Returning to City Hall for the first time in months, the Lowell Planning Commission met for almost three hours last night to discuss plans from four businesses. The meeting was held both in-person and on Zoom. Five commissioners attended the meeting at City Hall, Commissioner David Cadwallader logged into the video conference from his home in Lowell and Commissioner Colin Plank had an excused absence.
Three members of the public joined the meeting at City Hall while business applicants and others attended virtually. A microphone was placed near the city clerk’s computer to ensure that those joining via the videoconference could be heard when speaking.
The agenda included four business plans to be reviewed:
- A vehicle towing service planned for property on S. Washington Street
- An adult use marijuana establishment planned for W. Main Street at the site of the former Good Auto Dealership
- An expansion of the current Dollar General on E. Main Street
- A Jimmy John’s restaurant planned for construction on W. Main Street in a vacant lot next to the current YMCA location
Vehicle Towing Service Raises Concerns from Neighbor
About half of last night’s meeting was spent on the first agenda item: a vehicle towing business proposed for 211 S. Washington Street, which is a half-acre lot at the corner of Washington and Front Streets.
The property in question is currently zoned for light industrial uses. However, towing facilities are not allowed in the light industrial zone although they are permitted on commercial and industrial properties. To address this apparent discrepancy, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended a text amendment to the zoning ordinance which would allow towing business in the light industrial zone as a special use.
Once that recommendation was made, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to allow N6 Towing and Recovery to use the property as an impound lot. Their approval of the special use permit is conditional on Lowell City Council passing the ordinance amendment to allow towing facilities in the light industrial zone.
While the special land use application noted that the property would also be used for small engine auto repair, the public notice for last night’s meeting did not include that information. As a result, a second public hearing will need to be held to allow repair work to happen onsite.
During last night’s public hearing, resident Brian McLane attended the meeting in person to share his concerns. As a resident of Kent Street for 19 years, he noted that the light industrial businesses in the area all operate during daytime hours.
“My concern with the towing service being added there is you’re talking about a 24/7 service,” he said. McLane pointed out that the block was largely residential, and the proposed impound lot would back up to residents’ backyards. “I do think you are changing the nature of that neighborhood,” he said later.
To address neighbor concerns, the Planning Commission added 21 conditions to their approval of the special use permit. These included privacy fencing and plantings to provide screening, the installation of an oil separator system and a requirement that trucks dropping off vehicles after hours enter from Washington Street.
At one point, Chair Bruce Barker suggested creating a 10-foot buffer between the lot line and the start of the impound lot. However, other commissioners weren’t sure that was necessary given the requirement for a privacy fence. “I see it as a waste of space for them,” said Commissioner Tony Ellis. Ultimately, commissioners compromised on a 7-foot buffer.
When all the discussion was said and done, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the site plan and special use permit for the towing service, subject to conditions.
Application for Adult Use Marijuana Establishment Tabled
Next on the agenda was an application from Joyology to establish an adult use marijuana retail store at 1250 W. Main Street, which most recently housed the Good Auto Dealership. The property extends from Main Street to Bowes Road and includes a ball diamond to the south as well.
“We like that site because it has a ton of parking,” said a representative of the company who joined the meeting via Zoom. While the current application is only for a retail establishment, the representative alluded to the property also being used for growing and processing marijuana in the future.
Two members of the public attended the Planning Commission meeting in person to offer comments on during the public hearing on the application. Three letters were sent to the commission about the application as well. All were in opposition to the proposed business.
Deborah Martin attended in person and said she has lived in the Lowell community for 25 years and owns businesses in Caledonia and Sparta. When she has suggested Lowell as a good place for her younger employees or family members to live, they often decline to consider it, citing the recent influx of marijuana establishments as making the city unappealing. “I would just like to be on the record to say that we were once known for [things like] the Pink Arrow Game…but now it’s a different climate that’s defining us,” she said.
Barker suggested Martin bring her concerns to the city council, presumably since it was the council’s decision to allow marijuana establishments and to decline to cap their number.
Ryan Landt, pastor of Calvary Christian Reformed Church in Lowell, was the second person to address the commission during the meeting. The proposed Joyology business would be across the street and just west of the church.
“Our concern comes for the kids that are at our building,” Landt said. He noted the church has many children’s programs and is under contract with a homeschooling group that has held classes at the church since August 2020.
An attorney representing the church sent one of the letters received by the commission. While the letter was not read aloud during the meeting, it apparently asserted a marijuana establishment could not be placed at 1250 W. Main Street since it would violate the 1,000-foot buffer between schools and marijuana businesses that is mandated in the city ordinance.
Since the city manager and city attorney had not yet had a chance to review the church attorney’s letter, the Planning Commission decided to table the Joyology application until April.
Dollar General Expansion Approved
An expansion of the Dollar General store on E. Main Street resulted in the shortest discussion of the night. The retailer plans to expand the store, realign the delivery area and improve the parking lot.
The changes mean the store’s parking lot will drop from 86 spaces to 42 spaces, below the 58 spaces required by the zoning ordinance. However, an added bike rack can count toward five spaces and the remainder can be filled using available off-street parking on nearby roads. The Planning Commission also waived the requirement for islands in the parking lot to preserve spots.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the site plan with conditions such as the maintenance of fencing and a requirement that delivery trucks enter the lot from Main Street and then exit from Avery to Jefferson before getting back on the main road.
Jimmy John’s Gets OK for W. Main Street Restaurant
The final public hearing of the night was for a special land use permit for a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop to be built in the southwest corner of 1279 W. Main Street, which is a vacant lot next to the current YMCA location. The restaurant will be 1,400 square feet and include a drive through. It will use existing access points from Main Street.
There was some discussion about whether the one-acre parcel for the restaurant would be split off from the rest of the property, and it was eventually confirmed that a split would be made. A resident from Sibley Street also contacted City Hall to share a concern about traffic coming near a fence on her property. The developers noted the restaurant would be built near the front of the vacant parcel and be 250 feet away from area residences.
The Planning Commission placed nine conditions on the application, such as the submission of a landscaping plan, before giving the business its unanimous approval.
The next regular meeting of the Lowell Planning Commission will take place on Monday, April 12, at 7pm.