A full agenda was on tap during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Between new business and old business, 10 items were presented to councilmembers. Highlights follow, but other items to note are the City website will go through a redesign and construction along Broadway will begin in early March.
The meeting was attended by approximately 15 people and lasted an hour and 41 minutes.
Lowell Area Recreation Authority Seeks Grants for Phase 2
Dave Austin of Williams and Works gave a presentation regarding Phase 2 of the Lowell Area Recreation Authority (LARA) trail. This phase will be an important component in connecting trails which enter and exit Lowell to the north and south.
The proposed route of the second phase would connect where current construction taking place on Alden Nash and continue to Bowes Road. It would travel along Bowes Road before turning south on Hudson then cross under the road into the fairgrounds. A series of bridges would be build in order to cross the Flat River utilizing the existing islands. Upon crossing the river, the trail will head north, then turn east on to Front Street, allowing for travelers to access downtown Lowell, and finally turn south on S. Division. The trail will continue south and eventually connect with the rail trail heading toward Saranac.
Austin also requested the City apply for a DNR Trust Fund grant, on behalf of LARA, to help with funding for the project. After applying monies potentially received from additional grants, and additional 25-30% of the overall $4,790,000 estimated project cost will remain. Fundraising will be the primary source of achieving the funds not covered by grants. However, because the portion of trail is necessary to connect a 125 mile network of trails, regional fundraising will take place.
Construction of Phase 2 still requires a great deal of planning, but the discussion of seeking and applying for grant money is an important step. And having a proposed route in place is beneficial when filling out applications.
Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce Marketing Survey Presentation
For more than a decade the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce has had a marketing committee composed of local business owners. The thought behind the creation of the group was to promote businesses together rather than individually. The group has been using $50,000 per year to help promote community businesses and events.
Cliff Yankovich of Chimera Design, Rick Seese of Greenridge Realty, and Chamber Executive Director Liz Baker each spoke during the presentation. Mike Sprenger of Springrove Variety also sits on the committee but was unable to attend the meeting. In 2005 and again in 2016 a marketing survey was distributed within the community. One hundred businesses were surveyed by phone and 800 residents received a survey by mail with a 43% net response rate, which is huge compared to typical rates that hover between 10-20%.
In 2017 the Lowell Area Chamber focused on a social media campaign as a means to market businesses, events, and the community as a whole after survey results indicated social media is where people go to get information. Through creating Facebook events, making a commercial, which was shared on social media, and remaining active online, the Chamber saw an increase in event knowledge and attendance. The 2017 Christmas Through Lowell was the biggest year to date. Additionally, growth in website activity was seen throughout the year.
The Marketing Committee is proud of what they have been able to accomplish with limited funds. They encouraged members of City Council to create a line item in the budget for marketing purposes. Rick Seese mentioned the need for professional marketing to aid in community growth. Look for a new video from the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce this spring showing some reasons why Lowell is the next place to be and raise a family.
LCTV Grant Funds from 2016 Redirected
In 2016, approximately 90 addresses throughout the city were identified as needing sidewalk replacements after an inspection was completed by then Interim Director of Public Works (DPW). The repairs were estimated at the time to cost $67,560. A grant from the Lowell Cable TV fund was sought and awarded in amount of $27,600 to offer assistance in replacing sidewalks. The City of Lowell would contribute 60% of the replacement cost and the property owner would be responsible for 40%.
A large number of the sidewalks needing replacement were in the jurisdiction of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Jeff Altoft, the Mayor at the time, recommended the authority assume financial responsibility for these sidewalks. The project was approved and sidewalks within the DDA area were replaced in Fall 2016.
Since then, no action has been taken to address the remaining identified sidewalks. DPW has also been under pressure to use the awarded grant. In a memo from DPW Director Rich LaBombard, he indicated the remaining properties identified have not been brought into compliance. He also mentioned he’s unsure if property owners were contacted, after the grant was awarded, with information regarding cost sharing for replacing sidewalks.
LaBombard sought City Council approval to reallocate the LCTV grant funds for use to make improvements on municipal property and install sidewalks within the city which will increase ADA accessibility. An example used was making drinking fountains at city parks more ADA accessible. The money would be used to benefit all residents via parks and public property improvements rather than benefiting individual property owners.
Councilmember Phillips asked if something would be done with the list of remaining properties identified in the original inspection. LaBombard indicated the list would be kept and should a property in need of sidewalk repair be sold, a requirement of sale would be bringing the sidewalk into ordinance compliance. Councilmembers unanimously voted to approve redirection of grant funds.
Medical Marijuana Hearing
A second hearing on the topic of allowing businesses which dispense medical marijuana within city limits took place during the meeting. Previously, City Council held a Committee of the Whole meeting to hear information about the pros and cons on the issue. Some councilmembers have also attended seminars to gain additional information. The first hearing took place in late November where numerous individuals spoke for and against dispensaries in Lowell.
During the second public hearing, four individuals spoke. Three were in favor of allowing dispensaries in Lowell and one was opposed. Following the close of the public hearing councilmembers each gave brief remarks on the issue.
Councilmember Phillips started the comment portion thanking those who have given an opinion over the past months. He continued on to say he supports the Chief of Police’s views on the topic, which are not in favor of allowing dispensaries in Lowell. Councilmember Chambers agreed with Phillips’ support of Chief Bukala’s opinion. He also mentioned concerns of whether allowing a medical marijuana dispensary would slow down growth of the community.
Councilmember Salzwedel indicated he had mixed feelings. He said he has watched specials on the issue as a way to educate himself. Councilmember Canfield also thanked those who have come to meetings to give an opinion. He indicated with some business owners speaking out against a dispensary in Lowell concerned him. He also questioned whether allowing a dispensary would put Lowell’s growth at risk saying he is hesitant over unknown risks.
Mayor Mike DeVore concluded council comments by saying the medical benefits of marijuana are not up for debate. He questioned whether or not allowing medicinal marijuana is right for Lowell.
In the end a motion was made, and seconded to direct City Attorney Dick Wendt to draft paperwork to opt out of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. The motion passed with a unanimous vote.
Board and Commission Opening and Appointments
Theresa Mundt was appointed to the Parks and Recreation Board. One vacancy remains on the Downtown Development Authority and two seats are open on the Planning Commission. Those interested in serving should contact City Hall.
The next City Council meeting will take place in Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall on Monday, February 5 at 7pm. Prior to this meeting, the rescheduled Committee of the Whole meeting will take place beginning at 5:30pm. City Manager Mike Burns will be presenting information to council and the public on options for generating revenue. Meeting minutes and agendas can be found on the city’s website. And meetings can be viewed on the city’s YouTube channel. Or check in with Lowell’s First Look after each meeting for a recap of what happened.
You can also listen to meetings live at WRWW the, Lowell High School’s radio station. Tune in at 92.3 or listen on their webpage during meetings.