Lowell Twp Planning Comm Recap: I-96 PUD, Outdoor Gathering Ordinance

The Planning Commission for Lowell Charter Township met for approximately two hours and 45 minutes on Monday night for their regular April meeting. Four commissioners, three township officials and five members of the public met in the township hall while others joined the meeting remotely using the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

The night’s agenda included discussions on reformatting township ordinances for digital publication, business plans at two sites and a first look at a revised outdoor gathering ordinance.

Reformatted Zoning Ordinance

The shortest agenda item of the night was a review of a newly reformatted zoning ordinance. Tim Johnson, the township planner, said no substantive changes were made to the ordinance, and it was simply reformatted to make it easy to read online. Hyperlinks within the ordinance will allow users to quickly jump to various sections or view the township zoning map.

Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the reformatted ordinance.

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I-96 Planned Unit Development

Next was a longer discussion about a planned unit development, otherwise known as a PUD, that will include commercial and industrial uses. Formally known as the I-96 PUD, the property includes a large section of land located west of Alden Nash Ave and running from Cascade Road to I-96.

If approved, the proposed I-96 PUD will replace in the ordinance an existing commercial PUD zoning district. It would allow primarily industrial uses, but up to 15% of the PUD could be used for commercial businesses such as office space and hotels. Some uses are prohibited though, such as adult entertainment establishments, salvage yards and slaughterhouses.

The Lowell Township Planning Commission has previously reviewed three drafts of the PUD ordinance, and Commissioner Scott Edwards noted that Johnson had done a good job of incorporating all the commission’s feedback.

“I couldn’t find anything wrong with it,” Edwards said. “It captured everything we had requested.”

Property owner Sid Jansma Jr. made some brief remarks thanking the commission for their work on the ordinance. Then, Gary Tamminga, director of facilities for Franklin Partners, addressed the commission. Franklin Partners is working with Jansma on the development.

“We’ve very excited to get some buildings in the air over there,” Tamminga remarked. He added that the developers would like to see the height requirement increased closer to the road. As written, the ordinance allowed buildings no taller than 35 feet within 100 feet of the roadway. Buildings farther back could be taller though.

Tamminga asked if the commission would consider increasing that height from 35 feet to a 45-foot “clear height.” The clear height refers to the distance from the floor to the bottom of the roof trusses. “That’s what we’re seeing in the marketplace,” he said. “We’d like that flexibility.”

That led to an extended discussion about the appropriate height of buildings, particularly along Cascade Road where neighbors may be located across the street. Commissioner Carlton Blough suggested a compromise of reducing the setback for taller buildings from 100 feet to 75 feet. The height of buildings would also be measured based on the exterior height, not the interior clear height as suggested by Tamminga.

Commissioners agreed and unanimously approved the I-96 PUD ordinance with that change. The ordinance now goes to the Lowell Charter Township Board for final approval.

Special Land Use Permit for Self-Storage Facility

David Dean discusses his business plans with the Planning Commission.

Under the unfinished business portion of the meeting, the commission continued a review of a site plan and special land use permit application for My Storage Great Lakes. This item has been discussed at several previous meetings.

Applicant David Dean owns a 3.1 acre parcel of land at the corner of Grand River Ave. and Jackson Street/Grand River Avenue, and he would like to build a self-storage facility with 70 units on the lot. Currently, the parcel has two buildings that house four other businesses including Noon Tire, Pro Seal and Sports Addix.

Johnson reviewed the site plan and noted there were some missing elements, such as a color rendering of the proposed building and details about parking. Dean, who was present for the meeting, discussed traffic patterns, current storage and future plans for the site with commissioners. He noted that he had never attempted a project like this before, and unfortunately, his engineer was traveling and did not make it back to Michigan in time to attend the meeting.

Planning commissioners provided feedback, and Johnson said the engineer was given a memo outlining the missing elements. Dean said he would work on getting updated plans to the commission for the May meeting.

Outdoor Gathering Ordinance

The final agenda item was a review of a proposed revision to the township’s outdoor event and assembly ordinance. The ordinance will ultimately need to be approved by the Township Board, but the Planning Commission was asked to provide their input.

During citizen comments at the start of the meeting, resident John Wenger, who joined remotely via Zoom, said he was surprised to see the ordinance on the evening’s agenda. He noted that he had been cited by the township for violations of the ordinance, and that at a recent court hearing, the township zoning administrator said the outdoor gathering ordinance had already been amended to cap gatherings at 25 people.

When the agenda item came up for review by the commission, Edwards expressed concern about the township trying to change an ordinance that was currently involved in a court case. “We can’t do anything with the document at this point, in my opinion,” Edwards said.

That led to a brief, tense exchange between Johnson and Wenger with Johnson saying that the zoning administrator was instructed by Judge Smolenski to bring a revised ordinance to the next court hearing and Wenger jumping in to say that was not true. Johnson cut off Wenger, saying he was the one talking.

“Whatever Mr. Wenger tells you is hearsay,” Johnson said. “What I want you to do is focus on the ordinance.”

However, Edwards was concerned that the commission had not been given clear instructions. “I don’t know the intent of what the board wants us to do,” he said. Edwards added that the last time the commission had been asked to get involved in a situation like this, it had turned unpleasant.

Johnson explained the current ordinance was drafted in 1973 in response to the Woodstock Festival. It requires permits for outdoor events that have an excess of 1,000 people in attendance. As for the intent in amending the ordinance, Johnson said, “The township board, I believe, wants to regulate smaller gatherings.”

Wenger was not asked to speak during the meeting, but afterward, he told Lowell’s First Look he believes the township is trying to make it illegal for him to hold gatherings on his property, which is known as Camp Clear Sky. Wenger says all events on his property are private now, but last year, he hosted several public events, including concerts for the virtual Fallasburg Arts Festival.

After some further discussion between Edwards and Johnson, Chair Dave Simmonds provided his feedback on the proposed ordinance. He felt that it would create a lot of work for the township board and the minimum number of attendees needed to trigger the provisions of the ordinance should be much higher than the suggested limits of 25, 50 or 75 people.

“There are eight pages of ‘this is what you’ve got to do’ to have an outdoor event,” he said holding up the ordinance. He thoughts residents would balk at meeting the requirements simply to have a gathering of 25 or 50 people.

Edwards agreed saying, “You’re not going to make someone jump through all those hoops for a small event.”

While birthday parties, graduation open houses and similar events were exempt from the provisions of the proposed ordinance, Simmonds wondered about the Kent County Youth Fair and sports tournaments that may be held at the Grand River Riverfront Park. Johnson thought the latter would be covered by the exemption granted to government-sponsored events on publicly owned property.

Johnson said he would relate the commissioner’s comments back to the township board.

The meeting adjourned at approximately 9:45pm. The next regular meeting of the Lowell Charter Township Planning Commission will be May 10 at 7pm.

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