City Council Will Tackle Many Big Issues This Week

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Sunday, January 12, 2020, 2:15 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

East Lansing’s City Council is in for what looks like a long night Tuesday as members convene for a “discussion only” meeting that will cover everything from plea bargain policies to downtown development to a possible ballot question about whether it’s time to hire sharpshooters to kill some deer.

Council rarely takes a formal vote on anything at a “discussion only” meeting, but that doesn’t mean that big decisions aren’t effectively made at these Tuesday night public legislative conversations. In fact, Council holds this type of meeting in order, in part, to transparently come to some consensus about what to do at voting meetings.

Which means citizens who want to weigh in with opinions or information may want to do so at the January 14 meeting rather than waiting for the meetings where Council might take formal votes.

Asking the voters about the deer: Opinions differ widely in East Lansing about what, if anything to do about the growing population of deer in the City. Now, City staff is asking Council to consider putting on the August 4 ballot this question:

“Shall the City of East Lansing, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, conduct an annual deer cull program for the purpose of deer population management, using professional sharpshooters?”

If it goes on the ballot, a majority of East Lansing residents voting in this election will decide the issue.

Plea bargain policy: Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens is asking Council to consider formal changes to the City’s plea bargain policies. Stephens suggests in his memo to Council on this matter that the approaches currently being used by City Attorney Tom Yeadon’s office do not reflect the formal policy and that the existing policies might not “reflect the values of this city.”

Downtown parking: The City’s Parking Task Force has been reconvened to take up the thorny question of managing parking downtown. Should there be more short-term free parking downtown, and how much revenue would be lost to the City from such a change? Should parking be managed in a way that encourages alternative transportation? Expect diverse points of view on what is the right approach to this issue.

Zoning management: Several items on this week’s agenda deal with this issue, including a “review of downtown zoning districts” and a conversation about implementing now some of the land-use designations that are contained in the comprehensive plan, officially known as the Master Plan, adopted by the Planning Commission in 2018. This discussion could result in a lot of rezoning – starting with downtown – as the City moves now to enact what is envisioned in the Master Plan.

Oakwood Historic District boundary issue: Following discussion of the matter last week at the Historic District Commission and the University Student Commission, Council will take up this issue with a vote expected on January 21. We have a separate report from ELi’s Chris Gray on this topic.

Appraisal of the DDA’s Evergreen Properties: Council member Lisa Babcock had asked City staff to obtain an appraisal of the Evergreen properties to get a sense of what they are worth because those properties are the subject of a Request for Proposals (RFP) from potential developers. Staff has obtained a quote of $6,000 from a professional appraiser for this and wants to know if Council is interested in moving forward on an appraisal.

Commercial real estate professional Van Martin suggested to the DDA in November that it erred in not getting an appraisal on Lot 1 before signing onto the Center City District deal with Harbor Bay Real Estate and Ballein Management. But would an appraisal of the Evergreen properties – widely believed to be worth much less than the $5.4 million owed on them – help or hurt the City’s attempt to solve the Evergreen debt or get the best possible offer in response to the RFP? Opinions on this differ.

Policy on tax abatements for businesses: East Lansing levies a “personal property tax” on certain material items owned by businesses located in the City. Staff wants Council to consider a new policy regarding which kinds of businesses should be able to get exemptions.

How can you weigh in?

You can participate in deliberations on these issues by speaking at the “communications from the audience” portion of the agenda, which comes shortly after the start of the 7 p.m. meeting. (The meetings happen in the second floor courtroom at City Hall.) You can also write to Council via the address: council@cityofeastlansing.com.

Council’s discussions are often influenced by public comment that comes right before its discussion, but written statements often are brought back in later agendas when an issue returns to Council. Consequently, speaking and also submitting a written statement is the most effective political strategy for citizens.

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