Council Capsule: October 20, 2015

Wednesday, October 21, 2015, 8:17 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

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

Ralph Monsma recognized for CATA Service: Ralph Monsma (shown above) was recognized for his thirty-five years of service on the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) board of Directors. His is the longest of any board member’s service. CATA’s CEO Sandy Draggoo remembered for Council many successes, much hard work, and joyful times with Monsma. Draggoo told Monsma, “You’ll always be our CATA man.” Triplett added his appreciation and said Monsma was being singled-out from others for recognition for the length and quality of his service and he presented Monsma with an East Lansing jacket.

Monsma said he had extremely positive experiences working for and with CATA and he thanked his wife Sharon for putting up with all the hours dedicated to that work and for her help with managing the work. He spoke to some of the projects he had worked on, although he kept his remarks brief, focusing on thanking everyone who had collaborated with and supported him, particularly his wife Sharon and CATA’s Sandy Draggoo.

Deer debate to continue before cull: During public communications, Robert Posey, a 40-year resident of Whitehills, came to comment on the proposed deer cull. He said he understood that some of his neighbors have had landscaping and crops damaged or destroyed by deer, but said he thinks they represent “a vocal minority.” He and his wife have been encountering deer in White Hills Park, and he did not see evidence that they are suffering from chronic wasting disease, so he thought the Council should consider viable options to avoid the cull.

Posey suggested deer-resistant vegetation and named specific plant options. He said no one in Whitehills has a garden because they are trying to feed their family. According to Posey, this is not a herd of deer, but a family of deer—about twelve by the latest estimate. (The USDA cull plan is to kill all of the deer found in White Hills Park and Harrison Meadows Park.) Posey said they are tame and benign and that he thought rabbits, birds, and chipmunks probably did more damage then deer in Whitehills. He believes what is going on doesn’t require the “nuclear option” of killing all the deer in these two parks. He suggested defensive measures for the next year and then looking at the situation again.

City Council was poised tonight to vote on a related matter without further discussion—setting a public hearing for November 17 to discuss possible changes to the City ordinance regarding possession and use of weapons (including guns and bows) in the City. (See our report from last week and the proposed ordinance changes.) But Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris pushed for discussion at this meeting, saying she thought Posey didn’t understand all the studies and planning that had gone into the matter, and that he and others needed to be educated. She wanted the City staff to present a simple fact sheet before the vote on November 17. City Manager George Lahanas said that there had been multiple opportunities used to educate the public about these issues.

Councilmember Kathy Boyle said that a neighbor of hers in the Red Cedar neighborhood had been charged by a buck when he was raking his yard, and that people should not assume deer are tame. Councilmember Ruth Beier said this is a charged issue, and given that there will be new Councilmembers at the November 17 meeting of Council, she thought there might well be “real discussion” of the matter when it comes back to Council. Beier said she wanted staff to present “non-lethal options” for management, and “to tell us why it will or won’t work.”

Council voted unanimously to have a public hearing on the associated ordinance change on November 17.

Council approves road paving by developer who cleared Northern Tier Trail area without permission: Last week we broke the story that the developer of “The Rocks” along Chandler Road had been clearing a natural area without City permission in preparation for a road to access the back of their development. This week, the question of giving permission came before Council, and no mention was made of the developer’s pre-approval actions.

According to an emailed memo by City staff member Megan Clark to Council last Wednesday, “staff did call the property developer of the Rocks as soon as we were made aware of the clearing.” (Clark was made aware because I called her last Wednesday to alert her when I discovered the active clearing.) Clark's email to Council said that Planning Director Tim Dempsey “did speak with Mr. Randle and they agreed to cease all work immediately. Mr. Randle had stated that they believed their existing easement gives them the right to do so, but they will stop work until after the approval. We don’t necessarily agree regarding their understanding of the easement, but will check into that as well.” Clark wrote that the City Manager George Lahanas himself “also went out to check and make sure they had indeed stopped work and they had.”

At Council, Dempsey, Lahanas, and Council made no reference to this situation. Dempsey suggested the plan was good because citizens would get more paved trail (about a quarter-mile from Chandler Road to the soccer complex) at the cost of the developer. Dempsey said he thought the removal of substantial amounts of vegetation was a good thing.

Mayor Nathan Triplett agreed that having this “spur” to the Northern Tier Trail at the cost of a developer and not the City benefitted the people of the City. Council voted 5-0 to approve the agreement with the developer.

Converting “no name park” into an official park: As we reported last week, the small public space at the northeast corner of Albert Street and Abbot Road—known as “no name park”—is not currently an official park of the City of East Lansing. Now, with the Bailey Community Center set to be repurposed under the plan from the Capital Area Housing Partnership (CAHP), the City has had to deal with a 1990 agreement with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which requires the City to keep the Bailey space public recreation space unless they “trade” a space. The City is looking therefore to change the Bailey Community Center to “limited public use” and to turn “no name park” into an actual park to satisfy the agreement with the DNR.

Parks & Rec Assistant Director Wendy Longpre presented the plan to Council. Councilmember Ruth Beier asked if the application is denied by the DNR whether the City can repay the original grant amount that led to this situation. Longpre said that is not possible according to the DNR. She said the DNR has tentatively accepted this conversion plan.

This Council meeting (October 20) included the public hearing on this issue. (Read the associated memo.) The only comment came from me (Alice Dreger) indicating that I thought most residents would support this plan to permanently protect “no name park” from redevelopment, and that the fact that the Bailey Community Center has long been on the “redevelopment ready list” (along with “no name park”) raises the question of whether staff is unaware of similar encumbrances on other publicly-owned properties on the redevelopment ready list.

Council voted 5-0 to support the plan to convert the Bailey Community Center to “limited public use” and to ask the DNR to accept the conversion of “no name park” to park status to satisfy the City’s obligation to the DNR.

Reports from Councilmembers, City Manager, and City Attorney:

Councilmember Susan Woods announced that the East Lansing Film Festival (ELFF), a local nonprofit organization which is financially supported by the City of East Lansing (and for which Woods is paid $24,000/year for her work as the Director), will happen November 5-12. On Veterans Day, November 11, ELFF will be holding a tribute in the Hannah Community Center.

Kathy Boyle, for whom this is the last meeting as a Councilmember, expressed her appreciation for the opportunity to serve the community as a Councilmember. She said the City has community members who are “articulate, informed, and opinionated” and who don’t hesitate to share their ideas. She said that during the past few years the City has undertaken several collaborative facilitative planning projects, including on non-conforming rental properties and the future of the Bailey Community Center. She said she thought this was a great way to engage stakeholders and that she hopes the City government would continue to use collaborative processes with outside facilitators. She also expressed appreciation for the dedication and hard work of City staff, “under the able leadership” of City Manager George Lahanas, and appreciation for volunteers on task forces and commissions.

Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, for whom this is the last meeting as a member of Council after nine years of service, expressed her thanks, with notable emotion, to her family, particularly her husband John. She said she and her husband have had many debates over the years over Council matters. She said she was not looking forward to taking over house duties on Tuesday nights. She said he was the calming support when people sent “nasty emails,” and that he also was often thanked by women in town for supporting his wife.

Goddeeris also thanked her children, and said that the people in the community had inspired her. She named many individuals and groups that had helped her. She thanked her church, University Lutheran, and said that her Christian values showed in this position because she had “to turn the other cheek” many times. She thanked City staff including the present City Manager and past City Manager Ted Staton. She recognized the Waller family for their leadership in trying to organize pediatric hospice care in this region. Finally, she thanked the women who had been in her role before her who had advised her, and expressed a special thank-you to Nathan Triplett. She said Triplett should be proud to be mayor “to all these women,” meaning the four other members of Council.

Mayor Nathan Triplett thanked Boyle and Goddeeris for their service and said it was a “tremendous privilege” to have worked with them. He said he was sure they would keep “giving back to the community.” He also reminded people that this Sunday outside City Hall there is the final Community Relations Coalition neighborhood cleanup for the Bailey and Oakwood neighborhoods.

City Manager George Lahanas thanked the outgoing Councilmembers and those who serve on boards and commissions. He also thanked his wife for fourteen years of marriage. City Attorney Tom Yeadon thanked the outgoing Councilmembers.

Boards and Commissions updates: Various representatives of East Lansing boards and commissions provided updates.

The University Student Commission representative talked about mental health awareness, voter registration, and the need to educate students about what may be relatively important but misunderstood issues in leases they sign. The Arts Commission put their report in a memo, and a presentation of that information also came from chair Sarah Triplett (the mayor’s spouse). Activities include supporting various local visual arts and music projects with funding.

Chair Amanda Harrell-Seyburn reported for the Historic District Commission and said there were thirteen hearings this year and the issuance of nine certificates of appropriateness. She said the group is trying to be much more proactive now to notify owners in the districts of requirements but also to increase pride in ownership of historic properties, and said the Oakwood Historic District Boundary Committee has been working steadily. Scott Schrager, chair of the Board of Review, said they managed 87 appeals in a 3-day period. The Board considers requests to lower assessments on particular properties. (Assessments determine how much property tax is paid on a property.) Schrager said that people bringing evidence for their appeals has made the board’s job easier.

Cheryl Bartholic, chair of the Parks & Recreation Advisory Committee talked about what occurred this year, including re-build of the playground at Patriarche Park and various educational and study projects. She said there was strong support among East Lansing citizens for parks, trails, etc. Nate Terwillger, vice chair of the Human Relations Commission, said there were no formal complaints made about discrimination this year in the City but that members of the Commission have been working to educate citizens about the protections against discrimination that exist in the City.

Julie Jones-Fisk, chair of the Planning Commission, said it was an exciting and productive year, and that it had included work on the comprehensive plan and various large redevelopment projects. She named those and said she expected a lot more work this year. Maria Zdybel spoke for the Seniors’ Commission. She said they were working on making sure seniors and persons with disabilities are prepared for emergencies. She also spoke to the work of Prime Time in the community and said they were delighted to be part of the Artists’ Alley project.

City staff member Amy Schlusler spoke for the Downtown Management Board, saying they had hosted many community events including the chili cook-off, Mental Health Awareness Week, and “Paint the Aves.” Doug Jester spoke for the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA). (See our report on how these two groups manage tax increment financing.) He said they work to make the downtown function better through various interventions. Jester had the staff play a video to advertise the “Artists’ Alley” crowd-funding attempt.

The report on the Library Board of Trustees was presented by President Lance Wilkinson. He discussed the anonymous $1.5 million donation for the renovation of the building and said it does not achieve as much as is needed. He also talked about the Maker Space’s high usage and demand. Andy McGlashen, chair of the Commission on the Environment, presented the group’s work on the City sustainability plan. He also talked about the new recycling programs. He said the group also worked on wetland mitigation plans for the new MSUFCU building. He also reported that the City got a matching grant to replace trees lost to emerald ash borer and to the ice storm two years ago.

John Czarnecki, chair of the Building Authority, explained that the authority’s purpose is to make sure the City can make its payments on bonds for the parking ramps. He said they met twice this year, which was once more than usual, and that their work totaled about two hours this year. The Transportation Commission did not present but you can read their memo report to Council.

Military active-duty house-sitting accommodation: As we reported last week, City Housing administrator Annette Irwin presented to Council proposed changes to a City ordinance to allow active duty military personnel certain exceptions to the City’s usual rules about house-sitters. This Council meeting (October 20) included the formal public hearing on the matter, but no citizens had any comment on it. Irwin has said this will help accommodate East Lansing homeowners who are called away for military service. She estimates this change will apply to very few houses. See the staff memo and the ordinance changes. Council approved the change unanimously after removing sections 2-a-3 and 2-b-1.

Consent agenda: The following items were approved on a consent agenda, which means they were approved without discussion:

  • Approval of a contract with Adams Outdoor Advertising for ads in the City’s parking garages; see the city memo and agreement.
  • Approval of a contract with Hundred Acre Woods to maintain the grounds at the soccer complex; read the memo and agreement.
  • Approval of a street closure for the October 29 MSU Greek Life “Safe Halloween” event; see memo.
  • Approval of resolution recognizing Zonta Club of East Lansing Area Foundation for the purpose of obtaining a charitable gaming license from the Michigan Lottery Bureau; see memo.

 

This meeting was videotaped and recorded. You can watch the meeting by clicking here. If you choose the item you are interested in from the index shown below the screen, the playback will jump to that section of the meeting. The material above is not presented in the same order as occurred at the meeting.

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.

 

East Lansing Info is currently fundraising and we need your help to keep this service going. Our Council Capsule reporter volunteers her services (and donates money to ELi) and she needs your help financially supporting the editing and technological structure that makes this publication possible. Do your part now!