City Council Recap: Variance Approved, Pride Event Discussed

Lowell City Council met in open session for approximately 90 minutes last night as it conducted two meetings. Members first convened as the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider a variance request and then held a regular meeting as Lowell City Council. All members were present for both meetings.

Thank you to our advertisers.

Variance Request for Accessory Building Approved

In the City of Lowell, councilmembers also serve as the Zoning Board of Appeals, and this board is responsible for considering variance requests. A variance is a permanent exception to a provision of the city’s zoning ordinance.

In this case, Bernie and Carolyn Diekevers were requesting to build a 2,000 square foot accessory building at their home at 2212 Gee Drive. Since the ordinance limits accessory buildings to 1,200 square feet, a variance was needed to allow them to proceed with their plan.

Carolyn Diekevers, who was present at the meeting, noted that the couple’s property was 11.6 acres, and the building would be behind their house. It would not be visible from the road and no trees would need to be removed from the property to facilitate its construction.

Councilmember Jim Salzwedel serves as the ZBA chair and asked Andy Moore, a consultant to the city from firm Williams & Works, to review the process for approving a variance. Moore noted there are six standards that must be met in order to approve a variance. In his analysis, he felt that there was a question as to whether two of the standards had been met.

Those standards were regarding whether the property had an exceptional characteristic that made compliance with the ordinance difficult and whether the planning commission should consider changing the ordinance to address the situation presented in the variance request.

“What comes to my mind is the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law,” said Councilmember Cliff Yankovich. He didn’t have a problem with allowing a larger accessory building at this location.

Two neighbors spoke during the public hearing on the variance request. One was looking for information about where the building would be located on the property. The other wanted to ensure the building would not appear commercial. Diekevers said a siding would be used on the accessory building that would match her home’s exterior.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the variance request. They also directed the Planning Commission to consider whether a change should be made to the ordinance to allow larger accessory buildings on larger residential parcels.

Officer Ian Shears Receives Meritorious Service Citation

The Zoning Board of Appeals meeting adjourned at 7:25pm, and councilmembers reconvened a few minutes later as Lowell City Council. The first order of business for this meeting was a presentation by Police Chief Chris Hurst.

Hurst invited Officer Ian Shears to the front of the room and noted that Shears has been with the department for four years. Hurst described him as a “triple threat,” noting he is licensed as a police officer, EMT and firefighter. He added that Shears has handled three unusual and difficult situations during the past year:

  • He set spike strips to stop a fleeing vehicle that was entering the City of Lowell. When the vehicle was disabled, he helped apprehend the occupants who attempted to flee on foot.
  • He responded to a call of a suicidal subject who had harmed himself and was locked inside a residence. Shears was able to get family members to safety, gain entry to the residence and get medical attention for the individual.
  • He conducted a well-being check on a person who became combative and began choking Shears from behind. Shears was able to taser the person to release his hold and then deescalate the situation while waiting for additional help.

“He is an example of cool under fire,” Hurst said. For outstanding service, Shears was awarded a Meritorious Service Citation.

Right-of-Way Permit Fees

Last month, local businessman Greg Canfield questioned an increase in the permit fee required of those working in the city’s right-of-way. These fees were previously $50 but raised to $250 in 2022. Canfield also presented a section of law he interpreted to mean that fees couldn’t exceed a government’s costs.

At last night’s meeting, City Attorney Jessica Wood said the statute presented by Canfield applied to the county and not the city. Dan Czarnecki, director of the Department of Public Works, also presented a proposal to create a three-tier permitting fee structure.

The three tiers would be as follows:

  • $50 for right-of-way access such as curb cuts, sidewalks and driveway approaches
  • $150 for work on city utilities such as water and sewer lateral lines
  • $250 for franchise utilities such as gas and telecommunications

Canfield felt work on city utilities usually only required a single visit by DPW workers as opposed to the multiple visits that may be required for a driveway. He thought the cost should be closer to the $50 charged for right-of-way access work.

“I see his point, but we’re not doing anything out of the ordinary,” said City Manager Mike Burns. Earlier in the meeting it was noted that other municipalities have fees in the same range as those suggested by Czarnecki.

Councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the three-tier system as presented.

After the vote, Canfield asked if he could pull a county permit for work conducted on county roads, such as Hudson Street. Czarnecki replied that if work was being done on city utilities, then a city permit was required.

Lowell Pride Request Spurs Discussion About Profanity

Under new business, Lowell Pride requested parking spaces on the vacated section of High Street north of the library be closed to allow vendors to set up during the Pride event scheduled for June 3. However, before a vote was taken on that request, a lengthy discussion ensued about the use of profanity on the Showboat stage.

Yankovich started the discussion by addressing Lowell Pride board president Nicole Lintemuth, who was in attendance. He noted he had previously attended a board meeting for Lowell Pride to express concerns about “language on the stage and a particular vendor.”

“We have created guidelines for the main stage for any of our acts that are on there to make sure that they are meeting all our standards as a board for what we’re trying to be and do,” Lintemuth replied. “As for our vendors…we’re not going to police what everybody brings…as long as it’s a legal item that’s for sale in the State of Michigan.”

“That seems like a vague answer,” Yankovich said. He clarified that the vendor in question was selling pipes made in the shape of genitalia and that swearing on the stage was not allowed during the Showboat concert series.

“Obviously, anybody who knows me knows my language is peppered on the regular, but I don’t get up on the stage and show my vocabulary,” Yankovich added. He was concerned because the event was promoted as family-friendly, but he didn’t think the pipes and the language were family-friendly.

Councilmember Marty Chambers said he would like to think that Lowell Pride would pull someone off the stage if needed.

Lintemuth reiterated that Lowell Pride had its own standards but, “When it comes to using swear words (and) things like that, everybody has their own standards…” She added that in its guidelines, Lowell Pride asks people not to be harmful or hateful with their language.

Several councilmembers and residents pointed out that the amplification system at the stage means noise travels down the river and across the neighborhood.

“I can hear that stage clearly at my house,” said Susan Stevens, who lives on Jefferson Street. She noted that several of her neighbors have young children who play outside. “They can hear that language, and they aren’t attending that event. That’s a problem.”

Stevens added that she attended the event last year and enjoyed the atmosphere but felt the language on the stage detracted from it. She also felt that sexually explicit items should not be for sale.

Perry Beachum, who resides on Riverside Drive, agreed that sound travels up the river, meaning even those far away from the stage can hear it.

On the other hand, Councilmember Leah Groves said she was working in the kids’ area at last year’s event and it was difficult to hear what was happening on the stage because the children in the area were so loud.

“I’ve never had a moment of firm uncomfortableness from inappropriateness at Pride,” she said. “If we’re going to start to put boundaries around what it means to be a good neighbor, we have to do that really, really carefully.”

Craig Fonger, president of the Fallasburg Historical Society, said his non-profit had a booth last year because the event had been marketed as family-friendly. “Personally, I’m proud that we have this event here,” he said. However, because of concerns about language, the society will not have a booth this year.

As far as the vendor items, Lintemuth did not think it was feasible for Lowell Pride to police the items being sold. Yankovich replied that he knew of at least two occasions when the Fallasburg Arts Festival had sent vendors home because their items did not meet the event’s guidelines. Therefore, he felt it could be done, assuming the organizers want to.

Mayor Mike DeVore expressed frustration by what he felt were evasive answers from Lintemuth. He said the council has been very supportive of Lowell Pride but felt Yankovich’s concerns were being “blown off.”

Burns suggested having guidelines that would be applicable for all organizations using city property. Salzwedel said that councilmembers needed to be cognizant that people have free speech as well. Wood noted that there were Constitutional issues to consider, but that didn’t prohibit the city for creating guidelines for the use of public spaces.

Kelsey Krupp, a resident of Gee Drive, said she was happy to learn that Lowell had a Pride event when she moved to the community. She shared that she had gone to the events in the past, and “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone uncomfortable or not having a good time.”

She also suggested that if the city was going to make guidelines, it should spell out what words are prohibited since different words may mean different things to various people.

At the end of the discussion, it was decided that Burns and Wood would work together to develop guidelines for the use of city property. The council also voted unanimously to approve the road closure for the June Pride event.

After the meeting, the Lowell Pride Board of Directors sent the following statement to Lowell’s First Look in regards to the evening’s discussion:

Lowell Pride is committed to creating a safe and welcoming space for all people. We addressed any concerns following last year’s event by creating guidelines for Vendors and Stage performers. We trust that the City Council will be as positive about this year’s event as they have been in the years past.

Other Meeting Items

Other news from Monday’s meeting included the following:

  • Councilmembers unanimously approved the creation of 15-minute parking spots in the historic downtown. There will be one space, located mid-block on every block, intended for pick-up and loading.
  • Work will begin on Monroe Street on June 5, 2023. Construction crews have been notified not to work during the summer concerts or Riverwalk Festival.
  • The buildings at 990 N. Washington have been demolished, paving the way for the property to be annexed.
  • Czarnecki will be retiring on July 21, 2023.

Lowell City Council went into closed session at 8:27pm to “consider material exempt from discussion or disclosure by state or federal statute.”

The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Monday, May 15, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.