Lowell councilmembers had two meetings last night and a long list of business items to consider, but they managed to move through the agenda at a brisk pace. In total, the meetings lasted about 70 minutes, and all councilmembers were present.
For residents, the item that may have the most immediate direct impact was an announcement during the city manager’s report that the city would impose watering restrictions this summer in response to increased demand in Lowell Charter Township.
More on that below, but first, here’s a look at other meeting highlights.
New Full-Time Officer Sworn In
Before the meetings officially convened, Police Chief Chris Hurst made a brief presentation introducing Jessalyn Heard as the newest full-time officer with the Lowell Police Department.
Heard is currently a part-time officer and has been a familiar face patrolling the social district. She has also been previously lauded for going above and beyond the call of duty.
City Clerk Sue Ullery led Heard in the Oath of Office which Hurst followed with an Oath of Honor. Heard will begin her full-time duties in two weeks.
ZBA Approves King Milling Variance Request
For its first meeting of the night, Lowell councilmembers convened as the Zoning Board of Appeals to consider a variance request from King Milling Company. Some communities maintain separate ZBAs, but in Lowell, the council also serves as the ZBA. Its chair is Councilmember Jim Salzwedel.
King Milling Company was before the Planning Commission earlier in the month for a review of its site plan to build a new mill and truck loadout on an existing parking lot adjacent to S. Broadway Street. Parking from that lot, along with three additional spaces, will be relocated to a different lot off S. Broadway.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan with the condition that the company receive a setback variance. The proposed building will be seven feet from the road while the ordinance requires a 50-foot setback.
“We were a little surprised to learn from our planner that there was a 50-foot setback,” Jim Doyle, senior vice president for King Milling, said during the ZBA meeting. He noted that other King Milling buildings are constructed almost to the lot line, and the vast majority of traffic along S. Broadway is related to the business.
For a variance to be passed, ZBA members must find that six standards are met. The board voted 4-1 to approve the variance request with Mayor Mike DeVore being the lone no vote.
After the meeting, DeVore told Lowell’s First Look that he did not feel as though the third standard – which related to whether the variance was needed to preserve property rights – was met since the company did not specify why it couldn’t move the building back to meet the 50-foot setback. He noted that he would have supported the variance otherwise, but the ordinance requires all six standards must be met for a yes vote.
Line Shack Purchase Agreement Terminated
After concluding their ZBA meeting, councilmembers convened as Lowell City Council. The first piece of business was to issue a request for proposals for the former Lowell Light & Power line shack on Riverside Dr.
Last fall, the council entered into a purchase agreement with GBR Investments for purchase of the property for $100,000. The company – which also owns local businesses including Big Boiler Brewing and Superior Lofts – was chosen from six applicants and planned to remove the line shack and construct a mixed-use building on the property.
“At last council meeting, council decided to terminate the agreement,” City Manager Mike Burns said.
This vote was taken after a closed session, according to meeting minutes, and there does not appear to be any public discussion or statement regarding the reason for the termination. However, on at least one occasion, some councilmembers expressed frustration at the slow progress of the project and a request that the city provide a local match for a grant program being pursued by the developers.
On Monday, councilmembers voted unanimously to begin a new bid process that should have a different project selected by mid-August.
Budget Amendments and Street Improvements
Typically, councilmembers approve budget amendments annually as the city nears the end of its fiscal year. The budget amendments approved last night reflect higher-than-expected revenue from state income tax and the city’s marijuana establishments. The major change on the expense side was a $125,000 payment toward the city’s pension liabilities which is being taken from the fund balance.
Burns also noted that the bids for roadwork on four streets in the Valley Vista neighborhood came in much lower than expected. As a result, the city has an extra $106,000 available. Burns received an estimate of $173,923 to add sections of N. West Street, Church Street and Elizabeth Dean Drive to the project. The city manager said the city had funds available to cover the additional $68,000, and councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the additional work.
Industrial District Established, Tax Credit Approved
Under new business, Lowell City Council held two public hearings regarding industrial sites.
First, they considered a request from Attwood to create an industrial development district for its property at 1016 N. Monroe. The district is required if the business wants to later apply for an industrial facility tax credit. A representative from Attwood said there are no definite plans at this time but having a district in place would make the Lowell property more attractive should the company decide to expand in the future.
No public comments were made during the hearing, and councilmembers voted unanimously to approve the district.
Then, a public hearing was held for an industrial facility tax credit for King Milling’s expansion. An industrial development district was created for the business in 2019, and the company previously received a credit for an earlier expansion.
The new addition is a $42 million project which Burns said, to his knowledge, is the largest investment ever in the City of Lowell. It is anticipated that it will create 6-12 new permanent jobs. The requested tax credit would provide a 50% abatement on real and personal property taxes related to the new property.
Councilmember Cliff Yankovich said he initially wasn’t thrilled with the idea of granting tax abatements. However, since meeting with company representatives and learning about the benefits of having their business in town, he is supportive. There was also brief discussion about clawback provisions that would allow the city to rescind the credit if conditions, such as job creation, were not met.
No public comments were made during the hearing, and councilmembers voted unanimously to approve a 12-year abatement.
City Manager Employment Agreement Approved
With no discussion, councilmembers voted unanimously to approve a new employment agreement for Burns. This apparently was also a topic covered in the closed session held earlier in June.
The new agreement sets Burns salary as follows:
- $111,000 for fiscal year 2022-2023
- $116,550 for fiscal year 2023-2024
- $122,378 for fiscal year 2024-2025
The agreement also states that Burns shall receive a motor vehicle allowance of $600 per month “as compensation for the business use of his personal vehicle.”
Cameras to be Installed at City Parks
Extensive vandalism forced the city to close the restrooms at Stoney Lakeside Park, and councilmembers unanimously approved spending $9,174 to install security cameras at both Stoney Lakeside and Creekside Park.
“I’d like to say how disappointing it is that we are even sitting here discussing putting cameras in the parks and facilities that we try so hard to maintain,” DeVore said.
The cameras will be installed by Lowell-based Entrance Technologies which is also donating two free maintenance visits each year. The cameras will be able to store 30 days’ worth of data and will have 360-degree views of the restrooms.
Water Restrictions in Place for Summer
During his city manager’s report, Burns shared that over the weekend, the city had two average days in which 680,000 gallons of water were sent to Lowell Charter Township customers.
“Our tank that goes to Lowell Township holds 500,000 gallons a day,” he said, adding that if the water plant runs 24 hours a day, the maximum output would be 840,000 gallons a day. “The issue we’re facing is that this is really taxing the water treatment plant.”
Burns reached out to the township, and they agreed to institute an odd/even outdoor watering system. This would mean people with odd numbered street addresses could water their lawns on odd numbered days and those with even numbered addresses on even days.
“Come to find out, our water agreement that we approved with them in 1992 states that if there is a water ban in the township, the city shall also follow the same restrictions,” Burns explained. As a result, the city will also be instituting an odd/even watering system.
Notices to city water customers should go out this week. The restriction does not apply to those who use their own well water.
Other Meeting Business and Discussion
Other votes from the meeting are as follows:
- Councilmembers unanimously approved a lease for the Lowell Rotary Club to continue to use City Hall for its weekly meetings.
- Councilmembers unanimously declined to purchase 605 Grindle, a property being foreclosed on by Kent County because of non-payment of taxes. By law, the local municipality is given the first chance at purchasing foreclosed property.
- Councilmembers unanimously approved a rezoning request for property being considered for a future Scooter’s Coffee business.
The meeting adjourned at 8:11pm. The next regular meeting of Lowell City Council will take place on Tuesday, July 5, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.