Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Park Place heights, dispensaries the focus at Tuesday's city council

February 13, 2019
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court.
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court. —
Photo by Carly Geraci | The State News

At Tuesday's meeting of the East Lansing City Council, the height limit for development proposals in the City Center District was extended, while public hearings for proposed medical marijuana dispensaries were set and firework regulations were changed to comply with state law.

The meeting began on a somber note as councilmembers mourned the death of former East Lansing City Manager Ted Staton.

Mayor Mark Meadows said because a review of the city manager's contract on the agenda, it was appropriate to identify Stanton’s accomplishments during his tenure.

Meadows listed the Hannah Community Center, the aquatic center and the soccer complex among Stanton’s many accomplishments.

City Manager George Lahanas received a salary increase to $167,000. The contract was updated before the meeting to close a few health insurance and retirement loopholes.

At the end of the meeting, the council went into closed session to discuss trial and settlement strategy discussions in the case of Gateway v. the City of East Lansing.

Here are the three key takeaways from Tuesday's meeting:

Height limit extended downtown

Councilmembers passed by a 3-2 vote an ordinance to extend a 140-foot height limit in the City Center District to residential buildings that acquire a special use permit and are found by the city council to be of "significant public benefit."

In the last meeting, the ordinance failed by a 2-2 vote.

Before the ordinance was reconsidered, Councilmember Shanna Draheim said the discussion of height changes downtown should begin with a comprehensive review of zoning changes for the city.

A draft of a form-based code is being discussed in committee on the East Lansing Planning Commission, according to Draheim.

When the ordinance was opened for discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann voiced his support. 

“This is a little bit of additional flexibility to encourage good development projects downtown that we want,” Altmann said. “I think it’s time to do this.”

Councilmember Aaron Stephens said he is typically in favor of increased density, but voted against the measure. He was concerned that the planning commission failed to recommend the council approve the Park Place plans, and that the developers haven’t made efforts to engage the public.

Stephens said the issue for him wasn't the discussion of height, but rather the ordinance itself and its relation to the Park Place project.

Although the ordinance passed, the tallest planned building in Park Place's site plan still exceeds the 140-foot limit by 19 feet.

Councilmember Ruth Beier said she was open to increased development in the city, and supported the ordinance — even though she doesn't necessarily approve of Park Place's height.

"I love the idea of getting new things downtown," she said. "I don't mind height myself, but I won't support a tall, ugly, looming building."

Change to fireworks regulations

The state Legislature's changes to the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act required the city of East Lansing to allow fireworks from June 29 to July 4 until 11:45 p.m each day.

If July 5 is a Saturday or Sunday, then fireworks are also permitted for that day.

The new ordinance calls for a maximum $1,000 fine for violations of the law, doubling the amount from the city’s previous ordinance.

Draheim said state legislation like the fireworks act that restricts local government hampers its ability to respond to the needs of its citizens.

“The issue of preemption, state preemption of local authority is a very big issue,” Draheim said.

Stephens said this is not the first time state government has interfered with his priorities. 

He said he was prevented from supporting revenue streams for the city other than the new city income tax — such as a sales tax, alcohol or parking —  when state authority prevented those actions.

“I think that every local community is different,” Stephens said. “The ability for local elected officials to legislate to their communities is vital.”

Marijuana provisioning centers set for public hearings

The council set a March 6 public hearing for three developers aiming to open medical marijuana dispensaries in East Lansing.

JBC, LLC is requesting to open up shop at a property at 1415 Michigan Ave. near the Frandor Shopping Center.

DNVK 1, LLC is requesting 1100 E. Grand River Ave. near MSU's East Campus, while RJB Enterprises, LLC is requesting 1950 Merritt Rd. near the city's border with Haslett.

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