Roads, Trails Dominate City Council Discussion

Cody Chambers and Brian VanderMeulen (standing l to r) are introduced to the Lowell City Council.

With government offices closed on Monday for President’s Day, Lowell City Council held their second February meeting on Tuesday night this week. During the hour long session, numerous issues were discussed, but roads and trails garnered the most attention.

Road Work on South Broadway Questioned

During the citizen comments portion of the meeting, Mike Larkins raised concerns about road work approved for South Broadway during the last council meeting. “I was just wondering when work would begin on North Broadway?” he asked. Larkins owns Larkins Restaurant on the corner of Main Street and North Broadway.

He went on to note that South Broadway would be closed to regular traffic after the work was completed, essentially limiting the road to private use. “Why should the citizens pay for it?” Larkins asked. Later, Perry Beachum approached the podium and also expressed concern about the city paying for work on a road that would be closed off to the public.

Assistant City Manager Rich LaBombard clarified that the road would remain public but that a temporary fence would be installed to limit traffic. The road would be mainly used for trucks to get to and from South Broadway businesses. “The idea is to keep trucks off Main Street,” he said.

Mike Larkins addresses City Council about road work on South Broadway.

Council Discusses How to Fund Road Work

Roads were again discussed during a follow-up to a special presentation made two weeks ago by City Manager Mike Burns. During that presentation, Burns had discussed different options to generate revenue, including the possibility of enacting a city income tax.

“I’d rather not do the income tax right away,” said councilmember Greg Canfield. He noted new business development in the city and indicated he would prefer to find a way to use existing revenue streams to address road repairs.

Mayor Mike DeVore disagreed. “It’s going to take a new revenue stream,” he said.

Meanwhile, councilmember Jeff Phillips suggested it might be better to turn some roads back to gravel until money could be secured to fix them properly. However, Dave Austin, a city consultant with engineering firm Williams & Works, urged caution. “We all know what happened with Washington Street and the complaints we got,” he said, alluding to a decision to revert a portion of the street to gravel a few years ago. It has since been paved again.

Ultimately, the council directed Burns to initiate a formal study of generating more revenue for the city although they did not specify how they’d like to see that revenue generated.

Residents Unhappy About Trail Route

The trails were also a topic of concern during the meeting. Jim Pfaller addressed the council during citizen comments to share his frustration with a plan to run a trail connector down Bowes Road. “I have no intention of signing an easement,” he said.

In order to secure grant money for the trail, the sidewalks on Bowes Road would need to be replaced with a wider, asphalt bike trail. That would necessitate the removal of flower beds, landscaping and possibly trees. Pfaller expressed concern that the cement sidewalks were installed at his expense and are in excellent condition. He questions the longevity of an asphalt trail and worries whether it will eventually fall into disrepair when the grant money runs out and city officials prioritize other projects.

Mark Mundt also addressed the council with similar concerns. “I would challenge anyone to find a more beautiful section of road in town,” he said. With the changes required by the trail, the nature of the roadway would be changed and natural features stripped away. The council did not directly respond to Pfaller and Mundt’s concerns.

Also on the agenda was a request from the Lowell Area Recreation Authority to run the proposed trail through Stoney Lakeside Park. LARA needed council approval to include the concept in their grant application for the project.

The request was passed unanimously. “We still reserve the right to change things at a different date,” DeVore noted.

Jim Pfaller expresses about running a trail along Bowes Road.

City Getting Ready for Flood Waters

During his manager’s report, Burns noted the Grand River was under a flood watch. According to the information he had received, the river was expected to crest around Saturday and reach a depth of 18.1 feet. He noted that level was about one foot lower than the flood waters experienced in 2013.

The Department of Public Works is monitoring the situation and prepared to respond as needed.

New, Yet Familiar, Face at the Wastewater Treatment Plant

Mundt, who serves as the wastewater treatment plant supervisor, is retiring from the position and was on-hand to introduce his replacements. Brian VanderMeulen, who has worked alongside Mundt for years, will step into the supervisor role. Then, Cody Chambers will be brought on to fill VanderMeulen’s position.

Chambers is a lifelong resident of the community and son of councilmember Marty Chambers. “It was kinda nice to mine a nugget of gold here in the community,” Mundt said of being able to hire a qualified worker from within Lowell.

Steve Donkersloot (center), general manager for Lowell Light and Power, explains the plan for a new regulator station.

Other Council Action

In other action, Lowell City Council unanimously approved an easement for Consumers Energy to place a regulator station along Riverside Drive. The station will be placed in an existing fenced area that has previously been used for Lowell Light and Power equipment. The regulator will allow the utility to deliver gas to LLP turbines throughout the year.

There is an upfront cost of $789,500 to have the regulator installed, but LLP should be eligible to receive $782,000 back in the form of rebates over the next seven years.

The council also unanimously approved the work agreement for Consumers Energy to install the regulator. The work might temporarily disrupt parking and traffic along Riverside but shouldn’t otherwise impact the city.

Lastly, the council unanimously passed the 5 Year Parks & Recreation Plan as well as zoning ordinance changes. The latter issue had been tabled from the previous meeting after concerns were raised about whether the requirement for city approval for interior improvements was government overreach.

“It’s my understanding that we’ve been doing this the past five years even though there is no basis for it in the ordinance,” Canfield said of requiring residents to obtain a zoning compliance permit. “I think expenses are high enough in Lowell already and if we’re going to add to it, we need a reason why.”

Andy Moore, a planner with Williams & Works who consults with the Lowell Planning Commission, said the permit was intended to give the city an opportunity to look for zoning violations on a property. “To me, there is a value to having this process,” he said. “I don’t find it as something unusual.”

However, the language of the ordinance was changed to exempt the need for a zoning compliance permit if the work is interior or doesn’t affect the footprint of a property, such as the replacement of siding and roofing.

The next regular City Council meeting will be Monday, March 5 at 7pm in City Hall.

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