• Evan Jones

City council considers development moratorium, approves contract policy


The East Lansing City Hall on July 3, 2018. Annie Barker | The State News

The East Lansing City Council began discussion of a moratorium on development, authorized the city manager to enter certain contracts, introduced an ordinance to create a Public Safety Review Board and approved funding for parks and infrastructure in its June 4 meeting.

A halt on development?

A moratorium on downtown development was initially going to be on the agenda, but the council took it off of the agenda shortly before the meeting. Council members discussed the issue of the moratorium in a series of communications with the mayor.

“It was a decision made that there was enough confusion with regard to that item,” Mayor Mark Meadows said.

Council members sought to distance the perception that the move to remove the agenda item was politically motivated.  

“I’m perfectly happy to tackle any development issue between now and the election, controversial or otherwise,” Council member Shanna Draheim said. “I don’t think the city should be doing things that says, ‘we’re not open for business.’”

Draheim said she would not normally support a moratorium for development, but she is considering this one to jump-start public conversation on an overhaul to the overall zoning process.

She began discussion on a form-based code for the downtown area when discussing increasing the height in one downtown district to accommodate the Park Place project in February.

A form-based code is a zoning approach that focuses less on a building's use and more on its appearance in downtown as a whole, according to the city of Lansing's draft version of a similar policy. The city has a version of this with the East Village District. A new policy would likely encompass all of downtown.

Mayor Mark Meadows agrees.

He said the timeline was provided just two weeks ago and the expectations will be on the table in September, when the moratorium would expire.

Meadows said it would be unfair for a developer signing an agreement with the city to experience drastic requirement changes during the process.

“We’re looking at something that we’ll be enacting in which will probably be the guideline for development in the downtown area for the next 50 years,” Meadows said.

Meadows and Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann are both running for re-election and are on the ballot in November. Altmann did not comment on the potential moratorium.

Council member Aaron Stephens said he isn’t running for re-election. Stephens also said he doesn’t have political interest about a moratorium. He didn’t state his support, but also said he was considering it because he wants a housing study done to determine if any type of housing is either over-saturated or underutilized in the city.

“We’re seeing a lot of growth in this region,” Stephens said. “Considering a moratorium, that’s a factor in my head.”

A potential Public Safety Review Board

Council members placed the creation of the Public Safety Review Board on its June 18 business agenda.

The board would review Public Safety Department internal investigations and would meet on a quarterly basis in January, April, July and October. They could also meet on an “as needed” basis.

The item was introduced in tandem with introductions to three new police officers.

Police and Fire Department Chiefs would meet with the board at its quarterly meetings, providing all pending complaints including a summary, how the complaint was generated, facts found from internal investigations and final determinations from department heads.

If the board thinks a different determination could be made, they could refer to the city manager for additional review.

Contract policy and new approvals

The only item removed from the consent agenda was the policy resolution to streamline the city manager's ability to enter contracts for vehicle purchases, information technology and emergency response measures. The policy resolution was approved at the end of the meeting.

This action gives the city manager the authority to enter contracts under $20,000 without city council approval.

City Manager George Lahanas said the $20,000 limit doesn’t free him to do his job when infrastructure repair could cost many tens of thousands of dollars. This policy would allow the city to immediately begin spending money before requesting more.

“I would have to justify to council that there was an emergency before using this ability,” Lahanas said.

He said if a contract goes beyond allocated money, he would still have to go to council because the policy only authorizes contracts that operate within the city’s budget for their respective departments.  

Lahanas said that contracts would be reported to council on a weekly basis.

If an emergency exceeds $20,000, the contract would be approved after the fact if something needed immediate service. An example of this type of investment would be for sinkhole repairs, flooding or other natural disasters that could impact the city.

Other items outlined in the city council’s consent agenda include accepting a $219,000 grant for Bailey Park improvements — $16,680 was allocated to the park in 2019 and $279,000 is proposed for 2020.

The city council approved a $108,000 contract with Verlinde Construction, Inc. for a water main project on East Grand River Avenue between Bogue Street and Cedar Street.

The city received two bids for the contract. Verlinde Construction Inc. requested $98,000 and E.T. MacKenzie Company requested $274,000.

The contract provides 10% more than the requested bid as contingency to account for unknown changes.

“The construction of this project at this time will take advantage of and allow the work to be completed prior to the HUB’s developer reconstructing the asphalt pavement in the alley,” according to the city’s staff report.

Council members also approved a second water main project on the other side of town and a $1.8 million contract with Dunigan Bros., Inc. for replacement work on Cornell and Evergreen Avenues.