Planning Commission Recap: Gravel Pit Approved, Marijuana Microbusiness Tabled

During its regular monthly meeting last night, the Lowell Planning Commission reviewed plans from three business. All members were present for the meeting which took place on the Zoom videoconferencing platform and lasted two hours and 10 minutes.

Gravel Pit Ok’d for Bowes Road

The first agenda item was an application from Grand Rapids Gravel for a gravel mining operation on land located between Bowes Road and the Grand River on the west end of town. This application was first brought before the Planning Commission in October and was also discussed in November.

In previous meetings, concerns had been raised about potential impacts of the mining operation nearby city water wells, but all issues were resolved to the commission’s satisfaction last night. Commissioners unanimously approved the application, subject to nearly two dozen conditions that included items such as maintaining trees along Bowes Road, limiting stockpiles to a height no greater than 45 feet and adding 5 to 7-foot berms.

Marijuana Microbusiness Tabled

River City Cannabis submitted an application to establish a marijuana microbusiness in a vacant storefront in the Lowell City Mall. The business would be located next to Snap Fitness. A microbusiness permit would allow River City Cannabis to grow up to 150 marijuana plants and then process them for sale onsite.

All marijuana business applications must go through a multi-step process. The business site plan must be approved along with a special land use permit for adult use marijuana. In reviewing these applications, the Planning Commission typically listens to Andy Moore, a planning consultant with Williams&Works, explain each review standard and how well the application meets that standard. Then, the commission votes on whether they agree those standards have been met.

During review of the site plan standards, concerns were raised about the application. “It seems like a terrible place to grow pot — indoor and in a strip mall building,” said Commissioner Colin Plank. “It seems like you’re just inviting mold and air quality issues in addition to the odors.” The applicant responded that standards call for 50% relative humidity, and each grow area is self-contained and the air will be filtered.

Chair Bruce Barker made a motion to accept the site plan review standards, but then voted against his motion. He was the only no vote and provided no explanation with his vote.

A public hearing was then opened on the River City Cannabis application, and Mayor Mike DeVore shared his concerns about odors and security at the location. Several commissioners shared the concern about odors as discussion of the application progressed.

“I’m just very leery of this particular one because of the close proximity (to other businesses),” said Commissioner Tony Ellis. All other marijuana businesses approved so far have been located in detached buildings without other tenants.

Commissioner Amanda Schrauben asked what happens if odors do become an issue. City Manager Mike Burns responded that the city would follow the same process as other complaints. The business would be given 10 days to correct the issue and then a citation would be issued. He added that if it became an ongoing problem, the city could pull the business’s license. “We give them one chance and that’s it,” according to Burns.

The Planning Commission decided to table the application to January so further information could be provided about the proposed planned HVAC system. Commissioner Marty Chambers outlined the information sought: details on air handling, air scrubbing and negative pressure inside the building. The commission would also like to know how close fresh air intakes for other businesses are on top of the building.

Culligan Water Building Approved

The final item of business for the Planning Commission was approval of a new building at 2531 W. Main Street for Culligan Water. The property was previously occupied by Bowne Construction.

The proposed building would include a mix of warehouse and office uses. The proposed parking lot was one space short of the typical requirements, but Moore said the Planning Commission had some discretion when it came to the number of spaces. He did not feel the missing space would be problematic based on the type of business proposed.

Commissioners unanimously approved the site plan with a stipulation that an easement be granted to create an access drive to the west. While the drive does not need to be created at this time, the easement will allow for the future construction of a drive to adjacent businesses and potentially reduce traffic on Main Street.

The next regular meeting of the Lowell Planning Commission will take place on Monday, January 11, 2021 at 7pm.

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