Planning Commission Recap: East Side of Town may be Off-Limits for Marijuana Businesses

During its regular June meeting on Monday, the Lowell Planning Commission gave its ok to a renovation of the Betten Baker GMC dealership. They also recommended that Lowell City Council limit recreational marijuana establishments to the west side of town.

All commissioners were present for the meeting which ran approximately an hour and a half. The meeting was held in-person at City Hall with the option for people to also log-in from home via the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

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Betten Baker GMC Changes Approved

The majority of the meeting involved discussion regarding changes to the Betten Baker GMC dealership on W. Main Street.

Currently, the dealership has a used car lot on the south side of Main Street and a new car lot on the north side of the street. The renovation will flip the two lots and build a new car showroom and service facility on the south side of the road.

“We evaluated whether we move the…facility outside of town or stay here, and we’ve opted to stay in town,” said Charlie Jeffrey, general manager for Betten Baker GMC, during his comments to the commission. “The town has been very supportive of the dealership, and we want to be supportive of the city.”

As part of approving the dealership’s plans, the planning commission had to rezone a vacant parcel located between the existing used car lot and the railroad tracks to the east. A special land use permit also needed to be approved for an open air business. Both the rezoning request and special land use permit required public hearings, which were held during the Monday meeting.

A resident who lives adjacent to the parcel planned for rezoning commented during the public hearing about his concerns with light pollution. He noted Zeigler Ford of Lowell, which is located down the street in Lowell Charter Township, installed LED lights which are “blinding,” and he didn’t want similar lights illuminating his property and neighborhood. He also worried about run-off from the property going into Lee Creek if trees are removed.

The Betten Baker plans call for lighting to be 100% cut-off and downward facing to avoid light pollution. Joining from Zoom, Chris Miller, a neighboring property owner and president of the Grand Rapids Amateur Astronomical Association, said later in the meeting that lighting at the Betten Baker Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership down the road was quite good in terms of minimizing light pollution. If the Betten Baker GMC lot will use the same lighting fixtures and bulbs, he felt light encroachment shouldn’t be a problem.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the rezoning request, special land use permit for an open air business and the overall site plan. The commission attached more than a dozen conditions to their approval including requirements for landscaping, fencing and noise reduction measures.

Recommendation to Limit Marijuana Businesses

The last agenda item during Monday night’s meeting was a public hearing for a proposed amendment to the city’s adult use marijuana zoning ordinance. The amendment would prohibit these businesses from being located east of the Flat River.

At the time of the ordinance’s original passage, a preschool operating at the Lowell United Methodist Church effectively eliminated any possibility of a marijuana establishment on the east side of town. The ordinance requires a 1,000-foot buffer between marijuana businesses and schools and day care facilities. However, the church’s preschool closed, which makes two or three commercial properties on the east side of town eligible for marijuana businesses.

“They’re completely surrounded on all sides by residential uses,” said Andy Moore, the city’s planning consultant. He noted it was always the intent of the ordinance to keep marijuana establishments on the more commercial west side of town.

City Manager Mike Burns added that he had checked with City Attorney Jessica Wood to ensure this wouldn’t be deemed an illegal taking of property rights. Her opinion is that the amendment shouldn’t be a problem from a legal standpoint.

Commissioner Amanda Schrauben asked if there was anything else the commission should consider in the zoning ordinance. “Since we’ve got a year or more under our belts of having these applications coming to us, is there anything else within the marijuana zoning [ordinance] we should be looking at?” she said.

Moore said nothing came to mind, and he felt the ordinance has worked well so far. “The only other thing you could consider,” Burns said, “and I’ll be honest that I don’t really recommend this, but you could, for any new facilities you approve, put a buffer in place.” That would require space between facilities and effectively reduce the number of marijuana businesses in town.

Commissioner Colin Plank said he knew there was a lot of talk anecdotally about people being upset about the number of marijuana shops in the city, “but I don’t really know what the public thinks.”
There were no public comments received during the hearing, and the Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that Lowell City Council approve the ordinance amendment. The council will discuss the amendment at a future meeting, and Burns said the council would also be talking about ordinance language pertaining to open air and consumption businesses.

Two more marijuana business applications are expected to come before the Lowell Planning Commission in July. That meeting will be held at 7pm on July 12, 2021.

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