Council Votes for Butterflies, $6 Million Parking Bond, Trails Repair, Air Rights, and Against Pipeline

Wednesday, August 17, 2016, 7:24 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: an East Lansing butterfly, left; 300 West Grand River Avenue, right.

Here's your weekly "Council Capsule," a service brought to you only by East Lansing Info. All members of East Lansing’s City Council were present for this week’s meeting (8/16/16).

Ethics ordinance to be revisited: Although several items on the agenda last night seemed to require campaign contribution disclosures under the ethics ordinance passed by this Council, no such disclosures were made by any Council member. Mayor Mark Meadows did ask at last night’s meeting to put the ethics ordinance on Council’s September 20 meeting agenda in order to “discuss any changes we might want to make, or how we want to enforce that” ethics ordinance.

Taking care of the pollinators: City Council unanimously in favor of a resolution supporting East Lansing becoming a pollinator-friendly community. The resolution calls for East Lansing to “reduce and minimize all chemical pesticide use on City property” and to “implement alternative practices to minimize impacts on the natural environment.” It also calls for enhancing “safe and healthy pollinator forage habitat on City properties, including revision of mowing policies where possible to allow wildflowers and other appropriate flowering species to flourish and feed pollinators, and to allow tree selection to include consideration of pollinator friendly trees and native trees.”

The resolution further calls for the City to “encourage local businesses, schools, neighborhoods, and households to adopt pollinator friendly policies and practices” and to “work collaboratively with local universities and other professional organizations to support pollinator health and research, implement best practices, encourage swarm recovery, and establish a baseline to monitor pollinator health.” The resolution was called for by East Lansing’s Commission on the Environment.

Air rights easement given to developer for decorative structure: The new building at 300 West Grand River (formerly called “The Gateway” and known now as “300 Grand,” just south of Valley Court Park) has a chunk of exterior overhang that requires an air rights easement from the City because it hangs over the public sidewalk. City staff recommended giving the easement at no cost.

Councilmember Erik Altmann asked why this issue wasn’t dealt with during the original site plan approval. City Planning Director Tim Dempsey said that his department “likes to catch these [issues] sooner but we didn’t have the full plans” to see the overhang. He said they only recently got the materials from the developer that they needed.

Councilmembers Altmann and Draheim asked about potential hazards from the overhang, including having ice and water drop onto pedestrians. Dempsey responded that these should not be a problem and if they are, the City will bring enforcement action. City Council voted unanimously in favor of the air rights easement.

Mayor praises HiTea for locating in East Lansing: Mayor Mark Meadows reported that he went to a reception for HiTea, an international tea distribution company that has established its North American office in East Lansing at the University Place (Marriott) office complex. He encouraged citizens to take opportunities to get to know the business, which includes a new teashop.

Fire Department Promotions: Deputy Chief Steve Alvarado presented to Council members of the East Lansing Fire Department who have recently been promoted. Alvarado said the promotion process is a rigorous one and requires substantial time and effort. Don Carter has been promoted to Fire Marshall. Jim Pontack has been promoted to Safety Training Officer. Ken Lehto and Dawn Carson have been promoted to Deputy Chief. Chuck Gagnier, Cam Howie, Leon Allaire, and Josh Barrett have been promoted to Fire Captain. Mark Koonter, Ray Stover, John Newman, and Bill Sedlacek have been promoted to Fire Lieutenant.

Resolution to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 Pipeline: By passing a resolution, City Council voted unanimously to back the Sierra Club’s movement to shut down the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline which runs under the Straits of Mackinac. As noted in a City staff memo, the concern is “the potential risk of oil spill” in the Straits.

Councilmember Shanna Draheim thanked East Lansing’s Commission on the Environment for quickly and expertly dealing with this and the pollinators resolution. She said this was “volunteer work that I love to see.”

New Assistant Engineering Administrator: City Manager George Lahanas introduced Nicole McPherson who has been hired partly to be ready to succeed City Engineer Bob Scheuerman, who is approaching retirement. Lahanas praised McPherson’s educational and professional background, indicating she is extremely well qualified to be hired into this position.

New Assistant Director for the Library: East Lansing Public Library Director Kristin Shelley introduced “our first ever Assistant Director,” Jason Shoup, who will also be acting as Head of Customer Experiences. She said Shoup will be taking charge of programming and outreach as the library is “really trying to go beyond our walls, and break out” to new audiences and opportunities.

Public comments: Ralph Monsma of the Pinecrest neighborhood thanked the City for help with the Pinecrest Neighborhood Picnic, for cleaning up so quickly after the July 8 storm, and for repaving Harrison Road. He also questioned why the City is allowing Costco to build on a property that he said seems to be a poor choice of location, particularly given concerns about wetlands and habitat for pollinators and concerns about traffic flow and access.

Plans for 2017 Jazz Festival: City Council voted unanimously to have the City Manager sign required Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs’ paperwork in support of the 2017 Summer Solstice Jazz Festival.

Northern Tier Trail to get some attention:  Council voted to have the City Manager sign an agreement “for $180,000 from the Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage to conduct repairs and maintenance to the 3.47 miles of the Northern Tier Trail in Ingham County.” Work will include routing and filling wide cracks, removing and replacing sections that have deteriorated, skim-coating and replacing sections as needed to meet ADA-standards, dealing with erosion, and applying “a single course micro-surface over [the] entire length.” (Read our special report on the Trails millage.)

Nonconforming rentals ordinance proposals move forward: On the consent agenda, Council voted to send on to Planning Commission and Housing Commission a series of draft ordinances designed to address landlords’ frustrations with restrictions on their abilities to change properties that are “nonconforming” according to current zoning laws.

These draft proposals include an ordinance “to allow renovations to multi-family buildings with non-conforming uses in cases where the renovations will not increase the occupancy or footprint by more than 20 percent” specifically to deal with the East Village; an ordinance aimed at allowing structural alternations to the interior of nonconforming rental units, including rental houses; an ordinance that would allow structural alterations to the interior as well as “an addition of not more than 20 percent of the floor area”; and an ordinance that would allow structural alterations and the addition of bathrooms.

Planning Commission and Housing Commission will now take up these draft ordinances and proceed to make recommendations to City Council. Mayor Mark Meadows noted that some of the draft ordinances may seem to contradict each other, but said that is the case so that the Commission can look at various possible options.

$6 million bond to fix a parking garage: City Council voted through a resolution “that announces the City’s intent to issue bonds, in an amount not to exceed $6.0 million, to reconstruct the MAC Avenue Parking Garage, a two-level underground parking structure located underneath University Place (Marriott Hotel and office tower)” downtown. You can read ELi’s earlier report on why the City is having to take out this bond to pay to fix this parking garage.

Downtown Dance Party on September 10: At the recommendation of Councilmember Susan Woods, the City is hosting a Downtown Dance event on September 10 to bring together MSU students and permanent residents of the City. Council voted unanimously to approve the associated road closures and use of amplified sound. Woods encouraged everyone to put the event on their calendars and to attend. She said it is “going to be great fun” and she hopes “everyone turns out for it.”

Downtown housing mix goal readjusted: In the consent agenda, Council unanimously passed a change to rules about what developers may build downtown in an apparent effort to encourage more senior housing options downtown. Mayor Mark Meadows said that the changes were being made to “encourage owner-occupancy” in the downtown area covered by the Downtown Development Authority west of Collingwood Drive.

Real estate companies required to put sidewalks in: Following a public hearing on the matter, City Council voted to require two major real estate companies, Gillespie Group and the Eyde Company to put in sidewalks on their vacant properties along Coleman Road by July 20 of next year. We’ll have a separate report on this.

Council meets behind closed doors: At City Manager George Lahanas’ request, Council met behind closed doors to do his annual performance evaluation. Council also met privately to discuss ongoing litigation at the request of City Attorney Yeadon.

 

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