan that laid out projects from 2021-2027. The city manager noted that once the city had adopted a street management plan, it would be able to comingle its Act 51 dollars.
Act 51 funds come from the state and, by law, the majority must be used on major streets in the city. Bowes, Gee and Hudson are among the roadways designated as major streets in Lowell. The remaining funds can be spent on local streets, which make up the majority of the city’s road system.
However, once the city files its street management plan, Burns says the state will allow the city to use its Act 51 dollars for any road under its jurisdiction, with no limit on how much can be spent on local streets.
The council had previously discussed this matter in early 2019 when it was finalizing its Storm, Asset Management and Wastewater (SAW) capital improvement plan. That plan identified potential issues within the city’s wastewater system. At the time, a consultant working with the city noted that the SAW capital improvement plan would be used to ensure that utility and street projects were scheduled in such a way so that all work on a stretch of road would be done at the same time.
When Councilmember Jim Salzwedel asked if the 7-year street plan had taken utility infrastructure needs into account, Department of Public Works Director Dan Czarnecki said he thought that had already been addressed. The street plan presented last night noted that work on Monroe and Washington Streets, slated for 2022 and 2023, would be water and sewer projects but did not otherwise reference utility work.
In addition to Act 51 dollars, the city typically transfers $100,000 from the general fund to the local street fund each year. Marijuana tax revenue, which totaled $28,000 this year, has also been earmarked for roadwork. Plus, Burns expects the 2020 census will show the city’s population grew by 400 people which should also increase state dollars flowing in Lowell.
“As long as the economy doesn’t go south, we should see incremental increases in our Act 51 dollars,” Burns said. In addition to road repairs, the city’s street funds pay for road maintenance, such as filling potholes, and snowplowing in the winter.
The plan, which Burns said isn’t set in stone, seeks to cover roads in most sections of the town. Councilmember Cliff Yankovich suggested posting the plan on the city website so residents could view it and offer feedback.
Hillside Court Turnaround Discussed
Up next was a discussion of a turnaround on Hillside Court. A property owner had received permission in 2018 to remove the gravel turnaround there and plant grass instead. Apparently, the turnaround creates significant dust that drifts onto the house of a nearby property.
The homeowner notified the city that he was about to begin the approved work, but Czarnecki, who was not the DPW director in 2018, asked him to wait while he investigated further.
In reviewing the road, Czarnecki found it was never properly constructed. Instead of a cul-de-sac, as was depicted in the platted roadway, Hillside Court ends with a gravel turnaround that requires larger vehicles to make three-point turns. Czarnecki observed a garbage truck on the street and noted that it could not turn around and simply reversed back to exit that section of Hillside Court.
After talking to the homeowner and assessing the situation, Czarnecki highlighted these options:
- Install a new street, including a cul-de-sac, to the proper street specifications and dimensions. An estimate of $272,000 for this work was received by the city in 2018.
- Install a new street to proper specifications but place the cul-de-sac at the area of the current turnaround. This would provide for a shorter roadway and require the city to obtain a larger right-of-way to accommodate the cul-de-sac. The estimated cost for this in 2018 was $222,000.
- Vacate the final portion of Hillside Court and allow homeowners to manage it as a private road.
- Allow the homeowner in question to remove the gravel and plant grass as originally proposed. This would likely result in vehicles using driveways to turn around.
- Allow the homeowner to remove the gravel and plant grass and then have the city create a new gravel turnaround farther to the east. This would cost approximately $2,500.
- Pave the existing turnaround at a cost of $7,500.
- Plant trees near the gravel turnaround to filter dust created by traffic.
City Attorney Jessica Wood said the city could apply a special assessment to homeowners if it was decided to rebuild or extend the road. She noted this wasn’t necessarily a popular option, but sometimes property owners were willing to share the cost for roadwork if it meant improvements could be completed.
By consensus, the council decided to wait to make a decision until it had received feedback from other residents of Hillside Court. Czarnecki said he would get in touch with them.
Other Meeting Items
There was one other item on the agenda. It was a preventive maintenance agreement with Progressive Heating and Cooling for quarterly inspections and routine maintenance of the HVAC systems in the library and DPW building. Progressive has completed this work for many years, and its rates remain the same as last year: $1,592 for the library and $448 for the DPW building. Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the agreement.
In his city manager’s report, Burns said he looked into concerns raised at the last meeting about how anyone could access any resident’s water bill. After speaking with other communities, he found most have a similar set-up to Lowell’s software system and, legally, water bills are public records. Since title companies and banks regularly look up utility information, keeping the system as is would reduce the number of calls that need to be handled by the small staff in city hall.
The meeting wrapped up with councilmember comments, and Councilmember Leah Groves said she noticed “a lot of hate on social media.” It’s a trend she finds distressing. “Hate shouldn’t be tolerated here [in Lowell],” she said. “There is always common ground. We are all humans here.”
The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, August 2, at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.