Cashierless Parking, House Demolition, Senior Apartments, Euchre Tournaments, and More at Council

Thursday, October 13, 2016, 8:54 pm
By: 
Ian Hoopingarner

At its meeting this week, with all five members present, East Lansing’s City Council debated and approved major expenditures on the parking system, conducted a public hearing on legal decriminalization of marijuana under certain circumstances, and approved mostly without discussion a large number of items, including adjustments to the rules that will govern the Park District redevelopment project. A number of redevelopment issues were also moved forward.

Major parking system decisions approved in 4-1 votes: As we have reported, the MAC Avenue parking garage under the Marriott Hotel needs serious structural repairs, and City staff says that the gated parking payment system needs a major overhaul. According to staff, parts are being held together with duct tape. After debate, Council approved three agenda items that would allow the purchase of a new computerized, cashier-less parking system and approved issuance of bonds up to $6 million for fixing the MAC Avenue garage.

The new parking ticket/payment system will be purchased from Austrian company SKIDATA and will be installed by Wixom, Michigan-based Harvey Electronics. Besides a competitive price, the fact that Harvey also specializes in surveillance camera installation was named as a positive in a memo from City staff. Those parking in gated City lots and garages will have to pay their parking charge at a machine before exiting the lot. If they have a problem, they will be able to push a button to call for live help from a City employee.

The plan will entail laying off current employees, Planning Director Tim Dempsey told Council, although the City will “hire some of them back” in a part-time capacity as shift supervisors. Councilmember Susan Woods asked if this new system would mean savings to the City in pension costs, and Dempsey explained the workers being laid off are part-time, minimum-wage employees without benefits. Parking system cashiers have been given a few months’ termination notice and offers to provide “guidance and references” for new employment.

Despite dissent from Councilperson Shanna Draheim, who wanted to wait for advice from the Financial Health Team on these major expenditures, Council approved the purchase of a new computerized, cashier-less parking system for the MAC garage by debt-financing the new assets for a term equal to their projected life cycle of 7 years. The City will send out loan bids to several financial institutions as soon as possible, Finance Director Mary Haskell said, because the City wants to take advantage of the currently low interests rates before the election.

Finally, Council approved 4-1 a resolution authorizing the issuance and sale of tax bonds in an amount up to $6 million for further repairs on the MAC Garage. The costs for that construction project were greater than predicted, said Dempsey, which he attributed to rising costs of construction in the state, design and engineering costs, and the expenses associated with construction management. Again, Draheim’s was the dissenting vote, because she suggested waiting until the Financial Health Team weighs in on the matter, as Council had decided earlier this year in the case of a bond for the Parks and Recreation system.

Ordinance aimed at promoting senior and owner-occupied housing to have public hearing: After their meeting on September 28, the Planning Commission recommended that the City amend a section of Ordinance 1384, which concerns the special standards that will apply to new development in part of the Downtown Development Authority district. The question is whether to try to force developers to provide some degree of housing designated for senior citizens or people who want to purchase apartments to live in. Council voted to hold a public hearing on the matter on November 9, 2016. Council is expected to discuss revisions to this ordinance and to vote on revisions at that time.

Universal design requirement to also be debated: Council also set a public hearing on November 9 for Ordinance 1385, which modifies the City Code to require universal design features for seniors and tenants with disabilities in multiple-family housing units. Universal design aims at creating buildings that are disability accessible throughout, with features such as wider doorways and easy-to-turn door handles. The Planning Commission has recommended the deletion of some justification material in the ordinance on the grounds that it is out-of-date or may soon be. The Commission also unanimously voted to state that the purpose of the ordinance “was to ‘require’ Universal Design rather than just ‘facilitate’ it.”

Safe Halloween: The annual “Safe Halloween” celebration will occur on October 27, from 3:30-8:30 p.m. The City will block off MAC Avenue between Elizabeth Street and Burcham Drive for the event, which is hosted by MSU Greek Life. It includes many activities for young children, as well as a lot of candy.

Foreclosed property transferred to the City: The property located at 1025 Snyder Road, which was foreclosed on by Ingham County for failure to pay property taxes, has been transferred to the City after the County failed to sell the property at two auctions. The City will now put the property up for sale. The proceeds of the sale will go toward paying off the costs of foreclosing on and demolishing the building, which to date stand at $28,326.49, with some additional costs projected for snow removal and lawn care before the sale date.

Homeowner threatened with demolition: In June of this year, it was determined that the building at 631 Lexington Avenue constituted a dangerous building according to the City’s Property Maintenance Code. Having not demolished the building by September 1, 2016, as the owner was ordered to do, the property owner must now appear before Council on October 25 to show cause for not complying with the City’s demolition order.

Marijuana decriminalization vote goes 4-1: Continuing the trend of past meetings, Council voted 4-1 to decrminalize marijuana possession in small amounts by a person 21 years of age or older on private property, and to make possession on public property or by a person under 21 a civil infraction rather than a criminal charge. ELi has more on this story here.

Three properties rezoned from “residential” to “City Center” for redevelopment: Three Hagan Realty-owned properties at 136, 138, and 152 Durand Street, a block north of Grand River across from 7-11, as well as the adjacent property at 1020 Short Street, owned by an LLC that Hagan has a stake in, have all been rezoned from Medium Density Single-Family Residential (R2) to City Center Multiple-Family Residential (RM32). The owners plan to redevelop the properties.

Councilmembers issue various reminders:

Councilmember Erik Altmann reminded listeners that there was a Planning Commission on October 12 to discuss the plans for the Park District redevelopment project. Altmann also noted that there will be a Financial Health Forum on November 16 in the Hannah Community Center to discuss various issues relating to the City’s finances, including revenue. “It’s a big issue and people need to be involved,” he said.

Councilmember Susan Woods, who is employed as the Executive Director of the East Lansing Film Festival, announced that the Festival would be taking place from November 3-10, showing 78 films, in Wells Hall and at Studio C, with a surprise show at Hannah Community Center on November 9.

Mayor Mark Meadows stated that there would be a public forum on October 27 where voters can meet the candidates running for East Lansing School Board.

Limited entertainment license granted to the Tin Can: A license has been granted to the Tin Can, a restaurant/bar on Grand River Avenue, that allows the establishment to conduct the only the entertainment activities listed on its application: “euchre tournament, art contests, and DJ-hosted trivia.”

Budget amendments approved: An amendment to the FY2017 budget was approved. The amendment, totaling $7,825,805, consists mostly of FY2016 encumbrances from the “General, Major Streets, Local Streets, Solid Waste, Downtown Development Authority, Downtown Management Authority, Sewage Disposal System, Water Supply System, Automobile Parking System, and Garage and Public Works Service funds,” but also includes $34,500 for “firefighter personal protective gear” that was originally budgeted between FY2017 and FY2016 but, as the transaction was not completed in 2016, has been included in the FY2017 budget instead. ELi reported on the acquisition of protective gear for firefighters at the City Council’s special meeting on September 20, 2016. The gear consists of Kevlar helmets and body armor that is reportedly intended to be used in case of a live bomb alert.

Additional costs arise for wastewater plant upgrades: The process of upgrading water filtering and treatment in the East Lansing Water Resource Recovery Facility (the new name for what is more commonly called the wastewater treatment plant) has run into some unexpected problems. Existing valves and stems were in the way of proposed changes to the piping, requiring additional fittings ($18,251), existing insulation on the north side roof drain needs to be replaced ($2,568) and changes to the roof to prevent water pooling ($4,260). The current change order to the project budget totals $24,981, bringing the costs for this phase of the project up to $14,248,275.

Approval of City Purchasing Policy postponed: Councilmember Shanna Draheim proposed postponing approval of the City Purchasing Policy to allow the Commission on the Environment time to review it and provide feedback on “green” purchasing. Her colleagues agreed to the postponement.

Litigation reviewed in closed-door session: City Manager Lahanas requested and obtained permission for an Executive Session of Council, held after the Council adjourned the public meeting, to discuss matters protected by attorney-client privilege. We reported earlier this week on the latest development in the lawsuit brought against the City by nine city workers.

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Reminder: You can speak at any City Council meeting or write to Council by email at council@cityofeastlansing.com.