Ask ELi: Did Planning Commission Reject the Center City Proposal?

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Monday, May 8, 2017, 9:49 am
Alice Dreger

Above: Developer Mark Bell of Harbor Bay Real Estate presenting at the Planning Commission meeting of April 26, 2017.

East Lansing Info (ELi) runs a public service called Ask ELi to Investigate. Readers submit questions, and we provide answers.

In advance of City Council likely making some major decisions on the Center City District site plan and tax plan tomorrow night, a reader submitted this:

Reader question: “It was published [in ELi] that the 4-4 tie vote of the planning commission was a denial, but if you look at the letter Tim Dempsey sent to the city manager in the second paragraph [here], it said that the planning commission approved the center city project and forwarded it to city council for a vote. The question [I have is] did it pass or fail at the planning commission?”

The short answer: East Lansing Planning Director Tim Dempsey confirmed for ELi this morning: “motion failed.”

In other words, the motion made by Planning Commission, to recommend approval of the Center City District site plan, failed at Planning Commission. There was a 4-4 (tie) vote, which by procedure means Planning Commission formally voted against recommending the project plans to City Council.

It’s unusual to see Planning vote against recommending a proposal, especially for a project of this size. But a non-recommended project moves on to Council anyway, because Planning is only advisory to Council. Council makes the final decision.

ELi reported in detail on what happened at that Planning Commission meeting with the 4-4 vote. You can read the whole story—including what were given as reasons by Planning Commissioners voting for and against the project—here.

The source of confusion: Dempsey explains that the confusion in this case is caused by the way these things are worded when sent to City Council. His letter to Council for tomorrow’s meeting says:

“With eight members present (one in abstention), the Planning Commission voted 4-4 to recommend that the City Council approve the applicant’s request.”

Dempsey explained by email this morning that the Planning Commission “always motions in the affirmative, i.e, ‘to recommend,’ so we word it that way. I realize it can be confusing when there's not a majority to support.”

So there was a “motion to recommend approval of the applicant’s request,” and the motion received a 4-4 vote, which Dempsey’s letter does not specifically explain means the motion failed. But, as noted above, he has confirmed, the 4-4 vote means motion failed.

An aside: If you think this is confusing, you should have been at the Historic District Commission meeting I attended where the Commission formally voted on a “motion to do nothing,” and that motion failed to pass, leaving everyone wondering what it means when a motion to do nothing fails. (The “motion to do nothing” was made because, in certain circumstances, a decision by the Historic District Commission to “do nothing” triggers certain next actions in a legal process involving Historic District properties.)

Just a reminder: The developers of the Center City District project are holding a public event today, Monday, May 8, from 4:30-7:30 at Lotsa Pizza downtown. They are providing free refreshments (pizza and beverages) and the public is invited to “Ask questions, give support and get a full understanding of the proposed project.”

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