June 14, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting on Monday, June 14. You can watch the meeting video at: https://youtu.be/i5ZjFjz4QQI?t=326.

Conditional Rezoning of 616 Fisher Street: YES (Passed 6-0)

The Superior Housing Solutions property at 616 Fisher St is outlined in red (rough approximation).

The house at 616 Fisher Street has operated as a boarding home for Marquette residents at risk of homelessness for nearly 20 years, and it is now being operated by Superior Housing Solutions as a Permanent Supportive Housing facility, with shelter and supportive services provided to individuals who would otherwise be chronically homeless and a 24-hour presence of Superior Housing Solutions staff on the property. Superior Housing Solutions wants to buy the property, but the old zoning variance is not transferable with the sale of the property. As a result, the property owners have applied for conditional rezoning of the property to allow for the continued use as a Permanent Supportive Housing facility once ownership transfers to Superior Housing Solutions. The Planning Commission held a public hearing on May 4 and unanimously approved the conditional rezoning of the property. Homelessness is a serious challenge facing our community, and voting against this conditional rezoning request would have resulted in at least 13 individuals becoming homeless. The new Ad Hoc Housing Committee Final Report also identifies a major shortage of Permanent Supportive Housing in Marquette, and the Planning Commission sought to address concerns from neighbors by requiring SHS to fix the fence on the property, pass a Fire Safety Code inspection, and limit socializing by residents to the backyard. There is also no record of any zoning code violations on the property. I voted Yes because I feel that this is a reasonable compromise and SHS is providing a vital service to our community and deserves the City’s support.

Resolution Opposing Short-Term Rental Deregulation Bills: YES (Passed 6-0)

Text of the resolution passed on Monday opposing HB 4722 & SB 446.

As I said during the City Commission meeting on Monday, the City Commission doesn’t usually support or oppose state-level legislation, but every now and then a bill comes along that is so uniquely terrible that we have to take a stand against it. HB 4722 and SB 446, which are currently awaiting floor votes in the State House and State Senate respectively, are two such bills. These bills would prohibit any local regulation of short-term rentals (STRs), preventing the City from maintaining our City-wide 250-unit cap and density limits on STRs. We would also no longer be able to prevent Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) from being used as STRs, and the City would even be effectively prohibited from regularly inspecting STRs, setting lower standards for STRs than either long-term rentals or hotels/motels and potentially creating a loophole for slumlords to avoid long-term rental inspections by having tenants sign month-to-month leases of 30 days or less. This legislation, which is being pushed by well-funded lobbyists and self-interested realtors associations, would needlessly strip away local zoning control, erode long-term residential neighborhoods, and potentially empower slumlords.

Worst of all, these bills would have a serious negative impact on housing affordability in Marquette and many other Michigan tourist communities like Munising, Traverse City, and Frankenmuth, which are also struggling with rising housing costs. The City currently has a very long waitlist for STR permits, and only about 10% of the short-term rentals in the City of Marquette are homestays – most of the other 90% could otherwise be long-term rentals. As a result, the deregulation of STRs in Marquette would lead to the loss of many long-term rental units (especially smaller, more affordable units in walkable neighborhoods) and the eviction of potentially hundreds of long-term City residents to make room for tourists, with minimal benefits to Marquette homeowners.

For all of these reasons, I proudly voted Yes on this resolution, and on Friday I will be attending a meeting with Rep. Cambensy and Sen. McBroom to urge them to oppose HB 4722 and SB 446.

Accept Grant to Replace Kids Cove Playground at Lower Harbor: YES (Passed 6-0)

The current Kids Cove playground at Mattson Lower Harbor Park, which will be replaced with a new, universally accessible playground based on Universal Design principles and community input by May 31, 2023.

This was a vote to accept a $300,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF) grant for the construction of a new, physically accessible playground at Mattson Lower Harbor Park. The design of the new playground will be based on Universal Design principles (i.e., exceeding ADA accessibility standards), and will involve extensive community input and involvement, potentially including a community build like the old Kids Cove playground. The Marquette Playgrounds for All group has committed to raise the $300,000 match for the grant, so aside from staff time and future maintenance, this project will come at no cost to City taxpayers. The new playground is to be completed by May 31, 2023, bringing over a decade of hard work by City residents, staff, and elected officials to fruition.

Appoint Terra Bahrman as New City Treasurer: YES (Passed 6-0)

Our former City Treasurer Mary Schlicht was recently appointed to serve as the City’s new CFO, as our former CFO Gary Simpson is retiring on July 1. This was a vote to appoint Terra Bahrman, who is currently the Deputy Treasurer, as the new City Treasurer effective July 1.  Terra has done a fantastic job so far with the City, and I’m confident she will continue to excel in this new leadership role.

May 24, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations from the Monday, May 24, 2021 City Commission meeting. My sincere apologies for posting these later than usual – I always try to post these vote explanations within 48 hours of each City Commission meeting, but I have recently been having trouble updating this website, and as a result I was unable to post these vote explanations until today. I believe these technical difficulties have now been resolved, and should not cause similar delays in the future.

Reject DLP Marquette Brownfield Plan Amendment to Reimburse the Beacon House: NO (Passed 6-1)

This was a complex issue, which was made even more confusing by the fact that, according to the motion made at the meeting, a “Yes” vote on this motion was a vote to NOT assist the Beacon House, and a “No” vote was essentially a vote in favor of the proposed Brownfield Plan amendment. The proposed Brownfield Plan amendment failed on a 6-1 vote.

To make a (very) long story short, Duke LifePoint (DLP) placed a large amount of contaminated soil on the current Beacon House property before construction began on the new Beacon House. The removal of this soil and associated environmental clean-up cost the Beacon House $450,000, and the Beacon House sought reimbursement for these expenses through an amendment to the Brownfield Plan for the UPHS-Marquette hospital property. The proposed amendment would have reallocated $460,000 (the $450,000 in environmental expenses plus $10,000 in administrative costs) already budgeted in the Brownfield Plan for interest or the Local Brownfield Revolving Fund in order to reimburse the Beacon House for these eligible expenses. This reimbursement would have taken place in increments over the next 15 years, and it would NOT have involved any expenditures out of the City’s general fund budget – instead, the Beacon House would have been reimbursed using Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF), which is tax revenue paid by DLP that is captured by the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (MBRA) over a period of time and used to reimburse developers for certain eligible expenses related to the redevelopment of Brownfield sites. In essence, this Brownfield Plan amendment would not have involved the use of taxpayer dollars from any City property owners other than DLP.

This was a very difficult decision. On the one hand, many of my colleagues on the City Commission felt that, as a matter of principle, the City should not use any public funds to provide support to any nonprofit organization, and that this could set a dangerous precedent wherein other nonprofits would also begin approaching the City asking for financial support. This amendment also would have delayed the completion of the DLP/UPHS-Marquette Brownfield Plan (currently projected for 2036) by 6 months.

On the other hand, as a former member of the MBRA, I felt that there was a major difference between using City general fund money (paid for by all City taxpayers) to support a nonprofit and using Brownfield TIF (paid only by DLP) to reimburse the Beacon House for environmental clean-up expenses that they had already incurred due to the very specific circumstances relating to their property. In my mind, this was really an apples to oranges comparison. I also agreed with the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, City Attorney, and the MBRA (who unanimously approved the proposed amendment) that this amendment would have been in full compliance with the law and would not have set any legal or policy precedent due to the very unique circumstances surrounding it – i.e., no nonprofit in the City of Marquette is likely to ever again be in the same position that Beacon House is in right now, and even if they were, we wouldn’t be obligated to help them. There was also the consideration that rejection of this amendment would have delayed the opening of the new Beacon House a full year, from December 2021 to December 2022, with hundreds of families and patients (the vast majority of whom are Yoopers) not benefitting from the vital services provided by the Beacon House in the meantime. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I believe that my primary role as a City Commissioner is to represent the people of Marquette, and we received a record-breaking 226 public comments on this proposed amendment. More than half of these comments were from City residents, with the vast majority from residents of Marquette County. There were 225 public comments in favor of the amendment, with one City resident opposed. Many residents shared their powerful personal stories and heartfelt convictions that Marquette could not afford to go another year without the Beacon House being open.

After a great deal of reflection, I decided that I just would not feel right voting against this proposed amendment, so I voted “No” on the motion to reject the amendment. That being said, I completely respect the valid concerns that my fellow Commissioners expressed about this amendment – in fact, I shared many of them – and I fully understand and respect their reasoning behind their votes. The amendment was rejected on a 6-1 vote, and the Beacon House will now have to raise an additional $450,000 to hopefully be able to open their new facility next year.

Approve Founders Landing Piling Reuse Project Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve a contract with J.F. Brennan for the construction of two new public piers at Founders Landing, allowing for the long-term preservation and reuse of the historic dock pilings as required by the State of Michigan. This $5.67 million project will be funded entirely by Brownfield TIF from the Founders Landing Brownfield Plan (i.e., NOT using general fund City taxpayer dollars). It is also worth noting that doing nothing is not an option, as in the absence of some kind of creative reuse the State would still require us to remove the pilings – this would still cost at least $3 million, and would result in the loss of a beloved piece of Marquette’s history and lakeshore. Instead, we will be using tax dollars from the Founders Landing redevelopments themselves to fund the creation of an enduring public asset that will last for generations and dramatically enhance public access to the lakeshore. I am very excited about this project, and I joined my colleagues in voting to approve the contract. The piers are expected to be completed next year.

Design of the proposed Founders Landing Piling Reuse Piers, courtesty of GEI.

Prohibit Food Trucks at Presque Isle Park: YES (Passed 4-3)

Since 2016, food trucks have been allowed to operate in the City of Marquette, including in City parks, and they have been a huge success, bringing great food, new jobs and economic opportunities, and renewed vibrancy to Marquette’s commercial districts. However, over the past couple years, food trucks have increasingly been doing business at Presque Isle, and the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee (PIPAC) has linked a dramatic increase in traffic congestion, litter, and noise at Presque Isle to the operation of these trucks. Food trucks are already required to provide trash receptacles for customers, but PIPAC and City staff have still identified a large amount of litter scattered throughout the island that can be clearly linked back to food trucks, and pedestrian and vehicular traffic often becomes extremely congested near where the trucks park.

This does not seem consistent with the rustic, pristine nature of Presque Isle – I have visited quite a few National and State Parks of comparable natural beauty, and have never seen food trucks allowed there. I love food trucks, but in this case they seem to be making the existing problems with litter and congestion at Presque Isle even worse. PIPAC unanimously recommended banning food trucks at Presque Isle Park, and the City Commission did not receive any public comment or other communication from food truck owners opposing this recommended ban. The ban would also have still allowed food trucks to operate on Presque Isle for special events or rental of City facilities there, and their ability to operate in the rest of the City was completely unaffected. The City Commission will also be holding a public work session on Presque Isle later this year, which will be an opportunity to discuss potential revisions to this policy if necessary. As a result, I joined Mayor Smith and Commissioners Mayer and Davis in voting Yes, with Mayor Pro Tem Hill and Commissioners Hanley and Stonehouse voting No.

The property that the City is acquiring from WE Energies is highlighted above in green.

Approve WE Energies Waiver & Lakefront Property Acquisition: YES (Passed 7-0)

WE Energies is in the process of demolishing the Presque Isle Power Plant (PIPP), and they recently requested that the City waive the requirement that they remove all subsurface materials and infrastructure on the PIPP property as part of the demolition, as this would have dramatically increased the cost of demolishing the plant. The City granted a similar waiver to the Board of Light & Power (BLP) for the demolition of the Shiras Steam Plant in south Marquette, but because WE Energies is a private, for-profit utility company, we asked that they also transfer approximately 6 acres of lakefront property to the City free of charge – this property is located directly across Lakeshore Blvd. from the PIPP property, is mostly sandy beach, and represents approximately 1,000 feet of Lake Superior shoreline. The City also required that WE Energies retain liability for any environmental or public health impacts from the PIPP property (including any originating from subsurface materials and infrastructure), and that any future buyers of the PIPP property be made aware of all subsurface materials and infrastructure. WE Energies remains the sole responsible party for removal of subsurface material and infrastructure in the future. There is also no liability for the City nor any known potential environmental cost to allowing existing subsurface materials and infrastructure to remain on the PIPP property for the time being while the demolition is ongoing.

WE Energies will still be able to use the intake and discharge pipes located on the property across the street, but they will also retain responsibility and liability for those pipes. The City only assumes liability for the parcel of land that we are acquiring from WE Energies across the street, but there is no known contamination or subsurface structures or materials on the property(aside from the intake/discharge pipe), and the property is undeveloped aside from the aforementioned pipe. The City also waived our right to sue WE Energies in the future for environmental, health or safety conditions arising from the lakefront property we are acquiring from WE Energies, but crucially, this waiver does NOT apply to the rest of the PIPP property.

I was satisfied that this waiver and property transfer would not create any new liability for the City or result in any negative impacts to the environment or public health or safety, and I was excited to be able to add another 1,000 feet of shoreline to the City’s already considerable inventory of public lakeshore. I also believe that this property should be included in a future conservation/recreation easement which I hope will also encompass the land east of the new Lakeshore Blvd., as this would guarantee that this public lakeshore will be permanently preserved for public use and conservation. As a result, I joined my colleagues in voting Yes to grant WE Energies the waiver and complete the transfer of the lakefront property across from the PIPP to the City.

Approve 2021 Single Lot Special Assessment: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a routine vote to allow the City to collect $420 in unpaid debts owed to the City (i.e., unpaid water bills) through special assessments on 3 properties. The City does this every year. I voted Yes.

Appoint Mary Schlicht as new Chief Financial Officer: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to appoint the current City Treasurer Mary Schlicht to replace current CFO Gary Simpson when he retires on July 1. Prior to my election to the City Commission, I worked with Mary as a member of the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, and I am confident that she will do a fantastic job.

Appoint Sean Hobbins as Interim City Manager: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a routine, common-sense vote to appoint current Assistant City Manager Sean Hobbins as the Interim City Manager from June 1-6, while the City waits for our new permanent City Manager, Karen Kovacs, to arrive and begin work on June 7.

Appoint Karen Kovacs as New City Manager: YES (Passed 7-0)

After a months-long selection process, the City Commission recently selected Karen Kovacs as the next City Manager to replace Mike Angeli, who is retiring. Ms. Kovacs formally agreed to a contract with the City of Marquette, and this was a vote to approve that contract and appoint her as Marquette’s next City Manager starting June 7. The initial term of the contract is through Sep. 30, 2022 (i.e., for roughly a year and a half), and Ms. Kovacs’ salary will be $125,000 per year, along with a $50,000 life insurance policy, a $6,000 annual car allowance, and standard fringe benefits. This is a very fair level of compensation for such a qualified municipal manager in 2021, and has already been budgeted for in the current City budget.

Rename North Marquette Ballfields as the John “Jack” Reynolds Athletic Complex: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a great gesture by the City of Marquette in honor of Jack Reynolds, who has dedicated his life to youth baseball in Marquette. The City received a petition with over 1,000 signatures to rename the North Marquette Athletic Fields Complex in his honor, and this action was recommended by City staff. I was happy to vote in favor of this fantastic proposal.