Council Gets Update on Demolition, Discusses Crowdfunding Infrastructure, Authorizes Sidewalk Charges

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016, 9:14 pm
Ann Nichols

Above: Some of the vacant buildings downtown set to be demolished this year.

Every week, East Lansing Info (ELi) sends one or more reporters to City Council to bring you a complete "Council Capsule."

Permit parking debate reaches some resolution: Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was again dominated by the issue of residential parking permits (RPP), the only item on the Business Agenda. See our special separate report on that.

Park District demolitions: Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier asked for an update on the timeline for the demolition of the vacant and blighted “Park District” buildings. Tim Dempsey, the City’s head of Planning, addressed the question, explaining that the first scheduled demolition will be “the little bank building” at 303 Abbot Road, which is a publically-owned property. He indicated that work has not yet started on that building because the City is “waiting for grant signoff from the state.”

The structures at 341 and 345 Evergreen Avenue (the former “Evergreen Arms” apartment buildings) are scheduled to be demolished by July 31. The large buildings at 100 and 121-140 West Grand River Avenue (the commercial structures along Grand River Avenue from Abbot Road west to Peoples Church’s garden) should be down by December 31 and could come down earlier pending resolution of the site plan. This is consistent with what ELi previously reported.

Councilmember Erik Altmann asked about possible impact of ongoing litigation in Ohio on the demolition plans for the property at issue, and Dempsey replied that the “property owners are not concerned so we’re not concerned.”            

Crowdfunding Infrastructure. During public comment, Michael Teager, Vice Chair of the Arts Commission, expressed concern about the use of crowdfunding to raise money for the ceramics studio move from the Bailey Community Center. The studio is slated to occupy space in the Hannah Community Center. As Teager himself reported in ELi, funds to move and expand the studio come from a $38,000 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs (MCACA). The grant, which was formally offered on September 29, 2015, will account for half of the $76,000 total project cost and is contingent upon receipt of equivalent matching funds.

Teager stated that, “for the last few months,” he’s been “concerned about using crowdfunding” to raise the funding not provided by MCACA. He added that the last mention of the “matching” funds by Council was in November, and that ceramics studio participants had gone to the Arts Commission requesting financial help with the obligation. The Arts Commission has no money to contribute to the project, said Teager, and to his knowledge the crowdfunding campaign has raised only $1,000 of the $20-25,000 needed to match the Arts Council grant.

Councilmember Susan Woods responded to Teager, saying “we listened to you,” and that the non-profit East Lansing Film Festival, by which Woods is employed as Director, will feature a movie to be used specifically as a fundraiser for the ceramics studio. We are “working hard,” said Woods, and “have a whole plan in place.” She added that attempts at crowdfunding were unsuccessful because ceramics people didn’t understand how it works.

Teager then asked whether the crowdfunding model was the “template” for projects going forward. “Do we say to users, ‘If you want an improvement, it’s on you?’”

Mayor Mark Meadows replied that “this is not a template for anything,” and City Manager George Lahanas explained that the intention was always to get participants to get a campaign going for funds.

Carport solar energy systems approved: Council approved an ordinance allowing the use of carports for solar energy generation in some cases. (See staff memo.)

Budget and tax rate discussion: Council held a public hearing on the preliminary FY2016-17 budget and tax rate, and Meadows stated that they would be adopting the budget on May 24. Diane Wing of Chesterfield Hills asked whether the budget involved a tax increase, to which Lahanas replied that there would actually be “a slight reduction.”

Legal settlement: The City Attorney representative asked Council to approve a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Evan Stivers against the City. The suit which concerns the Freedom of Information Act. Council voted unanimously to approve the settlement. We have a separate report on that lawsuit coming.

Two rental licenses granted: Without discussion, Council approved two Class III rental licenses for up to two unrelated persons or a family, as recommended by the Housing Commission. One was for 1537 N. Hagadorn.The owners are Olufemi Olowaolafe and Theresa Rice of East Lansing. The other was for 531 Glenmoor Road, Unit 2A. The owners are Mary Ann and Tom Sherby of Louisville, Kentucky.

More sidewalk repairs coming: Council approved a request to authorize the City Manager to enter into a contract with Able Concrete Inc. for the FY 2016-17 Sidewalk Maintenance Program in the amount of $495,575. (See map.) There were two bids and this was lower than the other by several hundred thousand dollars.

Council also approved a resolution and assessment roll for the FY 16-17 sidewalk maintenance program which results in ordering property owners to repair the sidewalk adjacent to their properties. (See staff memo.)

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