Lowell City Council Discusses Community Gardens, Seeks Grant for Repaving Amity Street

Approximately half a dozen people were in the audience during last night’s City Council meeting.  The regular portion of the meeting went for an hour and a half before the group headed into closed session to discuss the purchase of property.  A full agenda consisted of revisions of city policies, community gardens, and a grant application for repaving a road.

Grant Sought to Replace Amity Street
City Council members approved the submission of an application for a Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Category B grant.  The maximum dollar amount for the grant is $250,000 with a minimum of 50% cash match.  Should the grant be awarded to the City, they would have to pay $500,000 and engineering fees on the project.  Amity from Main St. to Suffolk but would leave the section between Suffolk and Foreman untouched due to the additional cost.  

Part of the grant application includes an economic development section.  The City will indicate that repaving of Amity would benefit Litehouse, four Lowell Area Schools buildings, and it is a secondary north and south route on the west side of the river.  While a recent study has not been done, Chief Bukula commented that 700-800 cars typically travel this road daily during the school year according to past information.

City Council approved the submission of a grant application to MDOT.  It will likely be up to two months before the City knows whether all or any portion of the money being asked for will be awarded.  If money is awarded, work on the project would likely be completed in the fall or next spring.

Community Garden Discussion Results in Slight Change of Ordinance
The most discussion during the meeting came with the topic of community gardens.  After controversy surrounding the Help Yourself Garden last fall, ended with the resident, who has since moved out of the area, being asked to take out the garden after the end of the growing season, City Council took up whether or not any ordinance changes were necessary for whatever direction they hoped to take on the issue.  

The discussion started with City Attorney Dick Wendt addressing the two issues on the topic – what should be permitted in the right of way in residential areas and where community gardens should be allowed, if at all.  On the first point, much of the conversation centered around the height of anything growing in the right of way, which is the grassy area between the sidewalk and the street. It was determined that the language of the ordinance should be changed to indicate any kind of plant cannot exceed 12” in this area.  Currently the ordinance only mentions “weeds, grasses and undergrowth”. During the discussion, Chief Bukula mentioned snow piles in the right of way can also be an issue and some businesses this past winter were asked to reduce snow piles so drivers would be able to have a better line of sight, especially at corners.  It was unclear if the ordinance change will be presented at a later meeting for an official vote on the new language or if any kind of public hearing was needed.

Talk of the right of way also led to some brief comments about residential front and side yards along a sidewalk, where according to the current ordinance, the same “weeds, grasses, and undergrowth” is not permitted.  Councilmember Canfield mentioned up to three-foot fences are allowed in this area yet a bush over 12” could be considered in violation. Councilmember Yankovich questioned whether the residential front yard should be addressed with possible changes to the ordinance language.  While the consensus was this language was too strict, there was no change suggested nor was the issue passed to Planning Commission for further discussion and recommendation.

On the second issue, City Council did not make any changes to current ordinances.  Community gardens are not allowed in residential zoned areas of the city. They are allowed public facilities districts.  There is a community garden located at Creekside Park.

A memo from Williams&Works was also provided on the overall topic of community gardens and mentioned, but not reviewed or discussed during the meeting.  

Review of City Policies
Two policies were reviewed and slightly amended during the meeting along with approving a Fire Commission Membership revision.  All three were approved by councilmembers.

  • Purchase Policy – This was reviewed to align more with what Lowell Light & Power has in place.  This policy lays out the rules and restrictions on the City Manager’s ability to make purchases with or without approval.  It was approved with the caveat that the exemption section for legal services and consulting engineering services would be changed to 15% to fall in line with LL&P, suggested by Councilmember Canfield.  
  • Tax Abatement Policy – In the past it was brought up that businesses seeking tax abatement should have to pay an application fee to help offset administrative work in processing the paperwork.  A fee of $250 will be required with the application to create an Industrial Development District needed to obtain tax breaks. Another fee of $600 will also be required in order to obtain an industrial facilities exemption certificate.  Additionally, a point system was set up so businesses seeking this abatement have a more defined process to know how many years the abatement will be in place. The points scored equals the number of years not to exceed 12. The tax abatement policy was approved unanimously.  
  • Fire Commission Member Contract Revision – The City of Lowell is part of the Kent County Fire Commission.  The Lowell Fire Authority purchases some items from this group. After review of the revisions, City Manager Mike Burns did not see anything of concern.  In a unanimous vote council accepted the revisions.

Bowes Road Property Rezoned
The sale of 2560 Bowes Road to Lowell Township also requires rezoning so it may be used for purposes intended.  During their March meeting the Planning Commission approved and recommended to City Council rezoning the land from industrial to public facility.  This will allow Lowell Township to allow Vergennes Broadband to use part of the land while they use another portion as a small extension of their new park.  

City Manager Report
City Manager Mike Burns started by saying with the success of the branch pick up last week that city employees would begin a food delivery service for residents.  They would be able to order food from local restaurants which would then be delivered by staff. This new service would be set up similarly to what Portland, Michigan recently announced.  Not too far into the announcement it was clear that it was an April Fools joke.

Proposed statue of Mayor DeVore.
Roundabout Training Center at Recreation Park.

This was preceded by Councilmember Yankovich indicating a portion of Recreation Park would be dedicated to the creation of a roundabout training facility with a prominent statue of Mayor DeVore marking the territory.  The announcement was a follow-up to the City’s plans for adding a roundabout and tolls in an ambitious road plan announced earlier in the day.

However, in more serious news from the City Manager, he indicated he has begun working on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  A budget workshop will take place on April 27. It is anticipated that an increase to the general fund will be seen. The DDA is also expected to be able to take on paying bond payments for City Hall due to an increase in revenue.  Budget details will continue to develop over the next few months.

Burns also recently attended a work group on the topic of recreational marijuana facilities where cities and other municipalities were able to gather and share information.  One piece of information shared was on the medical marijuana side where a lottery system was used to select which businesses could establish a facility, some municipalities are now faced with possible litigation from those who were not chosen.  Burns also mentioned it is anticipated that the state will help with compliance once rules have been established and businesses start seeking permits.

Burns will also be working with City Attorney Dick Wendt to provide preliminary verbiage for the City income tax which will be on November’s ballot.  

Meeting Information
City Council will meet again on Tuesday, April 16 at 7pm on the second floor of City Hall.  Meeting agendas, packets, and recordings can be found on the Lowell City website.  Or check in with Lowell’s First Look for recaps following each meeting.

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