COUNCIL CAPSULE: December 2, 2014

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 9:41 am
Alice Dreger

Image: Noa Ziv asks City Council not to close her daycare.

Present: Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, Ruth Beier, Kathy Boyle, and Susan Woods.

Bailey Daycare: Next week, Council will again look at the question of closing or extending the life of the daycare located in the Bailey Community Center, and in advance of that two parents and a student at the daycare came to speak during public comments last night. Charles Hoogstraten of 617 Snyder said that the newly formed Bailey Parents’ Council is looking for a “win-win-win solution” to the question of the daycare, which the City has said is too expensive and difficult for the City to run. The solution may involve an external vendor running the daycare at the facility. The daycare is one of very few to offer infant care in the City. Hoogstraten said they would be asking for an extension of City support for the daycare through August of 2017 so that solutions can be found. He said he doubts it will take that long but that this would give enough “breathing space” while negotiations for a new system are conducted. He asked that when the City receives an architect’s review of the building, scheduled to be received on Friday, it understand that the style and age of the building are understood as assets—the large sunny rooms and playground support a positive space for daycare—though he understands structural issues may be of concern. Councilmember Beier thanked his group for working hard to find a solution to propose.

Miriam Ziv and her daughter Noa, who attends the daycare, also asked Council to think about keeping the daycare open. The younger Ziv asked Council not to close her school. The elder Ziv said the location is important for nursing mothers who work at MSU and come during lunch to nurse. She said the group needed time to come up with a plan and the daycare needs stability while the plan is assembled. She also lauded the building’s character. For previous ELi reports on this issue, click here, here, here, and here.

TIF for University Place approved: Council approved a modified TIF plan for the University Place Marriott which is now set to pay only for the contractually-required repairs to the City-owned underground parking and for an upgrade of the parking lot's technology (barrier gates, computers, pay stations, card system for hotel guests, cameras, etc.). (Prior story here and here.)

In public comments, Ralph Monsma of 1350 Red Leaf Lane referred to the library millage having been handed over to the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) and the need to rebuild the garage so that it really lasts. Jim Anderson of 938 Roxburgh asked why the City is subsidizing the Marriott corporation and why not close and convert the garage. Mark Sullivan of 1125 Daisy Lane said the new TIF plan was much improved but asked why we didn’t fund it through a millage.

Beier said these public comments indicated that too much was being done by Council in work sessions that the public couldn’t easily watch, since many of these concerns or questions had been answered. (Boyle later objected and said doing all that at work sessions is necessary.) Beier said the City had no way to get out of its contractual obligation to fix the garage. She agreed the library millage money going to the DDA was troubling. She said there will need to be a bond question in the future to deal with roads, sewers, etc., and that those things would need to be prioritized over things like a parking garage that is not very much used by the citizens.

Goddeeris said the City had tried to sell the land twice before and twice the voters voted it down, once by a narrow majority. Triplett referred also to the lost votes and said, contrary to Anderson, that the taxes are coming from users of the Marriott complex so that users of that complex, not citizens, are paying for the garage.

The vote was all in favor.

Public hearing on PDIG proposal for corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road: For a discussion of this item, see our special report. Public comments on the proposal were overwhelmingly negative, although focused mostly on the developer’s trustworthiness, not on the site plan itself. In public comments:

Don Power of 1200 Blanchette Drive said the Planning staff was advocating for the developer inappropriately. He said the idea of using performance bonds to protect the City’s interests would only guarantee we end up with new water and sewer pipes, not an actual new building, which is what everyone wants. He said the track record of the developer was very bad. Maureen McCabe Power, also of 1200 Blanchette Drive, said she wanted development and also leadership and vision from Council and staff, and that included not doing business with a company whose ownership is obscured from public scrutiny. She said Council did not have enough information to move forward.

Ralph Monsma of 1350 Red Leaf Lane said the City had a duty to find out who exactly owns PDIG and whether the company has fiscal integrity. He said this lack of information is “corrupting the process as it goes through the commissions.” He said many people want to know how this project has even gotten this far through the approval process. He recommended against below-grade parking, noting a history of problems with basements in East Lansing. He called for due diligence on financial matters. He said the project is “just not ready at this point in time for you to seriously consider going ahead” with the site plan approval and approval of Special Use Permits.

Steve Osborne of 1942 Tamerisk Drive spoke to better developments elsewhere and said the DDA and BRA are inappropriately moving forward without clarifying the financial trustworthiness of the developer, as is their job. James Robertson of 815 Sunset Lane said the City and everyone should read Eliot Singer’s investigative reporting “on PDIG and their financial travails” so that they understand the risks to the City that we are talking about. He insisted on due diligence. Jim Anderson of 968 Roxburgh warned that what happened in Ann Arbor with Strathmore Development (failure to ever really begin a major development there) will happen here again under PDIG because of its ties to Strathmore’s owner.

David Ledebuhr of 322 Abbot Road and of Musselman Realty spoke as a member of Peoples Church. Ledebuhr clarified that he does not represent the church. He said PDIG’s representatives and the City Planning Department had done a good job talking to the church about the plan as it has evolved. He said City staff has been “very unbiased in their presentations and have kept us up to speed.” He said some members of the church have been alarmed to learn recently that the building is due to be ten stories and not eight, and that there are concerns that the parking situation for Peoples Church will get worse under this plan. He questioned there being any “public benefit” to the top two floors of the planned building. (“Public benefit” is required for Council to approve ten stories in an area zoned only for eight.) He said he was concerned about the height and scale of the building.

Ray Vlasin of 1854 Cricket Lane identified himself as Co-Chair of the Harrison Meadows Association and a long-time economic development practitioner. He called for financial stewardship and said the City should know the principals of the developer. He said the city needs a debt management policy and plan and that this is “a very high priority item” that is not being attended to. Jay Brant of1300 Blanchette called for due diligence and said the City should be doing Google searches, litigation searches, and criminal record searches to “find out what their track record really is.” He said “Council and staff should not spend time tinkering with the site plan until you know who you are dealing with and that means finding out” about their track records.

Lynn Richardson of 1300 Blanchette Drive said she was concerned about the site plan and the developer. She said it was obvious PDIG’s Charlie Crouch is tied to Scott Chappelle of Strathmore Development Group, a company with which the City has had “not so pleasant [an] experience.” She wondered if Chappelle was trying to “hide behind children.” She said the plan itself sounded “an awful lot like a dormitory, given its location.” She said she didn’t want the City “turning over the keys” to the University when what we need is “a good mix for citizens and the university.” She asked the City to go back to the charettes and look at what people actually asked for.

Mark Sullivan of 1125 Daisy Lane said he wanted to address “the ridiculousness of trying to deal with these things in isolation as if they didn’t relate to one another.” He said he realized “the formality of the process mandates that” but that it was time to think about the comprehensive plan and what this development should look like in consideration of that plan. He said the comprehensive plan was “in a state of suspended animation.” He agreed with concerns about PDIG. At an MSU presentation, he said, the number one rule recommended for these kinds of projects is “know who you are dealing with and don’t deal with rogues.” Alice Dreger (this reporter) of 621 Sunset Lane asked whether the City is paradoxically prolonging the blight by working with a developer who may not be able to produce. She said she really wants the blight fixed.

Councilmember reports:

Beier had two items: (1) The rental nonconforming dialogue will result in a report to Council in January and Beier says at that point some action will need to be taken to resolve the issues that caused the discussions. (2) She spoke to generally well-informed seniors at Hannah who were confused as to how the PDIG proposal for redevelopment at Abbot and Grand River can be going forward since the parking lot sale failed. Beier explained they always were and still are separate projects and said there was confusion before the election and there is still public confusion.

Boyle had two items: (1) She reiterated that the rental nonconforming issue will be coming to Council in January. (2) She announced new emergency medical information packets available to seniors and others who want to have these on their refrigerator so that emergency service workers who come to their home can easily access important information during a crisis. The packets were developed in conjunction with the Senior Commission, Prime Time, the East Lansing Police and Fire Departments, and had the support of the Kiwana’s Club and the East Lansing High School Key Club. They are free and available at the Hannah Community Center.

Goddeeris announced three new businesses: Lorraine’s Mac and Cheese downtown; Threads, a clothing store downtown; and Battery Giant, next to Altu’s. She said these businesses all represent cases where owners wanted to come to East Lansing and encouraged people to patronize them.

Triplett reminded citizens that “Green Friday,” with holiday shopping deals, will be this Friday and Saturday downtown, and that Winter Glow, a family-style outdoor winter festival, will be happening 2-5 pm downtown on Saturday.

Woods had nothing to report.

City Manager’s report: The city has a new website that renders better on mobile phones.

The City Attorney had nothing to report.

Consent agenda: The following items were passed in a block vote without discussion.

  • Approval of the authorization of the City Manager to sign a one-year renewal agreement with Hundred Acre Woods, Inc. of Williamston, Michigan and award a purchase order in the amount of $80,256 for a Grounds Maintenance Contract
  • Approval of the 2015 City Council meeting schedule 
  • Approval of a resolution supporting the City of East Lansing’s participation in the Lansing Regional Brownfield Coalition which intends to apply for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding to support assessment work on Brownfield sites in the Tri-County area
  • Approval of a resolution objecting to the transfer of unsold tax reverted properties for the purpose of rejecting the vacant lot at 1418 Weatherhill Court
  • Approval of a resolution designating Scott House as the City of East Lansing’s Street Administrator
  • Approval of a resolution appointing Public Works and Environmental Services Staff Liaison to the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
  • Approval of an agreement to accept a donation from the East Lansing Basketball Association for the Middle School Interscholastic Sports Program and authorize the City Manager to sign
  • Approval of Policy Resolution 2014-12; temporary changes to the City’s Concessionaires Policy
  • Approval of resolution congratulating the Arts Council of Greater Lansing on its 50th Anniversary
  • Approval of the appointment of Manny Aalouf to the Human Relations Commission for a partial term ending December 31, 2016
  • Approval of the appointment of Jennifer Ferguson to the Human Relations Commission for a full term beginning January 1, 2015 and ending December 31, 2017
  • Approval of an increase of Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Contract Number 14-5031 to $959,500.00 which will result in a Local Match of $208,300.00, for the purpose of completing final payment of MDOT invoices for the above referenced Contract ID, authorize this increase in expenditure and authorize the City Manager to execute any necessary documents

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