Council Capsule: September 8, 2015

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 8:59 am
Alice Dreger

Above: City Council’s meeting last night; from left, Planning Director Tim Dempsey, City Manager George Lahanas, Councilmembers Ruth Beier, Diane Goddeeris, Nathan Triplett, Kathy Boyle, and Susan Woods.

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

565 East Grand River Avenue TIF plan hotly debated: As we’ve previously reported, developer David Krause wants to build a mixed-use building at the site of the vacant former Taco Bell building, catty-corner from the Broad Museum. It would have commercial space (including probably a restaurant) on the bottom and rental apartments above, and Krause is seeking $1.4 million in tax incentives. Council got into a very heated debate about this, with Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, and Councilmember Susan Woods clearly in favor of giving Krause what he is asking, and Councilmembers Ruth Beier and Kathy Boyle strongly against. We will have a special report on this coming soon.

Concerns about the Bailey Park with the CAHP plan: Councilmembers expressed many concerns about Capital Area Housing Partnership’s (CAHP’s) site plan for changes to the Bailey Community Center, particularly as it relates to the Bailey community park north of the buildings. The plan presented tonight calls for absorbing part of the park for parking, cutting down several trees including a maple that has a 36” diameter trunk, using the park as a staging area for construction, and possibly removing playground equipment. Council also discussed the plan for a “service charge in lieu of taxes on the building.” See our special report.

Renaming the Waste Water Treatment Plant: City Engineer Bob Scheuerman told Council that City staff wants to rename the East Lansing Waste Water Treatment Plant the “City of East Lansing Water Resource Recovery Facility.” (Read the memo about this.) The reason is to change public perception, and to focus on the end-product of the plant, particularly when the plant is poised to undergo a $50-60 million renovation. Scheuerman said that we don’t call bakeries “flour, water and egg stores” and what happens at the plant is really about the end product: clean water.

This renaming requires authorizing the Mayor to appoint a committee to study the matter and to make a recommendation to Council. Staff said that costs associated with the name change will include changing signage and stationery and potentially also preparation of some legal paperwork involved in changing the plant’s name on bonds. Councilmember Ruth Beier asked for a specific breakdown of the costs that will be involved, including fees paid to the City Attorney. (He is contracted to be paid hourly.) Council voted unanimously in favor of appointing a committee and City Manager George Lahanas said he would have Finance Director Mary Haskell figure out what a name change would cost.

Retirees’ health contract being renewed: City Manager George Lahanas asked Council to authorize him to sign a renewal with Humana Insurance for Medicare-eligible retired employees of the City of East Lansing. The contract can be viewed here and Lahanas’s explanatory memo is here. Council will formally approve this at their meeting next week.

Discussion of proposed development that was rejected by Planning Commission: Planning Commission almost never votes to reject an application for a large development, but this happened recently on an application from CC Abbott Road, LLC to redevelop a large piece of land on Abbot Road just north of Lake Lansing Road. The address of the parcel is 6170 Abbot Road, and it involves the land on the east side of Abbot Road just north of the strip mall at the northeast corner of Abbot Road and Lake Lansing Road, and just south of the small veterinary hospital there.

The plan calls for a clubhouse-style private building plus 13 residential duplex buildings and one stand-alone residential building, for a total of 27 dwelling units, all four-bedroom, aimed at student renters. A staff memo explains the reasons for Planning Commission’s vote against the project, 5-2. A major concern included what the development would do to “natural features” of the property, particularly a large number of old trees.

Mayor Nathan Triplett said Council would need advice from City Attorney Tom Yeadon about whether it was legally defensible to reject a project for the reasons given by the Planning Commissioners. In answer to a question from Councilmember Ruth Beier about how Council handles a project that was rejected by the Planning Commission, Triplett said that Council could do in this case what it could always do: reject the plan, accept it, ask for changes, or send it back to Planning Commission for additional revision and consideration.

Triplett suggested that if Council were going to reject the plan, it would need reasons that could hold up in court if the City is sued. He said he was “not in love with this plan” but said that legally the developer could have opted to clear-cut the land and then submit the plan, and that they could probably still do so, although he made clear he was not suggesting that the developer do that.

You can read more about the reasons Planning Commissioners voted 5-2 against; read why City Planning staff recommends approval; view the developer’s application; look at the site plans; and see what the proposed buildings would look like according to an artist.

Closure of the Lansing Post Office Processing and Distribution Center: Mayor Nathan Triplett said that he was bringing a resolution to Council, asking them to pass it, objecting to the USPS’s closure of the Lansing processing and distribution center, because other nearby jurisdictions have done so and because the closure was causing problems for East Lansing’s court and City Clerk. East Lansing mail that used to be locally processed is now shipped to Grand Rapids and back and this is causing problematic delays for court notices and Clerk-related mail, such as voting-related paperwork. Council is expected to approve the resolution at its meeting next week.

Non-motorized paths to be discussed: Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris asked her colleagues to look at the 235-page plan from 2011 about pathways for non-motorized transportation, including pedestrians and bicycles, because the large report was produced after a lot of dialogues but nothing ever came of it. She said she wants it “off the shelf.”

Reports: Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris reminded people that the library has exciting events coming up; see the library website. Mayor Nathan Triplett reminded people that the Community Relations Coalition (CRC) has ice cream socials and neighborhood cleanups coming up; see the CRC’s website. City Manager George Lahanas told Council that senior staff is doing “tabletop exercises” to prepare for emergency management. Lahanas also asked for and got permission to have an executive session (closed door meeting) with City Attorney Tom Yeadon to discuss lawsuits against the City.


Note: Last night’s meeting was a “work session” which means it was not broadcast or videotaped. You can listen to an audiotape of the meeting by clicking here.

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