Blighted Buildings, Campaign Finance Ethics, Tree Protection: Public Hearings Tuesday

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Saturday, November 28, 2015, 1:52 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

East Lansing’s City Council’s meeting this coming Tuesday night will include three public hearings that touch on “hot” issues in town: vacant, blighted buildings downtown; campaign finance disclosure; and the protection of trees.

The first hearing will be on a draft “dangerous buildings” ordinance aimed at giving the City the right to knock down vacant, derelict buildings, including those in the blighted area downtown near the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. Some see in this ordinance hope of clearing out ugly and nuisance-attracting structures. Others see in the ordinance the potential for the City to become legally entangled in ways that might cost money and also time in terms of redevelopment of the blighted area.

The draft ordinance defines dangerous buildings as including those which have fallen into serious disrepair and on which there has been no movement towards fixing for imminent use. If the owner of such a building doesn’t make required repairs in the time frame allowed by the regulation, the City will be able to order the building “demolished without option on the part of the owner to repair.”

The second public hearing regards a possible amendment to the City’s Code of Ethics. The amendment would “prohibit the acceptance of certain campaign contributions and…require the council members to disclose campaign contributions in excess of one hundred dollars from businesses when voting on issues affecting that business.”

“Business entity” is defined as “any commercial, industrial, or charitable establishment or organization in any form, whether organized for profit and not for profit, and shall include any owner, officer, representative or manager of a given business.” It seems therefore to include everything from conventional businesses to religious organizations to labor unions to non-profit, non-governmental organizations.

The draft amendment also says, “No council member shall solicit, accept or retain a campaign contribution if the recipient believes that the contribution was made in the expectation or hope that it would influence the award of city business or specifically benefit the donor by way of a vote on a particular issue currently pending or anticipated to be pending before council.”

It’s unclear whether this means that sitting Councilmembers would have to return contributions from those expected to have business before Council within their elected terms. (We have provided reports on who donated to all five Councilmembers’ last campaigns; see the information for Erik Altmann; Ruth Beier; Shanna Draheim; Mark Meadows; Susan Woods.)

The third public hearing will be on a draft ordinance change “to protect certain trees within the City of East Lansing.” The ordinance aims to protect trees with “unique and intrinsic value to the general public due to their size, age, historic association or ecological value.” If the ordinance passes, Council will be charged with designating protected trees, and property owners and others will not be able to trim or cut protected trees without a permit from the City. Council could elect, after passing this ordinance, to issue a blanket tree protection, for example for trees over a certain size in historic districts and/or other areas.

We reported in Council Capsule this week that Councilmember Shanna Draheim is planning, when this item comes up, to move to refer the matter to the Commission on the Environment before Council votes on the matter. But Mayor Mark Meadows has expressed concern that landlords may already be moving to cut down old-growth trees in the Historic Districts in anticipation of being limited by this ordinance.

We reported previously on discussions at the Historic District Commission about tree protection. Those discussions have not led to any action by that Commission.

Council also has a number of other items on the agenda for this week, including a plan to pass a resolution supporting and welcoming Syrian refugees. If the agenda stands as published, the public hearings will come after all other business is completed.

Citizens wishing to weigh in on these issues can attend Council’s meeting to speak or can write to Council at council@cityofeastlansing.com.

 

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