City Council Recap: Trees on Bowes Rd Spur Discussion About Arbor Board

Lowell City Council meet for just more than an hour last night to discuss nine pieces of business. Most items were moved through quickly, but plans by Lowell Light & Power to remove trees on Bowes Road spurred a longer discussion about the role of the Arbor Board and whether it was still needed.

All councilmembers were present for the meeting.

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Citizen Comments: Two Letters

During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, City Clerk Sue Ullery read two letters into the record.

The first was from resident Joanne Miller who shared, among other things, her support for making 990 N. Washington a part of Scout Park.

The second letter was from former councilmember Jim Pfaller. He asserted that when councilmembers were elected more than a decade ago on the platform of turning the Boy Scout cabin and property into a park, that effort was funded by Vergennes Township residents who live in the area. He added that it had long been an issue for him that township residents use city parks without paying for their maintenance.

“We have so much park land, and no funds to improve it,” Pfaller wrote.

Police Car Purchase Approved

Buying a new vehicle for the Lowell Police Department has turned into something of a saga.

In April 2022, Lowell City Council approved the purchase of a new police cruiser from Signature Ford. However, that vehicle was delayed indefinitely because of a chip shortage and the special paint color needed.

Then, in November 2022, the Lowell Police Department learned of a used vehicle available from Western Michigan University Department of Public Safety. That agency was switching to another style of vehicle, and the 2021 Ford Interceptor they were selling would meet the needs of the Lowell department.

Councilmembers gave their blessing to purchase the used vehicle, but in the meantime, the Lowell Police Department received word that the new vehicle from Ford had actually been completed.

“Ford called at the last minute and said, your car is in,” Police Chief Chris Hurst explained.

So last night, councilmembers again approved purchase of the new vehicle – a 2023 Ford Interceptor hybrid – at a cost of $48,562 plus $390 for graphics. The vote was unanimous.

Hurst also noted that, in the future, the department will likely begin to convert its vehicles to black since that color is more readily available.

Parking Ordinance Changed

Councilmembers unanimously approved a change to the city’s parking ordinance. The changes include the following:

  • Overnight parking is prohibited in city lots between 2am-6am from November 1 to March 31, unless a parking permit has been issued by the Chief of Police.
  • Overnight parking between 2am-6am is prohibited year-round on Main Street from Hudson Street to Jefferson Street.
  • The two-hour parking limit on Main Street is eliminated.

Tree Removal on Bowes Road Discussed

City Manager Mike Burns read a lengthy memo detailing concerns with trees along Bowes Road and the role of the Arbor Board.

Apparently, 25 trees on Bowes Road were slated for removal by Lowell Light & Power. These trees run from the entrance of Stoney Lakeside Park to the water treatment plant and are located directly beneath the power lines. It is believed that these trees will reach a height of 40 to 70 feet while the power lines are located about 30-35 feet above the ground.

“From a reliability standpoint, it’s a critical (power) line,” said Charlie West, general manager for LLP.

Burns said he was reminded by city staff that a city ordinance requires a tree to be planted whenever one is removed. It was also believed that the Arbor Board was responsible for approving the removal of any trees.

However, after further investigation, Burns discovered the ordinance actually gives the city manager authority to approve tree removals without consulting the Arbor Board. In the course of investigating this matter, it was also mentioned that the 25 trees slated for removal had originally been planted by the Arbor Board.

That led to discussion about why the board authorized the planting of large trees under power lines. Burns said he had been in touch with someone who had been involved in the planting and was told a certified arborist had been consulted at the time.

Burns got in touch with that arborist who said they believed the trees could be pruned rather than removed. However, it is still the opinion of LLP that the trees should come down and pruning is not cost-effective.

Further discussion revolved around whether the city needed a separate Arbor Board or whether it could be incorporated into the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Councilmembers agreed to consult with the Arbor Board for their feedback and revisit the issue at a future meeting.

Meanwhile, Burns said LLP agreed to prune the trees this year with the understanding that the city would pursue a grant to purchase smaller trees, shrubs and/or bushes that could be used to replace them next year.

Other Meeting Items and Action

The following also occurred during Monday’s meeting:

  • Peter Haefner of accounting firm Vredeveld Haefner LLC presented the findings of the city’s annual audit. Nothing irregular was noted. “Overall positive change in the bottom line across the board,” Haefner said.
  • Councilmembers unanimously approved a police cost recovery ordinance which will allow the department to charge for services in certain circumstances, such as excessive false alarms.
  • Councilmembers approved a request for an off premises tasting room license. This license was originally approved last year to allow Red Barn Mercantile (formerly Red Barn Antiques & Consignment) to have a tasting room for Love Wines. However, the application needed to be resubmitted to the state in the name of Love Wines, and that necessitated another vote from Lowell City Council. All members voted in support, with Councilmember Marty Chambers – who owns Red Barn Mercantile – abstaining.
  • Councilmembers unanimously approved transfer of ownership of the Lowell Showboat to the non-profit Lowell Showboat VI. It was always planned that a non-profit would be created to own and manage the boat.
  • The city has a $200,000 fund balance surplus, and Burns recommended directing $100,000 to pay for the city’s unfunded pension liabilities and $100,000 to the local street fund. The latter will allow work on Shepard Dr. to be completed in 2023. Burns also noted that the city has completed work on 18 streets since 2020. His recommendation for the fund balance surplus was unanimously adopted.
  • Councilmembers unanimously approved an extension of a use agreement with Lowell Little League. The agreement allows the organization to use city fields at a cost of $8 per day per field for a total of $5,200 per year.
  • Burns noted that people have been seen walking and playing hockey on the Flat River ice. He reminded everyone that the ice is not stable, and it is particularly dangerous close to the dam.

The meeting adjourned at 8:09pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Tuesday, February 21, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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