What appeared to be a simple agenda item at last night's city council meeting discussing whether a long-standing fraternity should be issued a fairly routine permit turned into a lengthy discussion about the fraternity's apparent littering problem.
Delta Sigma Phi, located at 1218 E. Grand River Ave., applied for a special use permit to add a single bed and make some repairs to its house and a public hearing was held. No residents came up to speak and the issue came before council.
Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann asked about some violations issued to the property and produced a picture of trash that had been strewn all around the fraternity's dumpster, launching council into a 40-minute discussion over how to properly address the issue.
In the picture, the Red Cedar River is visible in the background, running close to the dumpster spot. Altmann said the scene was unacceptable, noting that a heavy rain could wash all of the trash on the ground directly into the river.
"This can't happen; these aren't good neighbors," Altmann said.
Although the photo was from back in January 2017, the dumpster violation referenced by Altmann dated from January 2018, leading some councilmembers to wonder if this would continue to be a recurring problem.
Councilmember Aaron Stephens said the Red Cedar was a "great resource" not only for MSU, but for the Greater Lansing community. He said he had no issue granting the permit for the small expansion and repairs, but urged the property owners, who do not live or work in the area, to protect the river by better enforcing trash pickup rules.
Representatives from the Delta Sigma Phi Alumni Corporation Board, which owns the property, said addressing the littering problem at the house had been a ongoing and frustrating process. Rick Van Dresser, the alumni board's director of finance, said that an anti-littering policy had been put in place.
While he acknowledged that the mess was often caused by occupants not cleaning up after parties in a timely manner, he also said the issue partly stemmed from a broken lid and gaps in the enclosure that allowed trash to blow out, which the frat was working to resolve.
Alumni board president for the fraternity Cody Dawson said while it might seem like common sense, some of the fraternity's newer members needed to be instructed to pick up. He said the undergraduate leadership in the house would make clear to their new housemates what the expectations were.
"A lot of these guys coming in have not had many serious responsibilities before they come to college," Dawson said. "While their behavior sometimes is not ideal, they are really good kids."
The permit was eventually approved, subject to the house following ten conditions of approval, including keeping a copy of its littering policy on file with the city's housing office.