City Council Recap: Talking About Trails, Tomatoes and Traffic

Lowell City Council met in open session for 50 minutes on Monday night. A trail easement, the Lowell Farmers’ Market and options to slow traffic on Riverside Drive were among the topics of discussion. All councilmembers were present, and there were no public comments.

Before diving into agenda items, though, councilmembers turned over the floor to Police Chief Chris Hurst to swear in the newest member of the Lowell Police Department: Keegan Neller. A 2018 graduate of St. Johns High School and a 2023 graduate of Ferris State University, Neller had previously interned with the LPD.

Hurst said he did such a good job as an intern that he told Neller to return for a job when he graduated, and the new officer did just that. Now that he has been sworn in, he will begin a field training officer program and work alongside other members of the department before being assigned to solo shifts.

Payment for Trail Easement Approved

Under old business, Lowell City Council unanimously approved payment of $94,978 to Grand Rapids Gravel for an easement and temporary grading permit. This will allow a trail extension to run through the company’s property on Bowes Road alongside the Grand River.

Dave Austin, a project manager from Williams & Works, has long been working to connect trails on the east and west sides of town. During Monday’s meeting, he explained that since the project included grant funds from the Michigan Department of Transportation, an appraisal for the easement was required. When that amount was presented to Grand Rapids Gravel, the company came back with a counteroffer that that the Lowell Area Recreation Authority board felt was “excessive.”

The recommended amount of $94,978 came about through negotiations and will provide a permanent easement as well as allow the company to do some advance mining in the area where the trail will be located.

Councilmember Eric Bartkus asked if the city alone was responsible for the cost of the easement. Austin replied that the trail was being funded through private donations and grants as well as contributions from the city and township. All the money was being placed into one pot and expenses were paid from that. Austin also said that according to his records, the city had committed $135,000 to the project although City Manager Mike Burns said he thought the city had pledged $100,000.

Chamber Requests: Street Closures, Fireworks and Farmers’ Market

The next three requests were all from the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce. They were as follows:

  • Permission to hold the annual fireworks display in conjunction with the 29th Annual Riverwalk Festival on Saturday, July 13, 2024.
  • Permission to close portions of Avery and Washington Streets for the Riverwalk Festival as well as to temporarily close Main Street as classic cars exit the festival.
  • Relocation of the Farmers’ Market to the north side of the library each Thursday.

All three requests were approved unanimously.

Shannon Kennedy, executive director of the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that the current location of the Farmers’ Market – in the Impact Church parking lot – attracts about 30-50 shoppers per day. She noted that people often requested a more walkable location, and moving the market to near the library on the same day as the Lowell Showboat Sizzlin’ Summer Concert series would achieve that goal.

People have also requested later hours, and Kennedy has proposed a time frame of 2pm-7pm. “I’d like the Farmers’ Market to be done when the concert begins,” she said.

Burns also said he liked the idea of having the market in conjunction with an event.

Credit Card Limit Increase

The City of Lowell has four credit cards available for use by authorized city officials. The four cards have a shared credit limit of $10,000 and are used by the Department of Public Works to buy items on Amazon or by city staff to cover conference expenses, according to Burns.

A review of the accounts payable information included in Monday’s meeting packet shows the cards have been used recently for expenses described as the following:

  • Communications
  • Community promotion
  • Miscellaneous expenses
  • Operating supplies
  • Office supplies

“We pay our credit card in full each month,” Burns said. He also added there was an audit system in place to ensure all charges are legitimate. Still, the cards have been maxed out on at least three different times in the past year, leading city officials to have to pay expenses out of pocket and request reimbursement.

Burns asked that the combined limit for the four cards be raised to $25,000, and councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the request.

Manager’s Report: Capital Projects, Brush Pick-up and Traffic Speeds

During his manager’s report, Burns provided an update on capital improvement projects.

“I have made a decision not to extend any utility lines on Kent Street,” Burns said. “It was a want, not a need…we’re not going to budget for it.” Instead, a water line project on Jefferson Street will be bumped up to 2025.

Burns also noted that the annual brush-pick event would happen again this year, but that only one pass through the city would be made to collect branches from the curbside. In addition, only branches six inches in diameter or smaller would be collected.

As for speed bumps, “I’ve made the decision (that) we’re not going to do it,” Burns said. He had apparently been considering the option but was not comfortable with the cost. The city manager worries that snowplows might damage permanent speed bumps in the winter. He also notes that fire trucks don’t do very well going over permanent speed bumps.

While there are temporary speed bumps that could be installed for the summer, these cost $6,000 apiece, and there is an additional $12,000 expense to install and remove them each year.

Bartkus noted that Riverside Drive residents had requested a speed bump be installed when roadwork is done there. It was his understanding that residents would be coming to a city council meeting to make the request.

That kicked off a discussion about how to slow traffic in town. With Burns not in favor of speed bumps because the cost would mean fewer roads could be paved each year, Councilmember Marty Chambers asked if maybe installing stop signs would help instead.

Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard was not in favor of that approach, saying that stop signs are meant for traffic control, not speed enforcement. Plus, if people don’t stop at the signs, then it could create a liability issue for the city.

Resident Beryl Bartkus suggested that perhaps the one-lane street could be reconfigured so half the road would be northbound and half would be southbound. Where the opposing traffic met, it could be funneled down a side street to Hudson. She reasoned that if traffic couldn’t travel northbound on the entire road, it would slow vehicles.

LaBombard added that there are many design options to narrow a road – even just visually – and slow traffic.

“We’ve just got to do this low-cost because we’ve got a lot of streets to pave,” Burns said.

At 7:50pm, councilmembers voted unanimously to go into a closed session “to consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”

Incidentally, last week was Sunshine Week, which is dedicated to promoting open governance and transparency by public bodies. In marking the occasion, John Elchert, president of the Michigan Press Association, noted:

Government transparency is not just a matter of ethics, but also of efficiency and effectiveness. When government officials operate in secrecy, it becomes more difficult for citizens to participate in the decision-making process and provide valuable input.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will be Monday, April 1, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.