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City council discusses "Riverview Flats" development at Sept. 3 meeting

Lowell city council had their latest regular meeting at city hall on Tuesday, Sept. 3. The meeting lasted about one hour and 48 minutes (including a 10 minute break) and was attended by a packed house of over 50 local residents.

The majority of the meeting was dedicated to a public hearing about the proposed "Riverview Flats" condominium “planned unit” development at the old Unity School site. To start the discussion, developer Todd Schaal spoke briefly.

“Jerry [Zandstra] and I are excited to be taking that building, two buildings that have been in disrepair for over 15 years and doing something cool with them,” Schaal said. “Landscaping, putting our best foot forward there and adding to the tax base. [...] One of the positions that we like to take is that we'll add a significant amount of money to Lowell's coffers through that project.”

Following that, urban planner Andy Moore from Williams and Works spent nearly 40 minutes reading from a memorandum about the project that he wrote for the city and answering the council's questions. Moore said the project would take place in three stages. Phase one "would convert the former bus garage on the western portion of the site into 14 residential condominiums," phase two is the renovation of the actual Unity School building into 16 residential units and phase three would involve construction of new buildings at the site for 14 further units. Moore said the first phase is expected to take about one year to complete and cost about $2.1 million, and subsequent phases could take a very, very long time.

“It's important to think of this as a long term project,” Moore said. “Phase two might not occur for several years. It totally depends on what the marketplace is. We saw with a lot of our clients during the recession of 2008 that there were PUDs that phase one and phase two was not touched for ten years. That's possible [with this project] because we don't know how things are going to go.”

Public comment at the meeting was mostly in favor of the development. Six local residents spoke, three were in favor and three said they were opposed.

“We applaud the idea of further developing that,” said Lowell resident Ronald Janowski, who said he used to own a building in Lowell that was successfully redeveloped by Schall and Zandstra. “You're concerned about a blight? I guarantee you these guys will not leave a blight.”

“That property has been in the public sphere for as long as any of us can remember,” said Lowell resident John Wenger, who was concerned about parking and space for crowds at big riverfront events like the Sizzlin' Summer Concerts. “The boaters, kayakers, fishermen and concert enthusiasts are all going to see reduced usages of that area because of this project, and I just don't feel it's worth it.”

City clerk Sue Ullery said that four letters were received from citizens - two in favor, one opposed and one that was disregarded as redundant because it was sent by somebody who already spoke during public comment.

“I also have approximately 30 emails that came in to the Riverview Flats support forum, they all were in support of it,” Ullery said.

At the end of the meeting, the council went into a closed session “to discuss a legal opinion subject to attorney/client privilege” and “to discuss pending litigation.” The council returned from that closed session with a few tasks for city staff to complete.

“City staff was directed by the city council to prepare an ordinance approving the planned unit development for 219 High St.,” city manager Michael Burns said in an email to the Ledger a few days after the meeting. “At the Aug. 12, 2019 planning commission [meeting], they made a recommendation to approve the planned unit development with 11 conditions. The city council directed us to prepare the ordinance with 10 of those conditions. The one they removed was the requirement that there be 18 parking spaces located on 238 High St. being dedicated to parking for the planned unit development. The city will not require them to do this. In addition, the city council directed staff to prepare the ordinance requiring the applicant to place curb and gutter on the north side of High St., along with sidewalk going across their property along High St. from Monroe St. to the river.”

Lowell city council's next regular meeting will be at 7 pm on Monday, Sept. 16. The council will meet with the public at a "Coffee with the Council" event at the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce on the Riverwalk from 8 am until 10 am on Saturday, Oct. 5. City leaders also plan to hold "informational meetings" about the proposed city income tax at city hall on Wednesday, Sept. 18 at 6 pm, Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 10 am and Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 6 pm.

To watch various city council, board and commission meetings from the recent past, visit the "City of Lowell" or "Lowell Light and Power" channels on YouTube.

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