Council Capsule, January 27, 2015

Wednesday, January 28, 2015, 6:42 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Image: City Council last night

All members of City Council were present. The meeting lasted from 7:02 pm on January 27 until 12:27 a.m. on January 28.

City’s credit rating at risk, with layoffs possible: Dire financial news was delivered by City Manager George Lahanas just before the end of the meeting. Read our special report.

PDIG’s plan for Building A sent back to Planning Commission, and Council was generally unhappy with the hotel pulling out. Mayor Nathan Triplett questioned the legitimacy of using tax incentives for the project as it now stands. Read our special report.

Charter amendment on the sale of public land: Council is pushing to get this on the May 5 ballot. See our special report here.

Council debated how to manage public access to Council: They decided not to use an electronic device to try to stop people from talking more than five minutes (a plan objected to during public comments by citizen Roy Saper), and they endorsed the City Manager’s plan to make available audiotapes of Council meetings that are not videotaped and broadcast. Read our report here.

Strategic priorities presentation from the City Manager: You can read the Manager’s report here. Among plans discussed was a pilot program for body-cameras for police officers and dealing with unsafe buildings. ELPD Chief Juli Liebler answered questions about police patrols. Assistant City Manager Tim Dempsey praised City initiatives like the artistic bike racks and support of entrepreneurs.

Director of Public Works Scott House talked about upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant, the Chesterfield Hills sewer system, etc. House said it costs about $800,000 to reconstruct a mile of city streets including paving the street, doing the gutters, curbs, and sidewalks, etc. He said that “about 57% of our local streets are considered poor. We have a lot of work to do.” He acknowledged “pent-up frustration about local streets” but said it was best to fix them along with the infrastructure underground (e.g., sewers) as possible to “get the best possible return on investment.”

City Manager George Lahanas said they were putting up a new online system called Peak Democracy that would encourage more people to tell the City what they think.

Public comments: Besides those mentioned in other articles as noted above, the following public comments occurred:

Miriam Schwartz-Ziv told Council she was “kind of shocked at this decision to close Bailey [daycare and community center] last week even though there were no numbers concerning what it would cost to keep Bailey open.” She wondered how they could make decisions “without such a crucial number.” She noted that tonight at Council they were discussing Strategic Planning, but asked, “What is the point of the strategic planning if the community has been here, has voiced that they want . . . and you’re not really listening?” She used an analogy for what she thought was gong on: “If a husband decides to leave his wife, God forbid, he can tell her it’s just not working. Or if the real reason is there is a third person involved, he can tell his wife there is someone else. I think this is what is happening here. The real issue is not the lost of” money, she said. “I think real intent is to sell the building and that’s not being said explicitly.” She asked Council to reveal “the real motives.” She said she was finding it difficult to find another daycare provider for her infant child.

Chris Root also said in Public Comments that she was “so deeply disappointed in the action taken last week” to close Bailey. She said she felt “a profound sense of loss in our community. I thought a huge volunteer effort had been made by people taking an initiative and committing a huge amount of effort, and they were not engaged with in a productive manner. I think it was an enormous opportunity lost.”

Mark Sullivan also questioned the City’s decision to close Bailey and asked how they made the decision without clear figures for repair costs, etc. He suggested there could be a possibility of using Bailey as a Maker Space, with possibilities for collaboration with MSU. He also asked whether there might be some possibility of using the space for art, including dance.

Jeff Hank asked City not to close Bailey and questioned their priorities and who Council serves. He said he was resolved to try to be more positive and to build people up but he said Council was wrong to undermine Bailey and the First Amendment and to try to change the Charter on how land sales are conducted. He asked Council to “really think about who you serve.” He noted the protest that occurred before the meeting. (Read about the protest here.) He ended by saying “God bless, and I hope you change course and save our civil rights.”

Ralph Monsma supported sending the PDIG plan for Building A back to Planning Commission (which happened later), as did Chris Root who in her comments noted that a group had sent a letter to Council explaining why Building A should go back to Planning Commission. They said that the project was so radically changed it required a new review by the Planning Commission. Root also questioned the idea of using tax incentives for the new plan. She said the new plan needed sound and careful analysis.

Ralph Monsma also objected to changing the Charter language on land sales. (Also see Monsma’s comments in the section on the Lake Lansing "Interstate Partners" development, below.)

Voting precinct 2 moved: City Clerk Marie Wicks explained that Precinct 2 has been moved all over the place and is now being moved from All Saints Church to the Martin Luther Chapel. Voters will receive instructions.

More sewer and wastewater contracts: Council authorized the City Manager “to increase the contract with Terra Contracting, LLC’s for the "2014 Sewer Cleaning & Televising" project by $16,725.58 to a total amount of $126,725.58.” The project went over budget due to unforeseen problems that needed fixing. Council also set up approval of the retention of “professional engineering services to assist the City with the development of the Wastewater Asset Management Plan in accordance with the Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) Grant” and to retain “Professional Engineering Services to prepare a Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) Project Plan in order to be eligible for future SRF Funding of wastewater facilities.”

Caddis Development/Interstate Partners development proposal: Remember the former Blue Cross/Blue Shield property at the corner of Coolidge and Lake Lansing Road? Part of it has been redeveloped, and more is up for development.

Kevin McGraw of Caddis Development, for Interstate Partners I, LLC, is seeking to rezone the property “at 1595 West Lake Lansing Road from B-4, Restricted Office Business District, to B-5, Community Retail Sales Business District. The property is 3.27 acres in size.”

Caddis is seeking approval for a “Site Plan and Special Use . . . to construct a three-story commercial building, containing approximately 20,000 square feet office space, approximately 5,000 square feet of general retail, and 2,800 square feet of restaurant space, including a drive through.”

The change of this zoning to B-5 was objected to during public comments by Ralph Monsma of the Pinecrest Neighborhood. He said the neighborhood wants to keep the zoning at B-4 in part because if McGraw’s proposal doesn’t come to fruition, another developer could use the new B-5 zoning to do something the neighborhood wants even less.

Monsma said the proposed height and drive-through were out of place and problematic for the site. Financial sustainability was also named as a concern. Planning staffer Darcy Schmitt noted that there were concerns about the property turning into a fast food restaurant but she thought that could be stopped by denying a special use permit. She said there is not enough space “to stack 15 cars” in a drive through.

Nothing further happened on the matter at Council.

Four-bedroom moratorium: Staff asked Council to extend for 6 more months “the temporary moratorium on the acceptance of, processing of, and approval of site plan applications for structures containing more than 4 bedrooms per dwelling unit in multiple family dwellings” and to extend for 6 more months “the temporary moratorium on the acceptance of, processing of and approval of site plan applications for structures with less than four stories in the City Center Commercial District, B-3.” These will be approved on February 3.

Rental nonconforming controversy: Read background here.  Darcy Schmitt said she would present material to Council for their next work session on February 10.

Parks and recreation money problems: Tim McCaffrey and Wendy Longpre told Council that our parks and recreations facilities need a lot of work costing $8-$15 million in the next five years. Read more about the debt issues here. They also presented a “Park, Recreation, Open Space and Greenways Plan.” See that here. One part of the plan is to get rid of most of the tennis courts except those at Patriarche Park.

Scene Metrospace merging with MSU: The City is planning a collaboration with the Department of Art, Art History and Design (AAHD) of Michigan State University to have them do the administration and creative programming of (SCENE) Metrospace. McCaffrey said the facility will be open to the public 20 hours a week and the public will be able to exhibit art there, and to do performances. The space will also still be available for rent. Janet Lillie of MSU was present for the discussion. City Manager Lahanas said the City will cover the cost of the building and utilities and almost everything else will be paid for by MSU.

Bailey daycare closing now in September: Council unanimously passed a motion to extend the closing date of the Early Age Childcare Program at the Bailey Community Center from June 30, 2015 to September 4, 2015. Mayor Nathan Triplett said he was working with Elizabeth Weston of EC3 to find spaces for children displaced by his vote to close the Bailey daycare.