COUNCIL CAPSULE: November 25, 2014

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014, 2:14 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Each week, ELi provides a "capsule" of what happened at City Council.

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

Work session: This was a work session, which means there was no video recording of the meeting.

Discussion of proposed amendment to the Code of Ethics: For a special ELi report on this, click here.

Application for approval for the site plan from PDIG for the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue: In technical language, this is an application from Park District Investment Group, LLC, for Site Plan and Special Use Permit approval for the properties at 100, 124, 128, 130, 136, and 140 West Grand River Avenue, and 303 Abbot Road to demolish the existing structures and construct a ten-story mixed-use building (Building A) containing retail and restaurant spaces, a 120 room hotel with a restaurant serving alcohol, up to 102 studio, one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments, and two levels of underground parking for 283 cars. This is the big building planned for the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River.

Much of the discussion on this matter involved the question of who owns PDIG. For ELi’s special report on that, click here.

City Planning staff Darcy Schmitt said concerns about the pedestrian and bike traffic on the east side of the building (on the west side of Abbot Road) are being addressed by shifting the building 5 feet to the west. There have also been changes to accommodate more parking since the DTN project is not going forward. People’s Church will gain 13 parking spaces and give up a small amount of its lot. People’s Church’s board is “comfortable with the parking configuration at this time” according to Schmitt.

Boyle raised an objection to bedrooms with no windows but Goddeeris said these exist at City Center 1 and residents prefer them because they are free of the noise on the street. Beier asked about pedestrian crossing of Grand River Avenue. MDOT is looking into a pedestrian crossing on the west side of Abbot across Grand River.

During public comments, Shanna Draheim of 359 University Drive spoke in favor of PDIG’s proposal for the Park District area. She said she has been a resident of the City for a little over a decade and is tired of the blight. She objected to people who frame dialogue around development as being attacks on neighborhoods. She said “our neighborhoods benefit from developments like the Park District” if they are planned correctly. She urged the City to move forward on the PDIG project that includes a proposal for Hotel Indigo.

Also during public comments, Ray Vlasin of 1854 Cricket Lane objected to moving forward on PDIG’s project without knowing who owns the company. He questioned how the City can know if the developer has the financial capability to complete the plan if they don’t know who the developer is. He said that “citizens…are dismayed that [the PDIG plan] is moving forward without proper vetting,” and said citizens “want proper due diligence.” He said there will otherwise be a diminishing of trust in Council and the City.

Also during public comments, Alice Dreger (this reporter) of 621 Sunset Lane spoke to bring to Council and the pubic some key facts found while doing reporting for ELi: The PDIG project is separate from the DTN project impacted by the failure of the ballot measure to pass. The Indigo Hotel has not pulled out as a result of the election’s outcome. There are open questions about who PDIG’s owners are. City Planning staff is refusing to provide a copy of the recording of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority meeting last week on the PDIG project and says it can only be obtained though a Freedom of Information Act request.

Plan to extend University Place (Marriott) TIF to 60 years: During Public Comments, Christine Root of 729 Sunset Lane spoke on the planned extension of the University Place TIF to 60 years. She said it seemed clear there are some problems with using TIF for a 60-year period. She said it is clear the parking garage under the Marriott has to be fixed and that we have to pay to repair it. TIF will “capture taxes that would otherwise go to the general fund and capture taxes from other governmental units, including the County, CATA, and Lansing Community College” and that another option is to pay for the parking repairs out of the parking segment of the City’s budget. She said TIF makes sense when you use it to build something worthwhile that otherwise won’t be built, but that “this garage doesn’t boost regional economic development at this point.”

City Attorney Tom Yeadon explained why the legalities of this property require the City to make necessary repairs to the parking garage under the Marriott. There is no practical way to sell the property to avoid the problem of cost of upkeep. The City needs about $2.5 million to fix the garage. City Planning staff also wants to add in about $350,000 to potentially upgrade the parking garage technology to what Planning Director Tim Dempsey called “the Cadillac” option. He said staff may later decide not to purchase such a high-end option.

Goddeeris said she felt it important to have the best technology. It helps eliminate the cost of paying people who will take payments at the parking garage. She said the hotel was a very important asset to East Lansing and the tenants of the building need well-run parking. The issue will next move toward a public hearing and vote by Council.

Report on vacant and abandoned properties: Pablo Majano, the Vacant Property Coordinator for the City, presented the 2014 report of vacant and abandoned properties. Majano has been tracking information on these properties and contacting owners to hold them to their legal responsibilities for upkeep. His report (click here for PDF) shows what properties he is tracking and how he tracks them. Properties in the report include 1512 Coolidge, 580 Cornell, 1667 Snyder, 524 West Lake Lansing Road, 1016 Beech Street, 175 Maplewood Drive, 939 West Grand River, 1003 West Grand River, 1527 Mt. Vernon, 1025 Snyder Road, 325 Wildwood, 1428 Coolidge, 699 Jaywood, 512 Hillcrest, 218 West Lake Lansing Road, 615 Albert Avenue, 615 West Lake Lansing Road, 1531 North Hagadorn Road, 815 Knoll Road, 1367 Woodingham, 1780 Woodside Drive, 1438 North Hagadorn, and 601 Spartan Avenue. Not all properties turn out , actually, to be abandoned.

Woods asked if Majano has “run into unpleasant people with this job, or has it been okay?” He said it has been okay and that he tries to work courteously with everyone. Boyle said that Kevin Beard had driven this idea of tracking forward and that she was “astounded by the improvement” in the situation. She and others thanked Majano.

Contract with Hundred Acre Woods for Grounds Maintenance: Director of Parks Tim McCaffrey asked the Council to renew a contract for one more year to have Hundred Acre Woods of Williamston maintain the soccer fields at Hannah Community Center and the Soccer Complex. He said that since 2009 they have provided highly specialized turf maintenance and cost savings. Council plans to approve the contract in the consent agenda of December 2.

East Lansing joining Regional Brownfield Coalition: City Planning staff Lori Mullins asked Council to pass a resolution in support of East Lansing joining the Lansing Regional Brownfield Coalition so that they can apply for Environmental Protection Agency funding to support assessment work on brownfields. This would be in cooperation with Lansing, Ingham County, Clinton County, and Eaton County and would be administered through LEAP. They would apply for $600,000 and, if funded, the money would go to whichever municipality got to it first. Council plans to approve the resolution in the consent agenda of December 2.

Test period for more food trucks: City staff wants to try out more food trucks downtown from March 30 to May 31, 2015. Applicants for the program would have to pay $100 for background checks. Staff member Heather Pope noted that downtown restaurants have sometimes objected to what they see as unfair competition from the trucks. Pope believes they draw more people downtown which ultimately benefits more businesses downtown, including restaurants.

Woods asked if it was really a good idea to put a truck right outside Black Cat Bistro, which has its own outdoor seating. Staff Lori Mullins said in Madison, Wisconsin, there are food trucks right outside restaurants with outdoor seating and “there isn’t really a conflict. It adds to activity on the street.”

Goddeeris and Triplett noted that food trucks sometimes lead to brick-and-mortar businesses as with Purple Carrot and Red Haven Restaurant. Woods pointed out that the period overlapped with Taste of East Lansing. Pope thanked Woods for that point and said they would consider that.

Resolution to support postal workers: Jesus Gonzales, President of the Central Michigan Area Local 300 American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, previously asked Council to support a resolution to Congress to prohibit the U.S. Postal Service from closing or consolidating the mail processing and distribution center in Lansing, Michigan. Goddeeris suggested putting it on the consent agenda for December 2, but Beier asked whether it was urgent. Gonzales said it is because Congress reconvenes on December 2. Council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

Detroit Airport continues to give Michigan Flyer a far-away pick-up/drop-off spot: All members of Council expressed disappointment and frustration at the Port Authority’s unwillingness to give Michigan Flyer buses a close-to-the-terminal location for pick-ups and drop-offs. Boyle has been talking with the Senior Commission and trying to get a change, so far unsuccessfully. Triplett said it is a problem for everyone, including seniors, people with mobility disabilities, those with children, and those with large luggage.

Triplett said that the Port Authority that owns the airport has a negative view of the Michigan Flyer, so that it was best to appeal on behalf of the constituents of Council rather than the Flyer per se. Staff will draft a letter for Council to sign and send to the Port Authority.

Public comments: Five individuals spoke during Public Comment. Besides those comments noted elsewhere in this article, Jeffrey Hank of 349 Division Street objected strongly to remarks made to the Lansing State Journal by the outside attorney hired by the City to fight Hanks in his ballot proposal law suit. He says he “had no recourse but to litigate,” leading to a large attorney bill for the City taxpayers. He said the City was trying to make it harder for people in the state to vote to change laws. He concluded his remarks by saying, “I’m tired of being blamed for something when I’m not the problem.”

Councilmember Reports:

Woods said that the Human Rights Commission interviewed five candidates and selected two candidates.

Beier said she went around town after the recent snow and found lots of people in violation of the ordinance requiring clearing of walks. She said CRMC was doing a good job, but others were not. City Manager George Lahanas said they would crack down on landlords and fraternities, including those along Harrison.

Boyle said that Hank’s remarks during public comments were misleading and blamed Hank for the large legal bill the City is facing as a result of the lawsuits he has brought against the City.

Goddeeris encouraged people to be aware of the Michigan Avenue corridor and landscaping needs near Route 127. She also lauded Lansing for how it welcomes new businesses with resolutions and suggested East Lansing do the same. She also said that because the High School is sweeping students out of the high school building about an hour after school ends, large numbers of high school students are congregating at the East Lansing Public Library which is getting to be a volume and management problem. She said City staff is going to meet with school administrators to try to work this out.

Triplett thanked Goddeeris for running the meeting while he was away last week and also objected to what he said were mischaracterizations by Hank during public comments. He said the legal costs were incurred as a result of “lawsuits that in my opinion are entirely frivolous.”

City Manager Report: Lahanas said he is excited about the new City website partly because it renders better on mobile phones and because it will save money. He said people giving feedback didn’t like the term “transparency portal” so that material will appear under “open government.”

 

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