07-25-22 Vote Explanations

These statements are made by City Commissioner Evan Bonsall on his own behalf. They reflect his own personal beliefs, and are NOT official statements made on behalf of the City of Marquette or any other members of the Marquette City Commission. This website is Evan Bonsall’s personal website – it is NOT the City of Marquette website or a news organization.

These are my vote explanations from the Monday, July 25, 2022 Marquette City Commission meeting. As always, please reach out to me with any questions at (906) 236-0247[email protected], or on Facebook. You can watch the meeting HERE.

Here you can see the site of the proposed JM Longyear housing development in the Forestville Basin – no site plans are publicly available yet, but the development would be located on a roughly 150-acre property, ~120 acres of which (80%) would be located in Marquette Twp. (forest green, left) & 29 acres of which (20%) would be located in the City limits (lime green, right). If Marquette Twp. approves the project, it is likely that JM Longyear will develop the larger portion in the Township – the City Commission only has a say over the 29 acres located in the City limits, & then only insofar as we approve a PA 425 Agreement or not.

Authorize City Manager to Negotiate a PA 425 Agreement for Housing Development in Marquette Twp.: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to negotiate a PA 425 agreement with Marquette Twp. to facilitate a new housing development in the Forestville Basin. This was NOT a vote to approve this development or a PA 425 agreement, and did not commit the City to taking any action other than talking to Marquette Twp. officials. PA 425 is a Michigan state law which allows one local government to agree to temporarily transfer land within their jurisdiction into a neighboring local government’s jurisdiction for a period of up to 50 years, while still collecting property tax revenue from that land. A final PA 425 agreement will need to come back to the City Commission for a public hearing and a vote in the coming weeks.

JM Longyear is a local firm which has owned much of the Forestville Basin for many years, and they want to develop approximately 150 acres of the Forestville Basin into a 240-unit housing development. The housing in this development would likely consist of suburban-style, market-rate houses, with a low average density of about one house for every two-thirds of an acre – think Bishop Woods or Harlow Farms rather than Trowbridge, East Marquette, or Founders Landing. More than 80% of the land in this development would be located in Marquette Twp., with only 29 acres located in the City of Marquette. Again, the City does not own this property, JM Longyear does, although the City has zoned the property for Conservation/Recreation. The only road access to the property is through Marquette Twp., and Marquette Twp. would pay to build and maintain all public infrastructure and utilities. Per the proposed PA 425 agreement, the City would essentially let the Twp. “borrow” the 29-acre portion of this development within the City limits for up to 50 years, but would still receive a portion of the tax revenue from the property during that time. JM Longyear is currently talking with the NTN regarding potential impacts to local trails, and has committed to permanently preserving a “significant” amount of this heavily forested 150-acre property for conservation and recreation.

I am of two minds about this proposed project. Given our ongoing budgetary challenges and housing crisis, Marquette urgently needs more housing and more tax revenue. However, it seems unlikely that this development would include any affordable or even truly “mid-range” homes, and while some research has shown that increasing housing supply at least marginally decreases housing prices, this finding has been disputed by some other research, and it is unclear how true this is in smaller housing markets like Marquette or much of an impact it would really have on local housing prices. It is also unclear how much revenue the City would actually receive per the PA 425 agreement. Finally, from a land use standpoint it seems questionable to convert undeveloped forestland on the edge of town which is currently zoned Conservation/Recreation into yet another low-density subdivision – this is a very different proposal, for example, from Veridea Group’s plans to build a similar number of housing units of varying types, price points, etc. (including lower-mid-range workforce housing) on a much smaller property in the heart of Marquette, in an existing residential neighborhood a short walk from downtown Marquette and vital services.

There are many other unanswered questions related to this project aside from questions about revenue and the impact on the local housing market: What does JM Longyear feel is a “significant” amount of green space – 40% of the property? 50%? 60%? Does JM Longyear have a trail management agreement with the NTN – if so, what does it say? What happens 50 years from now when the PA 425 agreement expires (right around the time when roads and pipes may need replacing)? Will all the infrastructure in this development be public, or will there be private drives as well? Given that JM Longyear has stated that they will likely go forward with the project in one form or another in Marquette Twp., how would the plans for the project change if the City Commission were to vote down the final PA 425 agreement for the 29 acres located in the City limits (i.e., would fewer units be built, would more green space be consumed, would more trails be affected, etc.)?

We simply won’t know the answers to any of these questions until the City Commission gets to see the current site plans for this project and a final PA 425 agreement, and hopefully hear directly from the developer. That is why I voted Yes to move forward with negotiating a PA 425 agreement with Marquette Twp., so the City Commission and the public can get the answers they deserve and so I can cast a fully informed vote. I encourage residents to reach out with their thoughts and questions.

Appoint 3 City Commissioners to City Manager & City Attorney Performance Evaluation Subcommittee: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City Charter requires that the City Commission conduct a performance review of the City Manager and City Attorney (the only two City staff members who are directly hired by the City Commission) each year. As a result, this was a routine vote to empower the Mayor to appoint a subcommittee of 3 City Commissioners to review the contracts and performance of our City Manager Karen Kovacs and City Attorney Suzanne Larsen, and make a recommendation to the full City Commission regarding future employment and compensation. I voted Yes, and the motion passed unanimously. Mayor Smith then appointed Commissioner Davis, Commissioner Stonehouse, and I to serve on the Performance Evaluation Subcommittee.

Approve New Facility Use Agreement w/ YMCA: YES (Passed 7-0)

For many years, the City has used the YMCA as a polling location for Precincts 5, 6, & 7, and the City has always paid $1,000 to the YMCA for each election (generally there are 1-4 elections per year in the City of Marquette). This is a new Facility Use Agreement which will continue this practice, except that starting with the November 2022 general election, the City will now pay a fee of $1,400 per election to the YMCA. This agreement will be in effect through the November 2024 presidential election, and can then be renewed for up to 4 years at a time moving forward. Given that the YMCA has not raised the fee for using their facility as a polling location for many years, and 44% of Marquette residents (more 6,000 registered voters) rely on this polling location to exercise their right to vote, I felt that this agreement was very reasonable and voted Yes.