Council Covers Wide Range of Issues at August 9 Meeting

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016, 7:59 am
Alice Dreger

Above: a “party bike” leaving a parking lot near Peoples Church on June 3.

East Lansing’s City Council held two meetings last night, including one on the recommendations of the Financial Health Team. We have a separate report on that second meeting. All members were present for both meetings except Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier, who was in Traverse City on business.

Drinking on party bikes prohibited: At the advice of City Attorney Tom Yeadon, Council voted 4-0 to ban drinking or the serving of alcohol on “party bikes” like that used by JoyRide Pedal Tours. Councilmember Shanna Draheim asked if other cities allow drinking on such vehicles, and Yeadon said he thought that Lansing does. But, Yeadon said, consumption of alcohol is prohibited on public highways. The vote by Council, according to Yeadon, simply clarified that consumption or serving of alcohol on party bikes in East Lansing is illegal.

City Manager speaks on boil water emergency: City Manager George Lahanas told Council that no harmful bacteria entered the drinking water supply as a result of the filter problem that led to a boil-water advisory last Friday through Sunday. He said a full report will be coming from the East Lansing Meridian Water and Sewer Authority.

Lahanas told Council that the Authority is a separate entity from the City of East Lansing, although East Lansing’s Director of Public Works Scott House serves on its board. According to Lahanas, House is asking the Authority’s superintendent to review the incident to ascertain what caused the problem, whether technological, personnel, or communication issues. Lahanas said this would help prevent a recurrence from “inconveniencing our residents” again. Several recent letters to Council complained about events surrounding the boil water alert.

Folk Festival this weekend: Councilmember Shanna Draheim and Mayor Mark Meadows both mentioned the Great Lakes Folk Festival in their Councilmember reports. Draheim said she believes the Festival is still looking for volunteers. Meadows said the City was fortunate to have landed the National Folk Festival in the 1990s and that this, being the continuation of the National Folk Festival having been in East Lansing, is something “we need to all get out and support.”

One Book, One Community gearing up: East Lansing Public Library Director Kristin Shelley presented to Council the plans for this year’s One Book/One Community event. Two books will be featured: Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario and City of Thorns by Ben Rawlence. The series kick-off occurs on August 28, and community members are encouraged by Shelley to visit the project’s dedicated website to learn more about opportunities throughout the City and MSU to connect with information and neighbors via shared attention to these books.

After Shelley explained that part of the focus will be on refugee and immigrant experience, Councilmember Susan Woods asked if Donald Trump will be invited. Shelley answered, “Everyone is invited. We are open to all.”

BRT critics speak to Council: Two vocal critics of CATA’s plan for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) spoke during public comments. These included Bill Collette, who has previously spoken against the project, and J.J. Neilson, who owns several local businesses, including along the planned BRT route.

Collette told Council CATA is being deceptive about ridership along the number 1 bus route, using overcrowding data from buses that are actually coming from the north into campus along the number 1 route to claim that Route 1 itself is overcrowded. He suggested MSU is against the plan and that it will be a disaster for many businesses along the route.

Neilson objected to using over $140 million in public money to solve a problem he says does not exist here. He said we have a good, operating transit system and that the BRT would be like “a stick of dynamite thrown on it.” Neilson warned that the Lansing Chamber of Commerce is set to release a statement against the project. He also said he had personally spoken with MSU’s President Lou Anna Simon and that she is against the project but that CATA is ignoring her objections. Neilson called the project “a fraud.” He urged Council to pass a resolution criticizing the project.

In response, Councilmember Shanna Draheim said that she rides Route 1 buses several days a week to work and “they are not empty.” She said that Route 1 “is a main thoroughfare in our communities, and during the business rush hours, when I ride it, it is packed.”

When reviewing recent written communications to Council, Mayor Mark Meadows noted that these included two letters opposed to the BRT, one from Meridian Township resident Renee Korrey and one from East Lansing business owner Robert Phipps.

Council has repeatedly indicated interest in hearing the latest on the plans from City staff sometime in the near future.

Helping Hands Respite Care presentation: John Stauffer, Executive Director of Helping Hands Respite Care, came to thank Council for the City’s continued partnership with his organization. Helping Hands provides care and support for families that include a person with disabilities; these include but are not limited to people with autism and dementia, ranging in age from children to the elderly. (Read more about Helping Hands in a special ELi interview by Telaina Eriksen.)

Stauffer said he had no idea, when the program moved from Lansing to East Lansing, what a difference a City could make for a nonprofit like this. He noted that Mayor Meadows serves on the board, and Meadows noted that former Councilmembers Kevin Beard and Kathy Boyle do as well.

Welcome Back Dance Party set for September 10: During Councilmember reports, Susan Woods announced that there would be a Welcome Back Dance Party hosted by the City in Ann Street Plaza on September 10 from 7 – 12 p.m. She called the plans exciting and said that the hope is to have a band and DJ’s. Woods had originally hoped to have this party happen last year, saying last year at Council that it was “a dream of mine” that she had “mentioned in my campaign,” to bring together returning students and other community members, but this will be the first year it will happen.

343 M.A.C. Avenue gets Council permission for seven-person rental plan: Mark Terry requested from Council a Special Use Permit for his plan to rent 343 M.A.C. Avenue, near St. John’s Student Parish, to up to seven people. Terry (who has donated to East Lansing Info) had previously been denied by Council his request to de-landmark the 1911 house in the College Grove Historic District. This time Council voted 3-1 in favor of Terry’s request for a Special Use Permit, with Councilmember Erik Altmann voting against.

Before the matter came to public hearing, Altmann disclosed under the Council’s ethics ordinance that Terry had given him $150 in campaign contributions. Altmann’s objection to the plan seemed to center on the idea that by approving the Special Use Permit, Council would be making the property nonconforming according to existing zoning regulations.

According to Director of Planning Tim Dempsey, the property can accommodate bedrooms for seven people without using the basement. It has two bathrooms. Terry told Council that the house next door is licensed for twelve people and that the use he was proposing was similar to how older houses in the area are used.

Contracts and agreements approved during consent agenda: The following contracts, agreements, street closures, board appointments, stop signs, rental licenses, and resolutions were approved by Council under a consent agenda, which means there was no further discussion of them:

Want to watch Council for yourself? Click here to see the video. If you click on the item you are interested in, in the index below the screen, the playback will jump to that portion of the meeting.

Reminder: You can speak to Council during the “public comment” portion of its meetings or write to Council at on any issue.

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