Council Capsule: August 18, 2015

Wednesday, August 19, 2015, 10:45 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: Artist’s rendition of what the alley off Ann Street Plaza could look like with art.

Note: This article was updated on August 19th, 2015 to indicate that the location of proposed condo development near Chandler and State Roads is Falcon Pointe, not Hawk's Nest as we originally reported.

The August 18 meeting of City Council was a “work session,” which means it was not videotaped or broadcast. You can listen to an audio recording by clicking here.

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

Artistic alleys: Council heard a presentation on plans to add art, site furnishings (benches and planters), and lighting to the Grove Street Alley off of the downtown Ann Street Plaza and to the Bailey Street Alley, which is off Grand River Avenue next to the downtown visitor’s center and parallel to Bailey Street.

City staff member Lori Mullins said this was an attempt to go from “good to great” and to offer an opportunity for community-building around public art. Summer Minnick from the Michigan Municipal League told Council that they were partnering with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to offer a crowd-funding opportunity. Community members would vote with their own donated dollars on projects through patronicity.com. These East Lansing projects are designed to create artistic collaborations between local senior citizens and schoolchildren.

You can read the staff memo about this and see an artist’s idea of what the Grove Street Alley could look like and what the Bailey Street Alley could look like.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris asked how the Arts Commission and Art Selection Panel would fit into these projects. A staff member responded that “Sarah is going to be working with the Arts Commission.” Presumably she was referring to Sarah Triplett, Chair of the Arts Commission (and wife of the mayor). Mayor Nathan Triplett said this project was “very much about community place-making.” Murals mounted on private buildings would require consent of the owners.

Deer management update:  Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo (city staff) gave Council an update on the deer invasion into East Lansing. She said that trail cameras used in Harrison Meadows and White Park show two herds of about 10-15 deer each, with movement between the two parks. Meridian Township has found three cases of chronic wasting disease in deer that appear to be genetically related. Culling (controlled kills by authorities) have been occurring there and may start in East Lansing at some point.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Wildlife Service are participating in discussions, studies, and management plans. Ray Vlasin reported for ELi previously on the deer problem; read his report here. ELi also did an interview with a wildlife biologist on the tick-borne diseases that travel with deer; read that here.

DeShambo said if a cull occurs in East Lansing, guns will be used because bows don’t always result in clean, quick kills. Mayor Diane Goddeeris said she was hearing concerns about deer causing property damage, causing safety issues for kids riding bikes at night, and creating roadway hazards. DeShambo said the number of car-deer accidents has remained steady at about 30 per year. (Presumably she meant in the City.) She said the ban on feeding has been good but that removing deer can result in “backfill,” i.e., new deer moving into where other deer have been culled.

Mayor Nathan Triplett said a state prohibition on hunting with guns within 450 feet of occupied structures could cause problems and controversy for East Lansing as it has for Ann Arbor.

You can read a recent staff memo on deer, as well as previous memos.

Rooftop party ordinance: The controversy continued last night; see our special report.

TIF plan for new downtown building: Council reviewed a tax increment financing (TIF) plan of about $1.45 million for a project proposed to be built at 565 East Grand River Avenue. See our special report.

Contract on Red Cedar Neighborhood Drainage: City staff member Carl Fedders asked Council to approve a contract with Leavitt and Stark Excavating, Inc. for an amount not to exceed $75,870 for the 2015 Red Cedar Neighborhood Drainage Improvements-Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). There were seven bids on this project and this was the low bid.

Fedders explained there will still be open ditches for water collection in the Red Cedar Neighborhood when this project is complete, but this will add some additional drainage into the storm sewers. Councilmember Kathy Boyle spoke to frequent flooding in the neighborhood, which is her own.

Councilmember Ruth Beier objected to staff again bringing a project for review and approval at the same time and doing so at a work session. Fedders said the timing of this made this necessary because they want the contract to start September 1 with completion sometime in October. City Manager George Lahanas said he appreciated Beier’s concern and said the project had been “discussed mid-season.” Council unanimously approved the contract.

Taxi ordinance: As Paige Filice previously reported for ELi, East Lansing is joining a Greater Lansing Taxi Authority (GLTA) in an effort to organize regulation of taxis in the Greater Lansing region. Last night, staff explained this (read the staff memo) and discussed what had to be done with an ordinance to complete the process of having the City ready to participate. City Attorney Tom Yeadon said that the new ordinance would repeal current taxi regulation in the City of East Lansing. A public hearing was set for this for the September 1 meeting of Council. At that time, City Clerk Marie Wicks will provide a presentation on the new authority.

In response to a question from Councilmember Susan Woods, Marie Wicks said that the biggest concern they were hearing from taxi drivers/owners was the requirement that participating companies have at least three cars. She said that there would be a grace period until June 2016 to meet that requirement and that small companies were looking at “creative ways to combine” to meet that requirement.

Some discussion broke out about whether the regulations set up by the Authority will be undermined if the State passes a different regulatory plan for taxis, including services like Uber. I asked Wicks after this part of the meeting to explain to our readers what is at issue with the state’s possible movement on taxi regulation.

Wicks said in an email (which she gave permission to quote) that there is regulation being considered in the state “that would preclude local regulation of ‘Transportation Network Companies’ (TNC's) such as Uber. There is a bill that passed out of committee at the House that would preempt local regulation of TNC's. TNC's maintain that they don't want to deal with ‘a patchwork of local ordinances’ and prefer to be regulated by the State. Earlier this summer, I testified before committee on behalf of the GLTA in favor of a carve out that would allow a regional authority such as ours to regulate TNC's. Needless to say, the bill was voted out of committee without our proposed amendment. At the same time, Senator Rick Jones has proposed a bill that would allow for authorities like ours to regulate TNC's. At this time, it doesn't appear that movement in either direction is imminent from either chamber of the legislature so we're in somewhat of a holding pattern.”

“Paint the Aves” for Homecoming: Staff members Megan Clark and Amy Schlusler presented to Council a plan for competitive public art projects done by MSU student downtown along Albert Avenue and Grand River Avenue in conjunction with MSU homecoming. The artwork would be temporary and jury-judged. Read the staff memo, read more information, and see the timeline. Clark and Schlusler said that the MSU Alumni Association, the homecoming organizers, and downtown business owners are all excited about this idea.

Sidewalk sales: Council approved a plan to allow “downtown East Lansing merchants to use the sidewalks in front of their businesses to sell merchandise during the annual MSU Fall Welcome Week,” Monday, August 31, 2015 through Friday, September 4, 2015.

ADA Transition plan: Director of Parks & Rec Tim McCaffrey asked Council to review a contract with ACT Services, Inc. in the amount of $39,900, for the purpose of completing the City of East Lansing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, to bring the City into compliance with the ADA. (You can read the staff memo; see the letter from ACT Services; view the contract; see the two bids that came in.) McCaffrey said the City needs an external consultant for this. He said it would take 90-120 days to complete the transition plan development. Council is expected to approve this on the consent agenda of the September 1 meeting.

EKGs: City staff member Anita Sukis asked Council for approval of the purchase of EKG monitors for emergency services with grant funding. She said they were working with six jurisdictions on this purchase so it has been a complicated situation. Council is expected to approve this on the consent agenda of the September 1 meeting.

CAHP Bailey PILOT: Council set a public hearing for their September 15, 2015, meeting for a plan to have a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT) fee set for the Capital Area Housing Partnership’s project redeveloping the Bailey Community Center to include low-income senior housing. (See the staff memo on this.)

Update on new recycling carts: City staff provided an update on the coming-soon new recycling system; read about that new system in an ELi report from Robert Mavrogordato here. Staff member Cathy DeShambo called the new hybrid recycling truck “absolutely beautiful” and told the City about all the promotional material being sent out; see a city memo. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris said she is thrilled that the roll-out date coincides with her husband’s birthday so they can stop arguing about what to do with cardboard.

Department of Public Works director Scott House said they sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on June 4 for single-stream recycling management and got two proposals back. One was from Granger and the other was from the City of Lansing offering an attractive intergovernmental agreement. He said staff would like Council to decide at its next meeting which one to go with so that they know what will be recyclable and can appropriately educate residents from the start.

Zoning code change for Community Facilities District: Staff asked Council to consider a zoning change ordinance to allow “public buildings to be temporarily utilized partially or fully for private use for a fee [to] alleviate a financial burden while maintaining a public asset.” Read the staff report. This would allow the City to lease for business or residential use any public facility in whole or part.

The proposed change would continue to have all building and lot requirements as they currently exist except it would eliminate the limit of 40 feet in height. This change is motivated by CAHP’s plan for the Bailey Community Center but City staff Darcy Schmitt acknowledged it would then apply to all city-owned buildings, including the library, city hall, and the Hannah Community Center, to name a few.

A public hearing on this matter is set for the September 1 meeting of Council.

Rezoning 3126 West Road: Council is expected shortly to approve an application from WREL, LLC, to rezone the property at 3126 West Road from RA, Residential Agriculture District to B5, Community Retail Sales Business District. See the staff report

Falcon Pointe condos: Residents of the Falcon Pointe Subdivision, near the intersection to Chandler and State Roads, recently came to Planning Commission to express their distress over a plan to convert their existing manufactured housing community to accommodate a site condominium development. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris described the meeting as rather excruciating to watch because of the problems the residents are facing. Read the staff report and a new memo on the issue.

Residents are in modular houses that are on leased land, and the developer is planning to move some of the homes. City Planning staff have been meeting with the owners to try to address their concerns but the City has limited regulatory power over this matter.

Marriott restaurant operations extended to 2 am: Council is expected to approve a plan to allow the Marriott to serve food and beverages in the Lobby Greatroom Restaurant until 2:00 a.m. According to City staff Darcy Schmitt, the hotel wants to be able to serve late on game days, but the approval would allow them to serve until 2 am on any day. Read the staff report and the application.

Policy resolutions on Council procedures and board appointments: City staff Megan Clark presented a plan to divide what is known as the “council operating procedures” into two policy resolutions, one of which would deal with Council meetings and the other with liaison appointments to boards and commissions. See the staff memo. This is expected to be approved on Council’s consent agenda on September 1.

Handbills ordinance: As we previously reported, East Lansing Police officers stopped protestors from handing out political literature in response to display of a confederate flag at the Folk Festival by citing  “Section 26-321 of Division 2 - Handbills and Bill Posting - of Article VI - Nuisances - of Chapter 26 - Offenses of the Code of the City of East Lansing.” Some have said this was an improper use by Police of this code. Council is now moving to repeal that section. Read our special report.

Support for American Airlines flights to Washington: In response to a request from the Capital Region Airport Authority, Council unanimously approved A resolution supporting the American Airlines application to continue daily nonstop service to Washington D.C. [DCA] from the Capital Region International Airport [LAN].”

The resolution states “that the City Council of the City of East Lansing strongly supports the application from American Airlines for slot exemption in order to continue nonstop daily air service to Washington D.C. as this service is not provided by any other airline and is of great benefit to our community and urges the FAA to grant the exemption.” City staff Megan Clark told me that Sun Country Airlines is discontinuing its service from LAN to DCA.

Arianna Zannetti was appointed by Council to the Planning Commission for a partial term ending on December 31, 2015. Her application can be seen here. Councilmember Kathy Boyle said she and others interviewed “various” applicants and that “two stood out” including Zannetti, who is an MSU student.

City Manager’s report: City Manager George Lahanas asked for and got approval for Council to go into executive (closed-door) session to discuss ongoing litigation against the City.

Lahanas also told Council that a Red Cross blood drive was done that day at City Hall on behalf of baby with sickle cell anemia. He said 50 people volunteered which was more than could be accommodated.

Lahanas also said that staff was being trained in emergency preparedness and educated in the City’s new culture of reporting unsafe working conditions. He said employees are being encouraged to report concerns with unethical, illegal, and unsafe behaviors. This appeared at least in part to be a follow-up to the ongoing costly problems related to mercury and asbestos at the Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Personal communications: No one spoke during public comments and the Council agenda did not include any written communications. Councilmembers had no individual reports.

 

Reminder: You can communicate with Council in person at its weekly meetings or write to Council directly at council@cityofeastlansing.com. You can speak or write on any issue involving the City, not only what is on the published agenda.