Council Restricts Drones, Appoints Financial Health Team, Revisits Permit Parking

Thursday, February 18, 2016, 6:55 am
By: 
Michael Teager

Logistical update: All Council members were present at tonight’s meeting, including Mayor Mark Meadows, Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Beier, and members Erik Altmann, Shanna Draheim, and Susan Woods. Before the meeting’s official start, Meadows noted that Tuesday’s meeting was being recorded and broadcast via fixed-position cameras in accordance with Council’s new schedule and frequency of video recording meetings, as previously reported by ELi’s Coleen Moyerbrailean.

MSU hosts Panamanian teachers: After the special presentation, Mayor Meadows made an unscheduled announcement to acknowledge a group of teachers from Panama who were in attendance. He invited Carol Wilson-Duffy of MSU’s English Language Center to the podium to offer brief comments.

Wilson-Duffy said that MSU is currently hosting its third group of teachers in a partnership with a Panamanian government initiative to train 25,000 teachers in five years. She said that they represent a variety of rural and urban communities and student age ranges (K-12), and that the exchange is “a huge project” that, among other things, helps the teachers with their English skills and pedagogical methods. MSU hopes to host a fourth group this May.

Drone regulations implemented: A public hearing was held on whether to pass Ordinance No. 1369, which regulates the use of specific unmanned aircraft within the City’s limits. Unmanned aircraft is defined in the ordinance as being:

“…an aircraft this is operated remotely without any means of physical attachment to the aircraft such as a string or wire or operated autonomously through the use of an on-board computer and either weighs over .55 pounds or weighs less than .55 pounds but has a camera, viewing device, or listening device attached thereto.”

Konrad Hittner of Kedzie Street spoke during the public hearing in his capacity as Chair of the Bailey Community Association. He conveyed neighborhood concerns which also reflected those of Thomas Baumann, who offered written comments to Council and who also discussed the matter with Councilmember Altmann before the meeting.

The concerns were twofold. First, the ordinance as proposed didn’t distinguish between model aircraft and, per Hittner, the newer iteration of “4-axis and camera drones.” Baumann, a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), wrote to say that “any regulations of drones will also be applicable to remote control model aircraft, which have been around for much longer without causing much, if any, trouble.”

Second, the ordinance as proposed didn’t offer exceptions for recreational use in City parks. There was also a question about use on public school grounds for educational purposes.

City Attorney Yeadon said that the only distinction made in the draft ordinance regarding acceptable aircraft was weight, and he first suggested that an exception for model airplanes would have to be added to the ordinance’s language to address that concern.

However, Yeadon later noted that exceptions could be made for park use at the City Manager’s discretion via the City’s park rules. So, for example, if City Manager George Lahanas were to deem model airplanes acceptable to use at Patriarche Park, no revision to the ordinance would be required to allow the use of model airplanes there.

Lahanas suggested that the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission be asked to advise which parks may or may not be appropriate for various types of flying small unmanned aircraft, and Council agreed to this approach (rather than amending the ordinance). The ordinance as drafted passed unanimously.

Financial Health Review Team appointed: Council unanimously approved the appointment of its Financial Health Review Team. Lahanas described the Team’s task as assessing the City’s comprehensive financial health over the course of this year and ultimately recommending to Council “possibilities to address various financial needs for the city,” adding that Council and staff are “eager” to begin. Council and City Staff met last Saturday to hear an overview of the budget and a five-year forecast in preparation for the upcoming work on the City's financial future.

All councilmembers offered their support for the Team and its purpose, with Beier being “very happy” and Draheim calling the group “really strong.” Beier noted the team’s two deadlines: a recommendation on pensions by July 31, and a recommendation on the City’s overall fiscal picture by December 15.

Altmann reiterated that the team is not a solution itself, but rather it would provide suggestions. Woods noted that this resolution is not a comment on Mary Haskell nor on the Finance Department, and Meadows acknowledged each of the team members individually.

The team includes: Michael Moquin (Chair), Jill Rhode (Vice Chair), former East Lansing Mayor Douglas Jester, Aaron Harris, Ray Vlasin, Eric Scorsone, Robert Kleine, James Butler, Tricia Foster, Sue Haka, and Jeff Hicks. (See ELi’s special report on City Council’s budget meeting last Saturday.)

Service recognition for commissioners: A special presentation for recently-term-limited Board and Commission members occurred at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting. Members who served at least two full terms ending in December 2015 were recognized by their board’s or commission’s council and staff liaisons. ELi has provided a separate report on this presentation.

Stormwater management: An ordinance regarding stormwater management was unanimously passed without discussion, nor was there comment during the public hearing. Per the staff memo, Substitute Ordinance No. 1367 adds language and details procedures for handling post-construction stormwater management to the Code of the City of East Lansing.

The new requirements, effective March 1, 2016, apply to properties greater than one acre and aim to manage run-off in a more environmentally sensible manner. (The slide presentation given to Council on this may be viewed here.) A comprehensive overview of the procedures and requirements are included in the concurrently-passed Stormwater Policy & Procedures Manual and Stormwater Design Manual.

Parking agreement and easements for new downtown development: Easements and a modified parking agreement for the redevelopments at 565 E. Grant River Avenue (a.k.a. “the Old Taco Bell building”) were unanimously passed at the end of Tuesday’s meeting. We have prepared a separate report on this.

Historic District legislation discussed: In her Councilmember report, Mayor Pro Tem Beier highlighted a letter from the City’s Historic District Commission regarding the state government’s proposed legislation surrounding Historic Districts as recently covered by ELi.

On this point, Mayor Meadows followed up by saying that such action would “really upend historic districts in the City of East Lansing.” He also announced the City has been in touch with its lobbyist at the capitol, noting its opposition. Meadows further remarked, “I’m not sure what the motivation of the legislation is."

Potential revisions to residential parking permit process: Normally an item being included on the consent agenda connotes no further discussion of that item, but brief individual statements were offered for the introduction and referral of Ordinance No. 1370 to the Transportation Commission, which was on Tuesday’s consent agenda and amends the residential permit parking code. This is in response to the recent enactment of additional residential permit parking in Chesterfield Hills after a lengthy, contentious debate.

Draheim, who lives in Chesterfield Hills and also serves as the Council liaison to the Transportation Commission, said that the proposed language includes “some major changes that I think we wanted to see.”

Altmann stressed the importance of reviewing ordinances periodically, and that he’ll be looking for “fairly clear and specific justifications for any changes [Council] may want to make.”

Finally, Meadows stressed that referring an ordinance to a commission isn’t a sign of approval, but rather that it “starts the process for public involvement.” A public hearing will be announced for the Transportation Commission’s consideration.

Other consent agenda items: The consent agenda was passed unanimously and, save the aforementioned residential parking permit revisions, without discussion.

An entertainment license was granted to LAX, LLC.

A contract with H20 Towers, LLC for $124,450 was approved to update the Alton Road water tower. The work includes safety updates as well as “maintaining and replacing” the tower’s exterior coating, which is currently 17 years old. This approval also permits the City Manager to sign on the City’s behalf.

Several commission appointments also passed, including: former Mayor Nathan Triplett to the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission; Merle Heidemann to the Commission on the Environment; Asmaa Walton and Elinor Holbrook to the Arts Commission; and Dana Watson to the Human Relations Commission.

Crystal Awards: In her report, Councilmember Woods reminded the public that the City is seeking nominations for its annual Crystal Awards. Nominations may be submitted online and are due this Friday, Feb. 19.

Executive session: Council adjourned to executive session after the public portion of the meeting to discuss collective bargaining strategy and an update with the City Manager.

 

You can watch a video of the meeting by clicking here. Reminder: You can speak and write to Council on any topic, not only those in the published agenda.