Council Capsule: April 14, 2015

Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 4:59 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: artist’s rendition of the planned security entrance for City Hall and 54-B District Court

All councilmembers were present: Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, Councilmembers Ruth Beier, Kathy Boyle, and Susan Woods.

Scene Metrospace: Council discussed a staff-proposed transfer of management of Scene Metrospace to MSU. See our special report.

Gateway Project: Council reviewed the Gateway proposal for the property on Grand River between West Village 2 and the original Biggby. See our coming special report on that.

City staff want all visitors to 54B Court and City Hall to go through security screening: A large number of City staff members came to the Council table to discuss staff’s desire to spend about $439,000 to require all visitors to the 54B District Court and East Lansing City Hall to enter through a metal-detector security screening manned by an armed guard. There will be only one way into the building for visitors, and so this will be the entrance you will use if you want to visit the City Clerk, pay a tax bill, purchase yard waste bags, serve on a jury at the court, etc. The entrance would be at the southwest corner of the building (where Linden Street meets Abbot Road).

City Manager George Lahanas told Council that the goal wasn’t to lock down City Hall but rather to do that with the Court, and that the fact that they are attached requires a lock down of City Hall as well. (Read his memo on the matter.) Mayor Nathan Triplett also emphasized this.

In addition to the $439,000 infrastructure cost for the physical changes to the building and exterior, the new approach will cost about $90,000 per year in additional staffing. Staffing would come from part-time, no-benefit hires of retired police officers.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris raised objections to the physical plan because of how long a walk people with disabilities will now face getting from their cars into City Hall. Lahanas countered that anecdotal evidence suggests most people coming into the building are coming to the Court, not City Hall. Goddeeris expressed some frustration, saying that while the City staff said they had been discussing the idea for 15 years, she had only been given a weekend to review the plans before being asked to essentially approve it.

Judge Andrea Larkin took the podium to talk about threats of violence made against judges, including to her in relation to her being in court or at home. She named school shootings and movie theatre shootings as reasons to want greater security at the court, and told Council, “I think we’ve been lucky up to this point.” She suggested the City would regret it if they did not act and someone was shot in the building. Goddeeris said she did not wish to diminish Larkin’s concern but had questions about the details of the plans. Mayor Nathan Triplett said it was the City’s obligation to protect the judges, jurors, etc.

The issue will come before Council again on April 28.

Public comment: Andrew Jason, Vice Chair of the University Student Commission and a resident of East Lansing, spoke for that group in favor of downtown development. He said “we must do more” to keep rents affordable and to create thriving neighborhoods by developing downtown to provide downtown housing that meets “the needs and desires of students.” He said students were being forced by a lack of downtown housing to move into surrounding neighborhoods or towns, and that East Lansing was losing out as a result. He spoke in favor of “height” and of developing downtown, especially in the blighted section west of Abbot Road and north of Albert Street. He said this is necessary to attract diverse restaurants and grocery stores “that don’t pay their rent on alcohol sales.”

Three members of the Arts Commission also spoke on the possible transfer of management of Scene Metrospace to MSU. See our special report on that for their comments. Debbie Astrein of the West Village condos spoke on the Gateway project. See our coming special report on that for her comments.

Bus Rapid Transit project in East Lansing: ELi previously reported on CATA’s plans for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as it will come through East Lansing. At Council, Planning Director Tim Dempsey presented a Memorandum of Understanding about a “Transit Oriented Development Grant.” Dempsey said it could be used to push form-based zoning in the downtown area. (Read more.) Form-based zoning favors an approach that considers how buildings will look, whereas traditional zoning focuses on consideration of specific land usage.

Dempsey told Council that the City staff felt the process was at the stage where Council should consider the Memorandum of Understanding. In response to a question from Councilmember Kathy Boyle, Dempsey said they want to consider this approach for the whole “depth” of downtown, from Grand River to Albert and pushing north of Albert. Approval of the Memorandum of Understanding will occur at the April 21 meeting of Council as part of the consent agenda. (“Consent agendas” involve a rapid approval with no further discussion.)

Park to be renamed to “Corey Cafagna Park”: An ad hoc committee has recommended renaming a small park at the corner of Sunset Lane and Southlawn Avenue to “Corey Cafagna Park,” after the late Corey Cafagna. Corey’s parents live next to the park, which is a small wooded grove behind Hannah Community Center. Council will approve this decision on April 21 in the consent agenda. There was some question raised about whether the plot of land is officially a park; Director of Parks & Recreation Tim McCaffrey confirmed that it is in the parks plan.

Keys in the City: The Capital Area Blues Society is partnering with the City of East Lansing to put public pianos out for spontaneous use in the city. ELi has previously reported on this public musical and visual art works program. There will be three artfully-decorated pianos in East Lansing. Dudley Smitty Smith from the Capital Area Blues Society (who was the previous reporter on this story for ELi) told Council that the work with City staff on this project, including Amy Schlusler, has been extremely successful and positive.

Schlusler recommended the project to Council in a memo and Council is expected to approve the licensing agreement soon. The pianos will be at the “faces and fountains” park near Black Cat Bistro, in the alleyway behind Sweet Lorraine’s Mac and Cheese, and in the plaza near the Marriott Hotel. Pianos will be available for playing from 11 am – 10 pm and will then be locked down under a cinched tarp.

Emergency equipment contracts: Staff member Anita Sukis requested permission to purchase chest compressors and defibrillator monitors for emergency services. These purchases are expected to be approved at the next Council meeting.

Money for fixing water pump: Department of Public Work personnel asked for Council to approve the use of $25,000 for the “refurbishment or replacement of the pumps at the Hagadorn Road water distribution ground level storage tank,” as explained in a memo.

Money for sewer work: City Engineer Bob Scheuerman is seeking permission from Council for costs associated with a sewer cleaning and televising (video-based examination) of various sewers around the city. Scheuerman said the City has received bids from three contractors and need to approve the plan soon because of timelines associated with grants.

Reconstruction of Abbot Road and Bogue Street: City staff is seeking Council approval of a “cost sharing agreement with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) for the reconstruction of Abbot Road between Burcham Drive and Saginaw Street and Bogue Street from north of Shaw Lane to Grand River Avenue.” According to written materials on the matter, the project “has a total cost of the project estimated at $1,064,800. Of this amount, $723,700 will be funded by Federal Highway Administration and $341,100 by the City of East Lansing.” Concrete costs have driven up the cost of the project according to Director of Public Works Scott House.

Further:

I am unable to report on the following items because I had to leave the meeting at 10:30 pm before these items, and the City’s recording of the meeting is not available at this time:

  • a request from Phipps Robert J. (Trust) to rezone the property at 3200 West Road from RA, Residential Agricultural to B-4, Restricted Office Business District 
  • Lot split of West Road from RA to B4
  • Site Plan for Spine Center   
  • Appointment of Tony Beyers to the Michigan Avenue Corridor Improvement Authority for a partial term ending on December 31, 2015 
  • Appointment of Brandon Bussa to the Building Authority for a partial term ending June 30, 2016
  • Councilmember and City Manager reports

You can read paperwork on some of these items at the published agenda page by following the appropriate links for the items. If I obtain information on these items, I will revise this article.

 

 

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