City Council to Cover Neighborhood Rentals, Historic District Rules, Hub Move-In, Control of Agendas, and More Tonight

Tuesday, September 3, 2019, 8:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Tonight’s “discussion-only” meeting of East Lansing’s City Council is showing a pretty packed agenda, including a number of items that have caused a lot of discussion around town. Here’s a preview.

Getting around the Mayor on the agenda-setting?

Tonight’s agenda includes a proposed change to City Council’s operating procedures that would force an item onto a Council agenda if any two Council members want that item on an agenda.

Why the change? At the August meeting of the Human Relations Commission, Council member Aaron Stephens told that group (for which he is the Council liaison) that he is trying to limit the Mayor’s power to block items from being placed on the Council agenda.

As the rules are currently being interpreted, Mayor Mark Meadows has been able to block or delay items other individual Council members have wanted to see presented, discussed, and/or voted on.

Flipping houses from rentals to owner-occupied?

For years, the City of East Lansing has taken measures to try to stabilize neighborhoods that were originally built to consist of owner-occupied single family houses, but which over the years have seen many houses turn into undergraduate student rentals, sometimes negatively affecting quality of life for long-term residents.

Now Council is interested in seeing if some measures could be taken to encourage the conversion of rental housing back to owner-occupied housing, something Council member Erik Altmann has recently expressed strong interest in trying to achieve.

A memo from interim Director of Planning, Building and Development Annette Irwin (who is also the City’s longtime Housing administrator) talks about the importance of gathering data to understand this issue better, as well as to understand how East Lansing could see the development of more low-to-moderate-income housing options.

The City has not had success in the past with attempts at conversion from rentals to owner-occupied houses. But the rental market in East Lansing is changing rapidly with so many large new projects being constructed, and some houses are going unrented longer than in years past. Whether that means conversion is economically possible remains an open question.

Writes Irwin, “Staff is currently formulating a request for proposals for a housing study.” Such a study was requested by the Planning Commission this past spring.

Stopping rental restrictions north of Saginaw Street?

A total of 19 rental overlay districts have been instituted by various East Lansing City Councils in response to petitions by property owners in various parts of East Lansing, most recently in part of Shaw Estates and in the Hawthorn neighborhood, in both cases on a 3-2 vote with Shanna Draheim and Aaron Stephens in opposition.

These rental overlay districts restrict owners who want to turn owner-occupied houses into rental properties. (How restricted they are depends on the overlay type.)

Now Council will discuss a draft change to the law that, if passed, would mean that no new rental overlay districts can be created north of Saginaw Street after Jan. 1, 2020. (The draft refers to “Saginaw Avenue” but we presume it means Saginaw Street.)

The draft changes also would mean a homeowner in a rental overlay could rent out his or her property under the “house-sitting” provision for up to two years in any five-year period to “up to two unrelated individuals or a family” without the homeowner necessarily intending to come back to live in the house.

To date, to fit the “house-sitting” definition of rental, an owner’s absence has had to be “temporary.” This could mean that people who have moved and plan to sell a house in an overlay district can rent while they prepare to sell.

Historic District rule changes?

This item on the agenda comes without an explanation but with a memo called “Historic District Issues SD” which includes some concerns that have recently been raised by Council member Shanna Draheim. That memo covers “lack of clarity” about Historic District process and allowable activities, and also the importance of understanding the intersection of historic district rules and green building techniques.

Incidentally, back in May, City Council voted 4-1 (with Draheim dissenting) to shrink the Oakwood Historic District boundaries and to remove Valley Court Park from the District. But Council has still not finalized that move for reasons that are unclear. (Disclosure: This reporter owns a home in the Oakwood Historic District.)

Spend $5,000 on “Sister Cities” work?

Chris Holman of the Lansing Regional Sister Cities Commission is planning to present on that group’s work and to ask Council for $5,000 from the City’s budget. The memo on that subject lists the staff contact as “Mark Meadows, Mayor,” and the memo comes with an attachment that promotes the work of Sister Cities International.

Putting a $27,000 “Greetings” mural at the Roadhouse Pub?

ELi reported in July that homeowners in Glencairn were not thrilled with the idea of a “Greetings from East Lansing” mural being mounted on the north wall of the Hannah Community Center in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Now the Arts Commission and its staff are looking at the possibility of locating the mural on the south side of the Roadhouse Pub on Harrison Road, where there is now a Narwhale mural, at the suggestion of that business’s owner.

The cost is “not to exceed $27,000” and the artwork would be painted by a muralist who paints these all over the country when hired to do so. The idea is to give people a place to take an Instagram-ready photo to capture the local feel.

More quick parking options for delivery drivers?

A local take-out delivery driver came to City Council’s last meeting to talk about the problem of being ticketed for parking in public alleys while picking up food from local restaurants. Staff is set to discuss whether there might be more short-term parking options provided for such drivers (and everyone else). Attached to the agenda is a map showing where short-term parking is free.

And then there’s The Hub move-in.

The last issue item on the agenda reads simply “HUB move in,” with no explanation. Presumably Council will discuss the traffic jam that ensued on the day The Hub started accepting residents.

ELi reported on that problem and the cause, and also reported on subsequent problems at the new building that come as the developer Core Spaces asks to build a lot more “Hub” along Bogue Street.

Want to weigh in?

You can write to City Council by email, but a more effective way to be heard is to speak at the portion of the meeting, near the start, designated on the agenda for “communications from the audience.” The meeting will start promptly at 7 p.m. in the courtroom on the second floor of City Hall.

 

John Kloswick contributed reporting from the Human Relations Commission on the agenda management issue.

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