From left, Council members Mark Meadows, Lisa Babcock, Mayor Ruth Beier, Jessy Gregg, and Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens at the Feb. 18 meeting (photos by Raymond Holt).
It looks like East Lansing’s City Council is in for another long night, as today’s agenda is packed from top to bottom. Here are highlights and information on how you can weigh in.
Outlawing vaping in various places: Council is likely to vote to set a public hearing for March 11 to effectively outlaw vaping wherever smoking is already outlawed in East Lansing. That includes public places and office work places, City-owned facilities, parks, public plazas, playgrounds, trails, and more.
Country Mill case reaction: There’s still no end in sight to the case of the farmer’s market vendor Country Mill suing East Lansing over its amended vendor policy that caused their expulsion from the market, although the legal bills have slowed down since ELi started charting them through the Freedom of Information Act. (Check out this graphic, keeping in mind that correlation is not causation.)
Now, in response to ongoing legal wrangling, the Council is being advised to change its Civil Rights ordinance to clean up some language about harassment. You can see the proposed changes here.
The big show: National student housing developer Core Spaces will ask Council tonight to approve its plans for two more big “The Hub” towers along Bogue Street. The project calls for housing for about 1,700 more students (the existing Hub can house 585).
The design has morphed in response to criticisms about the height and about the narrowness of the back alley and the sidewalk, but concerns remain about the size of the buildings, the parking access and parking quantity (not enough), and the population density it would bring to that spot.
City Manager George Lahanas, who sits on the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) by virtue of his office, voted not to recommend the project to Council because he said nearby property owners are frustrated with the existing Hub causing illegal parking on their properties and because he’s worried about having that many students living in the Cedar Village area.
But the decision is Council’s, and they might agree with new DDA member Jeff Smith, Director of the University Corporate Research Park at the MSU Foundation, who voted in favor of recommending the project. Smith said this makes good sense as the place to house students off campus for the long-term future of East Lansing, as it is walkable and will likely help downtown businesses.
Council will also inevitably be thinking about the fact that the new project would bring in about $1 million a year to the City of East Lansing — and millions more in aggregate each year to the East Lansing’s Public Schools, Lansing Community College, and Ingham County for healthcare and parks. We reported today that the City’s financial forecast looks the best it has in years, but East Lansing is far from out of the woods with its massive pension debt problem.
What’s $1 million a year worth to this City Council? We’ll find out tonight. Read more about the new Hub proposal here.
Age-Friendly Community: Council will hear a special report on the Age Friendly Communities’ Action Plan, which is a program promoted by AARP aimed at finding ways to support age diversity in communities — particularly supporting senior citizens. Council also plans to adopt the action plan tonight.
Various property issues: Council will be asked tonight to approve rezoning and building plans for a new office building on West Road, on the northwest side of the city. They’ll also be asked to approve rezoning for the affordable housing project that developers DRW Convexity are planning to construct near Valley Court Park, with that rezoning being really a formality at this point.
Perhaps of more interest to ELi readers is a vote to allow a rental license for a condo in the Albert Place Condominium project downtown (shown above), because the material attached to that agenda item indicates that the condo owners there have decided this will be the last rental there. That project was envisioned as a landmark owner-occupied-condo apartment project for downtown when it was built with substantial public incentives, but market realities meant it did not work out as planned.
Contract revision for the MSUFCU deal: City Council will consider revisions to the proposed land sale contract with MSUFCU. That deal depends on voters authorizing Council to sell Lot 4. (Read more in our voter guide.) Proposed revisions to the contract include language to ensure that what the voters would approve would be what really gets built.
Security measures: The plan is to go into closed session at the end of tonight’s open meeting to discuss “security measures” in the City. We won’t know what the specific topic of conversation is unless Council comes out of closed session to take a vote, but one possibility is that the City is talking about how to avoid a “ransomware attack” of the kind cities around the nation are experiencing.
Last month, the City’s website became inaccessible to many users because staff had failed to renew the SSL certificate before it expired. City Manager George Lahanas said by email in response to questions about this, “We are currently doing some certificate maintenance on the site and expect during this time it may have this type of an impact.” In fact, the security certification expiration is not a great sign for how the City is managing the website, and this closed session may well be a follow-up on that.
Below: Screen shot from the City’s website on Feb. 9, 2020.
Black History Month: Finally, just before the month expires, Council will pass a resolution declaring February 2020 “Black History Month” in the City of East Lansing.
How can you weigh in? You can see the whole agenda here, and if you want to express your opinion or provide information, you can speak during the public comment portion of the meeting (just after the 7 p.m. start) and you can also write to Council via email. Note that doing both appears to be the most effective political strategy.
Chris Root contributed reporting from the DDA meeting last week.