Council Capsule: September 1, 2015

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015, 1:40 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above (left to right): Officer Sarah Campbell, Officer Shelby Humphries, Captain Larry Sparkes, and Chief Jeff Murphy of the ELPD at Council last night.

Present: Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, and Councilmember Ruth Beier.

Absent: Councilmembers Kathy Boyle, and Susan Woods.

565 East Grand River Avenue: No action was taken on this increasingly controversial project—controversial not because of the design but because the developer is seeking tax increment financing (TIF) of about $1.4 million. The developer requested having Council defer consideration of the site plan and TIF plan until September 15. Council did hold a “public hearing” on the TIF plan. I was the only person to speak and said only that the agenda probably led others, as it did me, to believe the public hearing was also being pushed to September 15. Mayor Nathan Triplett responded that because notice had been given for that date, it had to happen that date. Triplett said people could always comment later.

Planning staff Darcy Schmitt said no additional information was available from the developer on the project. She said more will be available at the next meeting of Council, next week. Beier told Planning staff Lori Mullins she had asked for a TIF plan without the public plaza, and Mullins said she thought that would be made available.

Beier also said she has asked the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to try to look at TIF proposals “with some more numbers around them.” She said it would help to try to develop an objective way to assess if a plan is better or worse than another. She said she also wanted to know what proposed projects would cost taxpayers in terms of city services while they were effectively not paying real estate taxes to the City because of TIF.

The votes on the site plan and TIF for this project are expected to happen on September 16.

East Lansing Police Department hires and promotions: Interim Chief Jeff Murphy introduced ELPD’s officers recently promoted or hired.

Larry Sparkes was promoted to Police Captain in August of this year. He has worked with ELPD since 1987 and has previously served as a school liaison officer, an arson investigator, and a jail supervisor, among other ELPD positions.

Officer Shelby Humphries was hired by ELPD in January 2015. She graduated from the Kalamazoo Valley Police Academy and has a bachelors degree from GVSU.

Officer Sarah Campbell was hired in May 2015 and has worked for East Lansing since 2011, first as a cadet and then as a PACE Officer. She graduated from the LCC Policy Academy.

Two other officers recognized could not be present last night, both hired in July of this year and both graduates of the LCC Police Academy. Matthew Swab has a bachelors degree from Olivet College and served in the U.S. Navy for four years. Randi Ellis has a masters degree from Indiana University and served in the U.S. Army for 8 years.

Mayor Nathan Triplett congratulated the officers and thanked their family members for the support they give and sacrifices they make to keep our community safe.

Falcon Point: A development group called FP Investors got Council’s 3-0 approval for a “cluster plan development” for the Falcon Pointe property located near Hawk Nest, on Chandler Road near State Road. The plan calls for FP Investors “to convert an existing manufactured housing community into a site condominium development.” What this means to the people who live on some of that property now in manufactured homes remains unclear. For more details, read our special report.

Recycling contract to be with City of Lansing: Director of Public Works Scott House presented to Council two options for contracting for pick-up of the City’s single-stream curbside recycling program that will soon commence. (See House’s very detailed analysis and recommendation.)

House explained to Council that it is challenging to predict where net costs are going to go on recycling. The value of certain recyclables have gone down, but might go back up again. Although House said that the City had had a very good relationship with Granger, he recommended instead trying an offer from the City of Lansing to sign on in a kind of sub-contract to their agreement with ReCommunity for single-stream recycling. Doing so only commits East Lansing to 90 days at most, so if it doesn’t work out well, East Lansing can easily pull out. Financially it is also a better deal at this time.

Residents will soon be able to recycle boxboard and cardboard at the curb, along with the items we can already recycle like glass and certain plastics. Plastic bags will not be allowed unless they are there to contain shredded office paper. Food waste is not allowed and can contaminate the system, causing otherwise recyclable materials to be landfilled instead. Council voted 3-0 in favor of the deal with the City of Lansing.

Taxi Authority participation approved: Council voted 3-0 to approve East Lansing’s participation in the Greater Lansing Taxi Authority. See the new rules here. Taxi companies and their drivers operating in East Lansing will have to be licensed by the GLTA.

Taxi cabs are legally defined including “any vehicle, including but not limited to those powered by human or animals, engaged in the business of picking up persons, or operating in such a manner to solicit such persons, within the jurisdictional borders of this City and carrying them for hire, to and from such places as they may designate.”

The rules don’t cover digital-only services like Uber due to an exception is for: “Organizations and their drivers that are ride-sharing networks that exclusively use digital platforms to connect passengers to ride-sharing drivers using their personal vehicles for the purpose of transportation as long as such organizations and drivers adhere to all of requirements contained in the Articles of Incorporation of the Greater Lansing Taxi Authority.”

Communications from citizens: Two people spoke during general public comments, Donald Power of 1200 Blanchette Drive, and me. I thanked City staff for helping ELi reporters over the course of our first year (September 2014 – August 2015) report on arts, development, finance, public works, public safety, and so much more. I said that they were helping us improve both the quantity and quality (in terms of completeness and accuracy) of dialogue among citizens about their city.

Power came to “ring a strong bell of warning” about the City’s unfunded pension liability. He noted the City’s $186 million debt and said that we are “in the red zone” as a municipality in what we are facing in legacy costs. He said we are in the 20% of municipalities that participate in MERS (Municipal Employees Retirement System). He said we have funded only 58% of our pension liability and that the City has to start paying into the system right away to reach 100%, which, he said, probably cannot happen in less than 20 years. He said we could not afford to continue to use TIF to help developers profit at the expense of taxpayers. He challenged what he said are Mayor Triplett’s claims that the deficit has gone down since Triplett’s tenure on Council began in November 2007. Power said at that time, the pension fund was at 73% funded, and now it is down to 58%.

City Manager George Lahanas asked permission to speak out of turn to respond to Mr. Power. He said he and his staff take legacy costs very seriously and are doing what they can to deal with the problem. He said the workforce has been cut, City-paid benefits have been cut, and they’ve tried to increase efficiencies to reduce costs. Later, in his Councilmember report, Mayor Nathan Triplett thanked Lahanas for his comments and said citizens who want to know more should look at the city’s annual financial report and audit.

Written messages sent to Council include messages:

  • against tax increment financing (TIF) on 565 East Grand River Avenue, from Bernie Schupbach, Steven and Lanette VanWagenen, and Eric Hanson (see pages 4-5 and 7 here);
  • on the rooftop party ordinance, from Michael Teager, Patrick Rose, Jeffrey Hank, and Robert Nelson (see pages 2-6 and 8-19 here and page 2 here);
  • from Eliot Singer on the comprehensive plan (see pages 3, 6, and 8 here);
  • on the confederate flag at the folk festival, from Dee Jordan (see page 7 here);
  • from Meridian Township on planned development at 6170 Abbot Road (see pages 20-21 here).

Zoning amendment to the Community Facilities District: Council voted 3-0 to approve a zoning change that allows the City to rent out City-owned buildings for uses including residential and commercial. Read the staff report. Beier said she was voting for it because it was needed for the changes planned at the Bailey Community Center. Goddeeris proposed (and got) an amendment in the proposed ordinance to specify “City-owned” rather than “publicly-owned” buildings in section 1e. Triplett proposed (and got) an amendment for section 1f, adding “or solar energy structures owned or operated municipally or privately.”

Rezoning 3126 West Road: An application from WREL, LLC, to rezone the property at 3126 West Road from RA, Residential Agriculture District to B5, Community Retail Sales Business District as approved 3-0. The area is turning into an extension of an office park.

Marriott serving food and alcohol late: Council approved 3-0 a request to allow the Marriott downtown to serve food and beverages in the Lobby Greatroom Restaurant until 2 am. According to Planning staff Darcy Schmitt, Planning Commission had approved this request by a vote of 4-2.

Repeal of “handbills and bill posting” ordinance: Council voted 3-0 to repeal a part of the code that was used at the Folk Festival to stop political protestors from handing out political material. Read more. Beier said she was “personally subject to misinterpretation of this code” so she wanted it repealed. Triplett said he was “comfortable” with the repeal because there were other ordinances to stop litter.

Communications from Council, Manager, Attorney:

Councilmember Ruth Beier reported that the Housing Commission is finding a shift in the market from owner-occupied condos and houses towards demand for family-friendly rentals. This means that projects designed to be owner-occupied condos typically convert to rentals. She said the Housing Commission felt that building condos and new subdivisions assuming they will be owner-occupied may be “going down the wrong road.” Gaslight Village was named as an example of a failed attempt at owner-occupied houses that will now likely become a rental area of houses.

Beier also reported that the Sigma Chi fraternity, on Grand River Avenue near Collingwood, is on probation for noise and litter violations.

Mayor Pro Team Diane Goodeeris recommended the video recording of the “One Book, One Community” presentation by Brian Stevenson, author of Just Mercy. She said it was a hard book to read because of what it reports and said that we have a community that doesn’t tolerate injustice but other places do.

Goddeeris also reported that the Downtown Management Board has started a new gift card program where you can buy a gift card to use at multiple businesses downtown.

Mayor Nathan Triplett agreed with Goddeeris that the Stevenson event was very good. He also mentioned the upcoming ice cream socials hosted by the Community Relations Coalition: September 2 in Bailey; September 9 in Red Cedar; and September 15 in Oakwood.

City Manager George Lahanas said it was exciting to have the students back. The City Attorney had no report.

Consent agenda: The following items were approved on a “consent agenda,” which means they were passed in a block vote without further discussion.

  • Approval of a contract with ACTServices, Inc. in the amount of $39,900, for the purpose of completing the City of East Lansing ADA Transition Plan; see memo.
  • Approval of the appointment of Daniel Bollman to the Planning Commission for a partial term ending December 31, 2015; see Bollman’s application.
  • Approval of the appointment of Eric Muska to the Zoning Board of Appeals serving as an alternate for a term ending December 31, 2016; see Muska’s application.
  • Introduce and set a public hearing for October 6, 2015 to consider an application from the owner of Crunchy’s to sell take-out alcohol; see memo.
  • Introduce and set a public hearing for October 6, 2015 to consider an application from Tin Can East Lansing, LLC, to place a restaurant/bar serving alcohol under a Class C liquor license at 313/317 E. Grand River Avenue; see staff report.
  • Introduce and set a public hearing for September 15, 2015 to consider a Planned Unit Development from CC Abbott Road, LLC for the property at 6170 Abbot Road to construct 13 residential duplex buildings plus a standalone residential unit for a total of 27 dwelling units. The site also includes a community building. See staff report.
  • Street closures for ELHS homecoming parade, September 25.
  • Street closures for MSU homecoming parade, October 2.
  • Approval of a resolution establishing procedures for Council meetings, resolutions and the preparation and content of the Council agenda.
  • Approval of a resolution establishing procedures for liaison appointments to boards and commissions and expectations for representatives to external boards and commissions.
  • Approval of the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs Assurances form (2016 Young Playwrights Program); see memo.
  • Approval to purchase the six (6) cardiac monitors for the Metro Fire Department that will be reimbursed 100% by the CGAP grant; see memo.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license for 630 Gunson Street for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. The owner is Kyoung Moon Yang; see staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license for 3467 Gaslight Drive for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. The owner is Mayberry Homes; see staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license for 3465 Gaslight Drive for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. The owner is Mayberry Homes; see staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license application for 320 Oakhill Avenue for a Class I rental license for one roomer to reside with the owner and owner’s family. The owners are Brian, Maudi, Taylor and Bryn Moody. Bryn Moody resides at the property. See staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license application for 1270 Mulberry Lane for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. The owner is Sandi W. Smith Trust. See staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license for 951 Barclay Lane for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. The owner is Roger Niemeyer. See staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license application for 1140 Beech Street for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family. Currently this is a single family dwelling. The owner intends to convert the property to a duplex with occupancy of up to two unrelated per unit. The owner is Kevin Hagan, East Lansing and the local legal agent is Hagan Realty. See staff recommendation.
  • Approval of the Housing Commission recommendation of the issuance of an initial rental license for 1923 Mendota Drive for a Class III rental license for up to 2 unrelated persons or a family, with the condition that the 2 remaining electrical items will be finaled [sic] as corrected. The owner is Lauren Lichty, Seattle, WA. See staff recommendation.
  • Approval of full and final settlement of workers compensation claim for Jeffrey Walsh in the amount of $75,000; see memo.
  • Approval of the following street lane closure associated with the Hawk Island Fall Triathlon.

 

Note: You can watch a replay of last night’s City Council meeting by clicking here. You can click on the agenda item (below the playback screen) that you are interested in, and the recording will hop forward to that part of the meeting.

Reminder: You can communicate with Council in person at its weekly meetings or write to Council directly at council@cityofeastlansing.com. You can speak or write on any issue involving the City, not only what is on the published agenda.

 

 

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