Council Capsule: March 24, 2015

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 7:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: City Council meeting last night

This was a work session of Council so it was not videotaped or broadcast. Audio tape of the meeting is availble on the City's website.

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

IBM personal property tax abatement: City staff asked Council to “Introduce and consider a resolution setting a public hearing for April 21, 2015 regarding the application for exemption of new personal property tax for International Machines Corporation (IBM).” IBM has offices at 600 Crescent Road (the old MSU Federal Credit Union building off Harrison Road) and, according to City staff, IBM is looking “to invest approximately $200,000 in new work stations, computer equipment and other furnishings for which they are requesting the [tax] exemption. The exemption would be for 5 years and would have an estimated annual value of $7,955.00 and a total value of $39,775.”

Councilmember Ruth Beier said that she understood this exemption to be designed to either help a start-up (which IBM is not) or to attract a business that would not otherwise be here (and IBM is already here). Beier asked if this abatement question would make any difference to their decision to stay and expand. City Planning staff Lori Mullins responded that it was her opinion that this abatement would encourage further investment by IBM in the area. Council voted unanimously to vote on the resolution to set the public hearing for April 21.

Bailey process outlined: City Manager George Lahanas presented a memo to Council and a suggested plan for how to proceed in deciding the future of the Bailey Community Center (BCC). Lahanas noted expression of interest in the building by the private daycare company Gretchen’s House, the public nonprofit charter school Cole Academy, and the Capital Area Housing Partnership (which focuses on affordable housing).

City Staff wants Doak Bloss to facilitate a community discussion on the possible future uses of the building, working off of the results of the e-town hall. Lahanas suggests that the process could them “move along rather expeditiously,” moving towards a call for proposals from those interested in using or buying the building, and potentially moving on to a public vote on the sale of the building if that is required for whatever the ultimate plan for the building is.

Councilmember Susan Woods said she wanted “to clarify for everyone that we cannot sell the building until after a ballot measure.” She said this showed “there are no surreptitious dealings going on.” City staff guessed it would be impossible to have a sale ballot arranged in time for the November 2015 election. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris said she wanted a very open and collaborative process that resulted in widespread support for whatever plan emerges.

A question was raised with regard to whether the building is technically on City park land, an issue that could effect how it may be used or sold. City Planning Director Tim Dempsey said the whole property is designated park, including the part with the building. Director of Parks Tim McCaffrey said he would have to check with City Attorney Tom Yeadon and do some research to establish what the history of the property is with regard to whether it is one parcel or divided.

Mayor Nathan Triplett said he thought good facilitation is important and that having a clear schedule of how this will all work would help give the community a sense of “where this is all headed.” He asked staff to provide a timeline with steps as soon as possible. He also noted that the parties who have come forward to say they are interested in the process have done so “unsolicited” and that proposals need to respond to a publicly available Request for Proposals (RFP) so that everything is transparent.

Staff is going to have Doak Bloss facilitate a dialogue next and they will produce a timeline that explains how the process will move on from there.

Rental Non-Conforming Use Process Update: City Planning staff Darcy Schmitt presented a memo telling Council that Planning staff wants to convene a subgroup of 6-9 people from the 21 members of the rental nonconforming working group to meet over the summer and hash out ideas for “reasonable improvements” of rental nonconforming properties in originally owner-occupied areas of the city. Staff also recommends the Housing Commission continue to work on the issue of requiring landlords to have “local agents” who take care of their properties to deal with the problem of absentee landlords.

Staff also recommends holding off on possible zoning changes and issues of license mobility for dealing with mixed owner-occupied/rental neighborhoods until the Comprehensive Plan is worked out. (See the proposed timeline for the Comprehensive Plan process.) Schmitt’s reasoning for holding off on issues of zoning changes and license mobility is that the Comprehensive Plan process will turn up more information that would be useful to this.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris said she wanted movement forward on these issues. She talked about how helpful it was to have landlord Brian Hagan show her rental properties and the different types of upgrades and changes they are looking to do. Councilmember Ruth Beier said she would rather not wait for the Comprehensive Plan to figure out how, practically and legally, license mobility could work. Mayor Nathan Triplett agreed with Beier.

Schmitt is going to report back on the plan for a subcommittee and Housing Commission will continue their work on the local agent issue.

Communications from the audience: Only one citizen spoke during public comments. Ralph Monsma thanked Mayor Nathan Triplett, City Manager George Lahanas, and Director of Public Works Scott House for attending the Pinecrest Neighborhood Association meeting and presenting information on the City’s budget and structural issues. He said it was a very well received presentation. Monsma also expressed concerns that the City choose the right external consultants to review the PDIG financial and legal issues as part of the “due diligence” process.

PDIG is the company seeking to redevelopment the blighted area where Grand River Avenue meets Abbot Road. The records of the companies of people associated with the developer PDIG has raised considerable public concern about the City providing tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives.

PDIG project parts moving forward to decision by Council: Based on actions taken by Council last night, major parts of the PDIG plans are likely to be decided (and probably approved) by Council at their April 21 meeting. These include:

  • PDIG’s Site Plan and Special Use Permit for Building A, the proposed now-eight-story building for the corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road including a hotel and many apartments.
  • PDIG’s Site Plan and Special Use Permit for Building B, a proposal for a four-story building with retail on the first floor and 42 apartments above that.
  • “Ordinance No. 1337; a request from Park District Investment Group, LLC, to rezone the property at 341-345 Evergreen Avenue from RM-32, City Center Multiple Family Residential, to B-3, City Center Commercial District.”

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris pointed out to staff that the rezoning request should actually say on the agenda that it is for conditional rezoning (which means that if the project plan doesn’t go through as approved, the zoning reverts).

At the meeting, Council had only a few questions for PDIG’s representative, and several questions for the City Attorney Tom Yeadon with regard to how the various approvals for Building A would work if the hotel pulls out or fails. (Yeadon did not answer last night.)

Asked whether City Planning staff had ever heard back from Peoples Church on their opinions on these plans, Darcy Schmitt answered “no.” She said, “We have reached out and we’ve heard nothing good, bad, or otherwise.” She added, “They’ve had us come every time to discuss the plan and I don’t know what to think of them not responding.”

Councilmember Susan Woods asked whether the signs on the artists’ renderings for Building A had been approved or needed to be approved by Council. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris explained to Woods that signs fall under the sign ordinance, not the Council’s site approval process. Woods also wanted to know why there were proposed “Juliette balconies” for Building B when the Police Department disfavors balconies. Goddeeris explained to her that Juliette balconies are not really balconies but are essentially decorative. Goddeeris explained "Juliette balconies" simply allow Juliettes to call down to Romeos.

Councilmember Ruth Beier wanted to know “where due diligence fits” into the items being moved forward for approval on April 21. Mayor Nathan Triplett said that what they were moving forward in terms of zoning changes, site plans, and special use permits is “independent” from financial due diligence inquiries being conducted by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).

Council voted unanimously to put all of these items on the April 21 Council agenda.

$70,000 contract with Able Concrete: City Engineer Bob Scheuerman (shown at left in the photo above) asked City Council to plan to approve a $70,000 contract with Able Concrete for the City’s annual miscellaneous concrete repair. (See staff memo.) This year the repair involves “13 worksites scattered throughout the city.” The work would include “repairs and/or replacement to existing concrete pavement, curb and gutter, sidewalks, sidewalk ramps, driveways, and other areas affected by City crews in conjunction with watermain breaks, sewer repairs, sidewalk repairs or other City initiated work since the fall of 2014.” The only bid received on the plan was from Able Concrete. Scheuerman said the City is “very familiar with their work and very happy with the work they’ve done in the past.” Council is expected to approve the contract on April 21.

Sidewalk improvement assessments: Scheuerman also presented a memo and a “proposed resolution ordering the reconstruction of designated sidewalks in conjunction with the 2015 Major Street Improvement Project and the cost to be assessed to each adjoining property owner.” This involves certain properties along Abbot Road (from Saginaw Highway to Burcham Drive) and Bogue Street (from Grand River Avenue to south of the Red Cedar River). In response to questions from Councilmember Susan Woods, Scheuerman acknowledged that the map presented is incorrect and will be corrected but said that the presented list of properties is correct. (See the list, which includes estimated costs.) Council voted to set a public hearing on this matter for April 21.

Settlement payout: City Attorney Tom Yeadon requested and got Council’s authorization to pay another $28,000—for a total of $40,000—in a lawsuit called “Linda Rosas v. David Smith and the City of East Lansing,” filed in Ingham County Circuit Court under number 13-733-NF.

Reports from Councilmembers and the City Manager:

Beier thanked staff for changing the formatting of attachments on development proposals.

Boyle said she attended the Red Cedar Neighborhood Association meeting last Thursday and that there were a lot of concerns about the university’s plans for building on the property formerly occupied by the State Police headquarters. The plan calls for housing to replace Spartan Village, surface parking, and a parking ramp. The neighborhood is concerned about tailgating and also traffic. Boyle said this would be “the first and only tailgating location maintained by the university immediately adjacent to a residential neighborhood.” In response to a question from Goddeeris, East Lansing Police Department Captain Jeff Murphy said that barricades could be erected on game days to stop traffic from exiting into the Red Cedar neighborhood. Boyle said the neighborhood will be talking with the people planning the project about their concerns.

Goddeeris again mentioned the tour by landlord Brian Hagan. She suggested other Council members take the tour and that they also arrange tours of DTN properties.

City Manager George Lahanas said that he and Director of Public Works Scott House continue to go around presenting the budget and infrastructure information to various groups around town, with the “mayor dropping in for moral support,” and that those presentations are going well. A presentation ahs been made to the Council of Neighborhood Presidents and this week there will also be a presentation to the Whitehills Neighborhood Association.

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