08-08-22 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, August 8, 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.

Adopt New NFPA 1 Fire Code & NFPA 101 Life Safety Code: YES (Passed 6-0)

Amendment to Direct City Staff to Consider Adopting NFPA 909 & 914: NO (Passed 4-2)

This was a vote to adopt new Fire & Life Safety Ordinances for the City of Marquette – the latest editions of the National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 1 Fire Code and NFPA 101 Life Safety Code. The actual changes implemented by these new codes are fairly minimal. They will not affect new construction at all, as new construction is regulated by the Marquette County Building Codes Dept. (not the City), and NFPA 1 and 101 standards are already followed by County Building Codes. It will also not affect owners or tenants of existing residential properties, as the City already has a Rental Safety Ordinance that includes the current NFPA 1 and 101 standards, and we already inspect every rental in the City every 3 years or by request.

The only major change implemented by the adoption of this new code is that existing commercial buildings will now be subject to fire and safety code inspections conducted by the City. While some residents expressed concern about the effect this could have on local businesses, the reality is that commercial property owners are already supposed to be complying with NFPA 1 and 101 per state law (PA 230, Stille-DeRossett Act), as the state code prevails in any conflict with local codes – until now, the state standards have not been consistently enforced in Marquette because state code enforcement is badly underfunded and understaffed in Michigan, and the State of Michigan does not allow local governments to enforce the state code (i.e., NFPA 1 and 101) unless they have adopted a local fire and life safety code of their own. These new Fire & Life Safety Ordinances also create a fair, transparent appeals process, in which any notices of violation can be appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals, an existing volunteer board made up of City residents appointed by the City Commission. Fire & Life Safety Code inspections will require a fee of $65/hour, but this is only intended to cover the City’s costs (not to make a profit for the City) and most inspections are completed within 15-30 minutes.

Mayor Pro Tem Mayer initially moved to adopt NFPA 1 and NFPA 101, but he then made a last-minute amendment to his motion, directing City staff to explore the adoption of NFPA 909 and NFPA 914. These codes, which were mentioned during discussion by Commissioner Stonehouse immediately before Mayor Pro Tem Mayer offered his amendment, provide additional standards for the protection of “cultural resources” like libraries, places of worship, etc., and historic structures. However, I was completely unfamiliar with NFPA 909 and 914, and it was clear that most of my fellow Commissioners and City staff didn’t know anything about them, either. In fact, I asked Mayor Pro Tem Mayer, Commissioner Stonehouse, and City staff if they were able to provide additional information about these codes, but nobody responded to my question except Assistant City Manager Sean Hobbins, who simply stated that City staff had not previously looked into NFPA 909 or 914. It was also unclear how approving this amendment would impact economic development in the community or ongoing City grant funding applications. I voted No on the amendment because I feel it is bad practice to vote in favor of motions with which I am unfamiliar and which do not have any clear basis in the Community Master Plan, other City planning documents, or previous City Commission discussions. I also felt that the amendment was unnecessary because, as Commissioner Davis noted, City staff stated that they would have been willing to look into NFPA 909 and 914 based on Commissioner Stonehouse’s request without a formal vote of the City Commission.

Nonetheless, the City Commission voted 4-2 to approve Mayor Pro Tem Mayer’s amendment, and I voted in favor of the final motion to adopt NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 as the City’s new Fire & Life Safety Ordinances as amended.

Apply for Electric Vehicle Smart Communities Program: YES (Passed 6-0)

This was a common sense Yes vote which is consistent with the City of Marquette’s ongoing efforts to do our part to address climate change. The City Commission was essentially voting to give our approval to the City’s application for the State of Michigan’s new Electric Vehicle Smart Communities program, which will provide funding and technical assistance to 25 Michigan communities (including 12 rural communities like Marquette) to help them plan and prepare for the ongoing transition to electric vehicles. This change is coming sooner rather than later – the price of electric vehicles is gradually falling while battery and charging technology is rapidly improving. In fact, by 2030 the U.S. government and most major automakers (Ford, GM, etc.) expect at least half of all new vehicles to be electric and new electric vehicles to be just as affordable as traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

We need to think in the long term and be ready for this revolutionary change in America’s transportation system, and if we are selected to participate in this program, the City will not be committing to spending a single taxpayer dollar. This program would also be consistent with our current participation in the MI Next Cities program (which, among other things, will help the City reduce energy and fuel use), the Climate Action Work Group which will be an important part of our master planning process in the next year, and the City Commission’s stated goal to reduce the City’s carbon emissions to zero by 2050. As a result, I happily voted Yes.

Approve Land Development Code Amendments: YES (Passed 6-0)

This was essentially a procedural vote correct a minor clerical error in the Land Development Code (i.e., City zoning code). Two paragraphs relating to regulations on signs were accidentally omitted from the Land Development Code amendments the City Commission approved on May 31, and could therefore not legally be included in the code without another public hearing and City Commission approval. This was another common sense Yes vote, as the City Commission had intended to approve these amendments when we previously voted 7-0 in favor of the much larger, more comprehensive package of amendments.