Planning Commission Recap: Building Approved, Gravel Mining Discussed

At its meeting last Monday, October 12, the Lowell Planning Commission spent two hours discussing two agenda items. First, they reviewed a site plan for a building on S. West Street and then took a look at a new application for a gravel mining operation along Bowes Road. All commissioners, except Colin Plank, were present for the meeting.

Building OK’d for S. West Street

Under old business, the planning commission took a second look at the site plan for a building proposed for a vacant lot on S. West Street behind the Speedway gas station.

The site plan was originally brought before the commission last month. While the applicant has stated his intent to use the building for a recreational marijuana facility in the future, he has not yet applied for a permit for that use.

“This application is a little bit different in that usually there is a specific use that proposed at the same time as the site plan,” said Andy Moore, a consultant to the planning commission from engineering firm Williams & Works.

In this case, the planning commission was asked to only review the building to ensure it complied with zoning standards. If the applicant later decides not to apply for an adult use marijuana business license, the building could be used for any purpose allowed in the zoning district, such as office or retail space.

During their last meeting, commissioners had concerns with some aspects of the site plan such as missing parking dimensions and the absence of screening along the south side of the property. Their concerns were addressed satisfactorily by the applicant during Monday’s meeting, and the site plan was approved unanimously.

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Gravel Mining Operation Proposed on Bowes Road

The remainder of the meeting was spent reviewing a gravel mining operation proposed by Grand Rapids Gravel. The company owns nearly 64 acres between Bowes Road and the Grand River. The property, which is zoned for industrial use, runs from the city’s water facility to the border with Lowell Township.

James Dykema was present on behalf of Grand Rapids Gravel and explained that the business was planning a 10-year gravel mining operation that would provide gravel for concrete as well landscapers. At the conclusion of the project, the company would create a 22-24 acre lake that would have a depth of 12 to 14 feet. Plans call for the lake to be surrounded by condominiums or single family homes, depending on the market conditions at the time.

Grand Rapids Gravel created Versluis Lake and its surrounding houses, located off Northland Drive in Plainfield Township, after a previous mining operation. Dykema added the company currently has a gravel mining operation on West River Drive/Cannonsburg Road that is similar to what is being proposed for Lowell.

“There’s only a couple districts in the city where this activity is allowed,” Moore noted. He added that the site plan application was largely complete although some setback and other information was needed.

Dykema said the company was looking at moving a planned berm back 50 feet to keep the vegetation along Bowes Road largely as it is now. When the mining operation is in progress, there would be stockpiles of material 25 to 30 feet in height behind the berm.

Dust is a common concern about gravel mining operations, but Dykema says Grand Rapids Gravel washes all their product and dust has not been a problem at their other sites.

Dave Austin from Williams & Works was also present and mentioned a planned trail that would go along the southern end of the property. This would require a 20-foot easement and will connect trails on the east and west ends of town.

“If it weren’t for Grand Rapids Gravel being cooperative with us on this route then the whole trail couldn’t happen,” Austin said.

Commissioner Marty Chambers raised a concern about the operation being so close to the city’s water facility. The documentation indicated it could lower by two feet the water in the city’s well, and Chambers worried that it might impact the city’s water quality. In a memo provided by Moore, an engineer from Williams & Work also noted concern about the proximity of the operation to the city water source. The consensus on the commission appeared to be for Grand Rapids Gravel and engineers from Williams & Works to investigate this issue further.

At approximately 9pm, the commission decided to adjourn and finish their review of the application at their November meeting. However, before they did so, a representative of Grand Rapids Gravel noted there was supposed to be a public hearing on the matter and asked if the commission could formally open and close the hearing.

“I will do so,” Chair Bruce Barker said in response. “I will open the public hearing, and I will close the public hearing.” There was no pause for public comments to be taken, and the commission then immediately adjourned.

Lowell’s First Look was unable to find any notice of the public hearing on the City of Lowell website. There was also no mention of the public hearing on the meeting agenda. Emails were sent to Barker, Moore and City Manager Mike Burns about this matter. Burns responded to say that proper notice of the hearing was placed in the newspaper of record and notices were issued to property owners within 300 feet of the Grand Rapids Gravel site. “It is my understanding the agenda didn’t mention the public hearing by accident,” he wrote.

The next meeting of the City of Lowell Planning Commission will take place on Monday, November 9, at 7pm.

This article was updated at 4:15pm on October 19th with information from City Manager Mike Burns regarding the notice for the public hearing.

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