Here are my explanations of all of my votes on substantive, non-Consent Agenda items from the April 26, 2021 City Commission meeting. You can watch the meeting here: https://youtu.be/OATEnyHssrw?t=297
Final Purchase of 702 Lakeshore Blvd: YES (Passed 7-0)
The City Commission voted to complete the purchase of 702 Lakeshore Blvd., a small parcel of land along the Lake Superior shoreline in east Marquette, for $350,000 from the Robert T. Anthony Trust. The Anthony family wanted to make the property available to the City before listing it on the market, and preliminary approval was given for this land purchase at the April 12, 2021 City Commission meeting. I voted Yes on April 12 and did so again on Monday night because I strongly support preserving our Lake Superior shoreline and keeping as much of it under public ownership as possible, and I felt that by making this investment the City Commission was following in the footsteps of previous City leaders who for decades always prioritized preserving Marquette’s public lakeshore for future generations. The City will not sell or develop this property, but will instead permanently preserve it for public use – we have also agreed to recognize the Anthony family in some form on this site, most likely through some sort of plaque or marker. If the City had not purchased this property, it would have sold to a private buyer for well over $350,000, and would likely have been developed into a high-end condo or short-term rental. Instead, it now belongs to the people of Marquette.
Authorize Negotiations for City Land Sale at 213 S Front St: YES (Passed 7-0)
I voted to authorize the City Manager to negotiate the sale of an old City-owned railroad grade located at 213 South Front Street in downtown Marquette. The Ore Dock Brewing Company, which already has an ADA-accessible rear entry on this property, wants to purchase this small parcel of land to redevelop it into a public beer garden between Main Street and Spring Street. This very small, oddly shaped parcel has been owned by the City for many years and does not seem to have any other potential productive uses. I think this would be a great infill development project which would produce a fantastic new public space in the heart of downtown Marquette while also growing the City tax base and supporting a local small business. The property would be sold for a fair market price, and the sale will not be able to take place until the City Commission has approved a Purchase Agreement authorizing the sale. This Purchase Agreement will be reviewed and voted on at a future City Commission meeting. Also, just to clarify (because a couple people have asked): No, this is NOT the Rosewood Walkway – that is across the street and would not be affected by this proposed project.
Add Section of E. Baraga Ave. to Local Street System: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was a common-sense vote to add 470 feet of East Baraga Avenue (the small portion of Baraga that is east of Lakeshore Blvd.) to the City’s Local Street System. This will allow the City to receive approximately $400 in additional state Act 51 road funding each year.
Approve Permit for New Bicycle Playground in Tourist Park: YES (Passed 7-0)
I remember when this exciting project was first brought before the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, back when I was still serving on that board prior to my election to the City Commission. Now, two years later, I’m thrilled to see that it is finally becoming a reality – the NTN and 906 Adventure Team are teaming up to build and maintain a new bicycle playground for local kids in Tourist Park. The designs are beautiful, and this will be a fantastic asset for the community which will not cost a single taxpayer dollar. I am so grateful to the NTN and 906 Adventure Team for the hard work and financial support they have invested into this project – this was a no-brainer, I voted Yes.
Start Process of Issuing up to $6.2 Million in Capital Improvement Bonds: YES (Passed 7-0)
This was definitely the most complicated issue at tonight’s meeting. Generally, the City only issues $5-6 million each year in Capital Improvement Bonds (i.e., debt) to fund various infrastructure projects throughout the City, because we are currently only able to pay off about $5-6 million in debt each year and it’s not good fiscal practice to increase the City’s overall debt to fund routine infrastructure projects. This year, City staff initially asked the City Commission to authorize up to $11 million in Capital Improvement Bonds to help fund Phase II of the Lakeshore Blvd. project (i.e., the coastal resiliency, habitat restoration, and erosion mitigation work that is arguably the most critical part of the project). This was much more than my colleagues and I were expecting, so City staff 1) found a way to reduce the our expenses for Lakeshore Blvd. Phase II to about $1 million this year, and 2) recommended cutting three projects from this year’s Capital Improvement Plan, including two major road/sewer upgrades on Shiras Drive and Newberry Street in south Marquette. This would have brought us down to a bond cap of $5.5 million.
However, I advocated for approving a slightly higher $6.2 million bond cap to allow the Shiras Drive and Newberry Street road improvements to still be completed this year – I did so because, while I strongly support the Lakeshore Blvd. project, I do not believe that it is fiscally responsible for fair to Marquette residents to fund it by taking funding away from badly needed routine road maintenance projects in the rest of the City. In fact, Shiras Drive is one of only two access points to Shiras Hills yet it is one of the worst roads in Marquette (rated a 2 out of 10 on the PASER scale), and Newberry Street is also in poor condition (3 out of 10 PASER rating) with some residents experiencing water and sewer issues. Also, $6.2 million is still roughly in line with the amount of debt we typically pay off each year, so I felt that this was a fiscally responsible proposal Capital Improvement Bond cap.
I thought that this was a sensible, principled compromise, and Commissioners Davis and Hanley expressed similar sentiments. The City Commission unanimously voted to authorize the City to begin the process of issuing this year’s Capital Improvement Bonds in an amount not to exceed $6.2 million, which is roughly in line with the amount of money we typically borrow each year. The actual bonds will not be issued until the City Commission gives our final approval in June.
DISCLAIMER: This blog is written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall, who also serves as the Chair of the City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee. The views expressed in this blog are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee, the Marquette City Commission, or any of the individual members of the Ad Hoc Housing Committee or City Commission.
Q: How do City parking requirements affect housing affordability?
A: The housing affordability challenges faced by the City of Marquette are largely a result of two related problems:
1) Demand for both rental and owner-occupied housing in Marquette is outstripping the existing supply. The housing vacancy rates (5.4% for rentals and 1.5% for owner-occupied homes) in the City of Marquette are quite low. (i) In other words, there are not many units on the market, and housing prices are being “bid up” as a result. (ii)
2) The types of housing units (again, both rental and owner-occupied units) that are actually available for rent or purchase are often not affordable for the City residents who are looking for housing. The few housing units that are available are often marketed toward more affluent households or have more floor area and amenities than most buyers or renters need or can afford.
The off-street parking requirements in the City of Marquette’s zoning code (a.k.a., the Land Development Code) play a vital role in ensuring that adequate off-street parking is available for City residents. However, when these parking requirements exceed the actual minimum need for off-street parking, they can prevent more modest, affordable Missing Middle Housing units from existing. This makes both of the problems mentioned above even worse.
For instance, the City zoning code currently requires a minimum of 2 off-street parking spaces to be provided for single-family homes and each dwelling unit in a duplex, and 1.5 parking spaces to be provided for each dwelling unit in a triplex or fourplex. (iii) Duplexes, triplexes, and fourplexes are usually occupied by renters, and for a variety of reasons renters are significantly less likely than homeowners to own multiple vehicles and are 6 times more likely than homeowners to not own a vehicle at all. (iv)
Consider the following example: A single-family house with an Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) in the backyard would require only 3 total off-street parking spaces. However, the same house would require 4 off-street parking spaces if it were converted into a duplex, even though both developments would produce 2 housing units and the single-family home with an ADU would include only one rental household, whereas the duplex would most likely include 2 rental households (who are less likely to own multiple vehicles than homeowners). Why does the City zoning code require more off-street parking for duplexes than for other types of Missing Middle Housing, like ADUs, triplexes, and fourplexes? Wouldn’t it be more logical and fair for duplexes to be treated the same as other Missing Middle Housing types that are predominantly occupied by renters? (v)
This might seem like splitting hairs, but because so many lots in the City are small or have odd dimensions, requiring even one additional parking space can make or break a potential Missing Middle Housing development, and can severely restrict the creation of more affordable Missing Middle rental housing in the City of Marquette. Excessive off-street parking requirements can also quickly start stacking up for larger housing developments, consuming valuable space, time, and money, driving up housing prices, and producing large parking lots that often have many empty spaces. According to the American Planning Assn., the cost of a single additional off-street parking space ranges from $5,000 to $35,000 depending on the type of parking provided. Those costs inevitably get passed on to buyers and renters, with parking minimums alone contributing to a 17% increase in housing prices, or $142 more per month on average. (vi)
And parking minimums are not just a problem from the standpoint of producing more affordable rentals – they can also make it harder for prospective homeowners to find a house that they can afford. Requiring 2 off-street parking spaces for all single-family homes regardless of the size of the home or the actual parking needs of the homeowners can make it impossible to build a modest house on a small lot, and (along with other obstacles in the Land Development Code) can essentially prohibit “cottage courts” and similar innovative models for producing smaller, more affordable single-family homes. In fact, MissingMiddleHousing.com, the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU), and many other planning and housing experts and organizations recommend only 1 off-street parking space per unit for cottage courts. (vii, viii)
Q: What parking policy changes have been recommended by the Housing Committee?
The Initial Report that the Ad Hoc Housing Committee approved in January 2021 included two important recommendations related to parking. First, to address the challenges outlined above, the Committee recommended that the City amend our zoning code to “relax minimum parking requirements for multi-family developments where appropriate.” (ix)
In fact, the Planning Commission has already started working on updating the City’s parking requirements to better reflect actual minimum parking needs. In January 2021, the Planning Commission reduced the parking requirements for medium-sized apartment buildings from 1.5 spaces per unit to 1.125 spaces per unit, and for large apartment complexes with 20 or more units from 1.5 spaces per unit to just 1 space per unit. Parking requirements for subsidized low-income housing were also reduced to just 1 parking space per unit, and attached housing that is exclusively for seniors now requires only 1 parking space for every 2 units. Additionally, since 2019 the Mixed-Use and Central Business zoning districts have only required 1.125 spaces per dwelling unit for any residential buildings with less than 20 units. (x) These reductions in parking requirements for larger apartment buildings, senior housing, and low-income housing are a great first step, and similar changes to parking minimums for various types of Missing Middle Housing could have an even greater long-term impact on housing affordability and availability.
Second, the Committee identified the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MBRA) as a partner for the City as we try to increase housing affordability in Marquette. (xi) Providing adequate parking is often one of the most challenging and expensive components of housing development, and Brownfield Authorities in Michigan are able to use Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to reimburse housing developers for the cost of providing off-street parking, using the tax revenue generated by the Brownfield redevelopment project itself (NOT, as is often assumed, general fund revenue from taxes paid by other property owners in the City). In fact, the City has used Brownfield TIF in the past to subsidize parking for the high-end housing developments at Founders Landing – why not use the exact same Brownfield TIF mechanism to subsidize parking for more modest, affordable Missing Middle Housing developments elsewhere in Marquette? This would also align with the MBRA’s Project Priority Policy, which identifies development of “workforce housing” as a top priority for future Brownfield redevelopment projects.
The Housing Committee’s final policy recommendations will be included in the Final Report, which will be approved by the Committee in June 2021. I would encourage all City residents to read the Final Report when it is released, as it will contain a great deal of new details and recommendations, some of which will be related to parking.
Q: I heard that the Housing Committee wants to repeal the Winter Parking Ban? Is that true?
A: No, that is not true. Unfortunately, several weeks ago some baseless, sensationalized rumors about the Housing Committee got some attention on social media. The most pervasive of these false rumors was that the Ad Hoc Housing Committee was recommending that the City completely repeal the Winter Parking Ban to facilitate the legalization of triplexes and fourplexes in every neighborhood in the City. This is completely inaccurate and extremely misleading in several ways.
First, the Housing Committee’s Initial Report did not include any recommendations to expand zoning for triplexes or fourplexes in the City, certainly not to every neighborhood in Marquette. (xii) Second, no changes to the Winter Parking Ban would be needed in order to implement the more limited residential zoning changes that the Committee actually recommended in the Initial Report. Finally, and most importantly, the Housing Committee never recommended repealing the Winter Parking Ban, in whole or in part. Here is what the Housing Committee’s Initial Report actually says about the Winter Parking Ban:
“The Committee also believes the Winter Parking ban should be re-evaluated and consideration given towards a policy that permits limited on-street parking. Such a policy change would allow a reduction in minimum parking requirements and may lead to increased maximization of housing unit development. This will require extensive consultation with the Dept. of Public Works, and on-street winter parking may not be universally applicable.” (xiii)
That is probably quite different from the sensationalized rumors you may have seen on social media. The Housing Committee was only recommending that the City look into the possibility of some kind of amendment to the Winter Parking Ban, and was not making any specific recommendation as to whether the Winter Parking Ban should be amended. The Initial Report also very clearly and carefully points out that these discussions, and certainly any actual policy changes, would “require extensive consultation with the Dept. of Public Works” and various other departments of the City government.
In fact, at its March 25 meeting, the Housing Committee took its own advice, and met for over an hour with the heads of several City government departments, including the Dept. of Public Works, the City Engineer, the Marquette Police Dept., the Marquette Fire Dept., the Community Development Dept., and the Downtown Development Authority. At that meeting, it became clear that while the Winter Parking Ban is not actually necessary to ensure emergency vehicle access during the winter, it does play an important role in allowing streets to be quickly and efficiently cleared of snow. The City Engineer also noted that collection of snow on the side of the road could potentially lead to more rapid degradation of the street surface and curb. Ultimately, most of the City department heads agreed that the logistical challenges of potential changes to the Winter Parking Ban would probably outweigh the potential benefits (more availability of on-street parking, making it easier for neighborhoods to support various types of Missing Middle Housing, etc.). (xiv)
If the Housing Committee’s Final Report includes any recommendations regarding the Winter Parking Ban (and it is not certain that it will), the Housing Committee will certainly take the feedback from the March 25 meeting into account. Regardless, no significant changes to the Winter Parking Ban have been recommended by the Housing Committee, and no changes to the Winter Parking Ban will be coming anytime soon.
Q: What else has the Housing Committee learned about the relationship between parking and housing since the Initial Report was released?
A: At its March 25 meeting, the Housing Committee also learned another important piece of information – according to the Marquette Police Dept., there is no significant variation in the frequency of Winter Parking Ban violations, unauthorized front yard parking, and other forms of illegal parking across different neighborhoods in Marquette. Some City residents have expressed concerns that amending the City zoning code to allow the creation of more Missing Middle Housing (ADUs, duplexes, etc.) will lead to increased parking issues in their neighborhoods. However, this information from the MPD does not support these claims. After all, if adding a few units of Missing Middle Housing to a particular neighborhood actually leads to significant parking problems in that neighborhood, we should expect there to be more parking violations in medium-density neighborhoods than in lower-density neighborhoods. However, according to the MPD, we do not see any such pattern in parking violation data in the City of Marquette. (xv)
If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about parking policies in Marquette or any other aspect of the Housing Committee’s Initial Report, or if you have suggestions for the Final Report or any special knowledge or experience that you would like to share with the Housing Committee, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (906) 236-0247. And don’t forget to check back here and on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/evanbonsall4mqt for future housing-related blog posts!
(i) “Selected Housing Characteristics – Marquette city, Michigan.” 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau. 2017.
(ii) Herriges, Daniel. “What Vacancy Rates Tell You About a Housing Shortage (And What They Don’t).” Strong Towns, 31 Aug. 2020.
(iii) “Land Development Code.” City of Marquette. 21 Jan. 2021. pp. 9-6.
(iv) “Household, Individual, and Vehicle Characteristics.” Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Dept. of Transportation. 21 Dec. 2011.
(v) “Land Development Code.” City of Marquette. 21 Jan. 2021. pp. 9-6.
(vi) Spivak, Jeffrey. “People Over Parking.” American Planning Association. October 2018.