Planning Commission Recap: Master Plan Discussion

The Lowell Planning Commission met for just more than an hour on Monday night to discuss two pieces of business: a temporary uses ordinance and a master plan update. Commissioners Marty Chamber and Colin Plank were absent from the session.

Public Comment: Flooding from Neighboring Property

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Robert Rogers spoke about property he and his wife own at 317 E. Main Street. Rogers noted that they were in the process of converting the second floor of the building into two apartments.

He also shared that they were having a problem with water seeping into their building, and they believe it is due to a roof leak at the neighboring property, All-Weather Seal.

“Every time it rains, we send pictures of what’s leaking,” Rogers said. However, All-Weather Seal has insisted the problem is on his property, despite his building having a new roof. He asked if there was anything that the city could do to assist in this situation.

“Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s anything the city has jurisdiction in,” said Andy Moore, a planning consultant to the city from the firm Williams & Works. “I don’t know if there’s a role for the city in that.”

Recommendation for Temporary Uses Ordinance

The first item of business on the agenda was a review of changes to the temporary uses ordinance. Currently, any business that wants to hold an outdoor sales event in Lowell needs to apply for a special land use permit for an outdoor business. That can be an unwieldly process, and Moore has proposed a new ordinance that would move the permitting process to a staff review.

“I’ve been wanting to make a change like this for a long time,” Moore said.

The opportunity presented itself last year when an out-of-town car dealership applied to hold a sale in the Tractor Supply Co parking lot and drew the ire of city councilmembers and local dealers. As presented, the new ordinance is written to prohibit the temporary sale of large items such as boats, tractors and cars. It also stipulates that sales can only be held in conjunction with recognized holidays.

That led to some discussion last month about what constitutes a recognized holiday and would it allow for sales events such as a Memorial Day Mattress Sale. The commission tabled the ordinance last month to allow time for the city attorney to be consulted.

On Monday, Moore presented changes to the ordinance clarifying that only items directly related to the holiday could be sold.

“Did we have the attorney review it?” Commissioner Nicki Holst asked.

“I haven’t heard from her yet,” Moore replied. However, he said that the final ordinance would need to be approved by Lowell City Council and any feedback from the attorney would arrive before that vote.

The Lowell Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend that Lowell City Council adopt the ordinance revisions. The matter will now go to the council for their consideration.

Master Plan Update: Residents Aren’t Fans of Pot Shops

For the next item on the agenda, commissioners continued their work on an update to the city’s Master Plan.

Moore started off with a review of the results of an online survey, two pop-up planning events and two classroom activities at Lowell Middle School. While adult responses highlighted the need for updated infrastructure, sidewalks and trails and affordable housing, middle school students were focused on having more hangout spots and things to do.

However, one topic united both adults and students and that was the city’s marijuana shops. No one seems to be a fan.

In summarizing the community pop-up events, the written report presented by Moore noted, “(There were) multiple requests to limit or eliminate marijuana shops due to perceived market saturation and influence on Lowell’s identity.” Meanwhile, “too many pot shops” was named by multiple middle school students as a “sizzling” issue that needs to be addressed by the City of Lowell.

After reviewing community feedback and the results of visioning sessions with various local leaders, planning commissioners considered the goals and objectives of the current Master Plan and discussed whether to keep, discard or amend them.

By and large, commissioners agreed to keep the current objectives with a few adjustments. Commissioner John Barnett thought one objective should be amended to define what it means for something to “fit the community.”

“At one point, someone thought marijuana fit the community,” he said. “Now, it doesn’t.”

Holst thought an objective to demolish “view-blocking buildings” might need to be revisited. She pointed to the construction of RiverView Flats on the east side of the river and the anticipated construction of a multi-story building on the west side. “It seems like we’ve not been following that objective in the last few years,” she said.

Both Barnett and Chair Tony Ellis questioned an objective that stated the city would “vigorously pursue” an increase in its population. They noted that public feedback has been that Lowell’s small size is considered an asset, and growing larger isn’t what the city needs.

Holst suggested a new objective could address the need for public transportation in the community.

Once discussion on the objectives was complete, commissioners wrapped up the meeting and adjourned at 8:07pm.

The next regular meeting of the Lowell Planning Commission will be held on Monday, June 10, at 7pm in Lowell City Hall.

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