City Council Recap: Two-Hour Parking Restored, Washington Property to be Annexed

On Monday night, Lowell City Council had only three pieces of business on their agenda but spent nearly two hours discussing them. All councilmembers were present for the meeting, and council chambers were filled with city and township residents as well as a large contingent of Boy Scouts. Most seats were filled with additional people standing in the back of the room.

The evening was marked by extensive back-and-forth dialogue with those in attendance, something not typically seen at council meetings. Those discussions centered on parking in the historic downtown and the fate of 990 N. Washington.

Citizen Comments

Before discussing agenda items, the floor was opened for citizens to speak on other issues.

Up first was resident Perry Beachum, who shared that he recently visited Colorado. He noted some communities there had extended the hours of their marijuana businesses to 11pm to increase their tax revenue. He thought this might be an idea for the city to consider if it wanted to increase the amount of money it received from marijuana excise taxes.

Beachum also noted that he had raised money several years ago to install a fence in Oakwood Cemetery. He understood that some money was left over from that project, and he suggested it could be used to construct a fence around the portable toilet located by the boat launch on the Riverwalk.

Finally, Beachum reminded everyone about the fundraiser scheduled for this Friday to support Doak Dean who was diagnosed with cancer last fall.

Next up was resident Eric Bartkus. He thanked City Manager Mike Burns for a column he submitted to the local newspaper which provided an update on various issues. Bartkus had read the article several times, thought it was useful information and appreciated the effort Burns put into writing it.

Update from Senator Thomas Albert

Michigan State Senator Thomas Albert was also present during the meeting to provide a legislative update from Lansing.

He noted that since last year, there have been “a lot of changes for me and for Lansing in general.” Albert was previously a State Representative and part of the Republican majority. Now, he is in a new chamber, and the Republican party is in the minority.

Albert first discussed recently passed tax reform bills that increase the earned income tax credit and decrease taxes on some pension income. He voted against it, explaining: “I don’t think it was fairly applied to all Michiganders.” Instead, he would have preferred to raise the personal exemption from $9,000 to $15,000.

He also noted that legislation was passed to repeal right-to-work and restore prevailing wage provisions in state law. He characterized the passage of these bills as “disappointing.” He said that he felt having a right-to-work law incentivized unions to be more responsive to workers.

Finally, he noted that the state had a $9.2 billion budget surplus but between the two tax reform bills and two supplemental spending bills, the state will have a deficit if executive budget recommendations are enacted as is. Among other things, those recommendations call for an increase in revenue sharing payments to local units of government.

Two-Hour Parking Restored on Main Street

A rendering of Main Street over the Lowell Meijer, shown for scale.

Downtown parking was the first piece of old business on the agenda. Earlier this year, Lowell City Council voted to eliminate the two hour limit on parking downtown and eliminate overnight parking on Main Street year-round. After businesses raised concerns, the issue of parking was put back on the agenda.

At their previous meeting, councilmembers seemed to agree to allow overnight parking on Main Street except during the winter months, although no vote was taken. This would bring the Main Street parking restrictions in alignment with those on other streets in the city. Apparently, there were also concerns about the permitting process for residents who need to park on Main Street, but Mayor Mike DeVore noted those concerns had been addressed.

That left one final issue to be considered: whether to restore the two-hour limit on parking downtown.

Burns said he contacted 16 other cities to see how they handled parking. “Really, it’s all over the map,” Burns shared. Of the cities that responded, some had time restrictions while others didn’t and most said enforcement was minimal.

City Clerk Sue Ullery read into the record two letters from downtown business owners. Michael Lowery, owner of Lowell Hemp Co, noted that he has customers with mobility issues and convenient parking is important for them. He supported reinstating the time limit. Karen Waid, owner of Flat River Antique Emporium, also thought the two-hour limit should be restored and encouraged the city to hire a parking enforcement officer.

City resident Karrie Scudder asked about putting meters on the streets as is done in Traverse City. “I don’t think businesses would be happy about that,” Burns replied.

Resident and business owner Greg Canfield asked what prompted the ordinance change. “Was there a problem we were trying to solve?” he asked. “If it’s not broke, let’s not change it.”

Kimball Dlouhy, whose wife and daughter operate Sweet Seasons coffee shop, felt that some sort of restriction should be in place to force turnover in parking. Otherwise, “people can park on the street for a week.”

Councilmember Leah Groves suggested a compromise of having a two-hour limit on Main Street but no limit for those parked in city lots. She felt that having short-term loading or pick-up zones, as had been suggested, would be a bigger adjustment for people.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel noted that he has been walking around downtown and has not seen that parking spots are all filled. “From 10-3, there are an awful lot of open spots,” he said.

“It…starts getting heavier at 4:30 to 5 o’clock,” said Councilmember Cliff Yankovich, who owns Chimera Design downtown. He explained that’s the time when spots start filling for those going to local restaurants.

DeVore thought meters would be an enforcement problem, and he was also not in favor of the two-hour limit. “I don’t think two hours is the answer because I think two hours is a deterrent,” he said. He and others have said in earlier meetings that a two-hour limit does not provide people enough time to shop and eat downtown.

Discussion then turned to whether there should be short-term spaces specifically for loading or picking up purchases. Salzwedel asked if Waid was present and if she could suggest what would be an appropriate time for these short-term spots. Waid and her husband, Ron Janowski, have been highly critical of the council’s decision to eliminate the two-hour limit. At previous meetings, it was mentioned that part of their concern was that people need convenient parking to load furniture from their store.

Although Waid was present in the audience, she did not reply to Salzwedel’s question. “Well, you tried,” DeVore said to Salzwedel after a brief, awkward silence.

In the end, a motion was made to reinstate two-hour parking in the historic downtown and add one 30-minute spot on each block in each direction. The motion passed on 3-2 vote.

Groves, Yankovich and Salzwedel voted yes while DeVore and Chambers voted no. Chambers did not make any comments during the discussion to indicate the reason for his vote although he had, at previous meetings, mentioned that he felt businesses lost customers because of the time limit.

North Washington Property to be Annexed

The second piece of old business on the agenda was a public hearing about 990 N. Washington. This is city-owned property located in Vergennes Township. For more than 40 years, a couple lived in a home on the property, but they were evicted last year as councilmembers decided they no longer wanted to be landlords.

Now, the question is what to do with the property, which is adjacent to Scout Park. There was extensive discussion on that topic during Monday’s meeting but everyone – councilmembers and audience members alike – seemed to agree that the property should be preserved as a natural space.

Former councilmember Sharon Ellison sent a letter urging Lowell City Council to fold 990 N. Washington into Scout Park. Two Vergennes Township residents also advocated for the property to be made parkland.

Gary Dietzel, who lived on the property for 43 years, thought the ground needed to be tested for contamination. Prior to Dietzel living on the property, it was used by Lowell Light & Power to store utility poles and other supplies. Dietzel said barrels of liquid were leaking into the ground at times as well. He also noted that there were Native American burial mounds near the property.

Later, Yankovich noted the city had already been planning to test the ground for contamination. Meanwhile, Salzwedel said he would like to confirm whether there are burial mounds there.

Resident Jake Davenport stood in support of renaming Scout Park after Bill Nowak, the first scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 102.

While there has been no public discussion about changing the name of the park, this is apparently something Chambers has been working on behind the scenes. “I would like to see the name changed down there,” he said after Davenport left the podium.

Apparently, Chambers has been in contact with the family of Ivan Blough to have the park named after him. Blough was a long-time supporter of the Boy Scouts and died tragically when he was mowing at the scout property and the tractor he was riding tipped over. “We do have the Bloughs’ blessing,” Chambers said.

“Marty and I have been talking about this for months,” DeVore added. “I don’t want this to be seen as a slight to the Boy Scouts.” He said he thought the current name of the park – Scout Park – might give people the impression that the property is only for the scouts and not accessible by the general public.

Chambers would also like to add parking to where the 990 N. Washington property is now along with a restroom and drinking fountain.

After discussion wrapped up, councilmembers voted unanimously to indicate their intent to incorporate 990 N. Washington and adjoining property into Scout Park after it has been annexed into the city. The vote was met with robust applause from those in attendance, something councilmembers noted had only happened once before.

Burns told Lowell’s First Look that the annexation process is relatively simple since the city owns the property and it borders the city limits. Once the buildings are removed from the site, Lowell City Council will need to pass a resolution which will then be sent to the Office of the Great Seal in Lansing for final approval.

Friends of the Library Storage Shed

Lowell City Council took a five-minute recess to let the room clear of those who were there only for the preceding agenda items.

When they reconvened, the final piece of business for the night was a request from the Friends of the Library to install a shed on library grounds that could be used for storage between book sales. The cost of the shed was less than $5,000 so Burns could authorize the purchase of a shed himself, but he wanted to get council approval for its placement on city property,

“I don’t see any issue with the Friends having a shed there,” Burns said.

Councilmembers agreed and voted unanimously to approve the request.

“Shall we applaud for that?” asked Denice Barker who was there on behalf of the Friends.

“Yes!” DeVore exclaimed, and the few people left in the audience happily clapped.

At 8:48pm, Lowell City Council ended their open session and went into closed session to discuss labor negotiations.

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, April 3, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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