May 10, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Hi folks! Here are my vote explanations from the May 10, 2021 City Commission meeting – my apologies for getting these out a couple days late, I have been unable to edit my website this week. Please contact me at (906) 236-0247 or ebonsall@marquettemi.gov if you have any questions or concerns!

Select Karen Kovacs as Next Marquette City Manager: YES (Passed 7-0)

Our current City Manager Mike Angeli is retiring at the end of this month. After the City Commission received 40 applications for the City Manager position, narrowed this down to 11 qualified semifinalist candidates, conducted public interviews with 6 impressive finalists on May 1, and offered second interviews to Karen Kovacs and John Kramer at our May 4 special meeting, on May 5 Mr. Kramer unexpectedly withdrew his application. This left Ms. Kovacs as the last candidate standing, and on Monday night a motion was made to offer her a conditional offer of employment as the next Marquette City Manager, pending the successful negotiation of a contract. I voted Yes because I was extremely impressed with Ms. Kovacs’ resume, her interview, her deep understanding of local issues, her strong ability to think creatively and work well with others. She will bring a valuable fresh perspective to the City of Marquette, but also an understanding of the U.P. (her husband is from Grand Marais and they visit Marquette often) and a willingness to learn and build strong relationships in our community. I am incredibly excited to welcome Karen and her family to Marquette, and I’m looking forward to working with her in the coming years to better serve the people of Marquette and address the many challenges and opportunities that stand before our community.

Karen Kovacs, current City Administrator of Milan, MI (a city of 6,000 in Washtenaw and Monroe Counties), who was unanimously offered the job of City Manager of Marquette by the City Commission at our May 10 meeting, pending successful contract negotiations.

Schedule Public Hearing on Amdt. to UPHS-Marquette Brownfield Plan: YES (Passed 6-1)

This was a vote to schedule a public hearing at the May 24 City Commission meeting to consider an amendment to the Brownfield Plan for the UPHS-Marquette hospital site. Specifically, the proposed amendment would allow up to $455,000 of tax revenue from the new hospital to be captured as Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and used to support the development of the Beacon House, which is a nonprofit entity that is not owned or operated by DLP. This proposed amendment is being sought by the Beacon House and has been recommended to the City Commission by the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. The Beacon House claims that the opening of their new facility could be delayed by a year or more without this funding, and argues that they provide a vital service to U.P. residents and that this amendment would only result in the Brownfield Plan taking an additional 6 months to be paid off, which is minimal in the context of this 20+ year Brownfield Plan. However, myself and other Commissioners have expressed concerns that using Brownfield TIF to benefit a nonprofit could set a dangerous precedent, and that this process was not handled properly or transparently. This will be a very interesting and important discussion for the City Commission at our May 24 meeting.

Approve Notice of Intent to Issue Wastewater Treatment Bonds: YES (Passed 7-0)

This is just a notice of intent to issue up to $8.5 million in Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) bonds to fund improvements to the Marquette Wastewater Treatment Plant – before they can be issued, the actual bonds will need to be approved by the City Commission at a later meeting after a mandatory 45-day waiting period. The CWSRF bonds could qualify for principal forgiveness after a few years, and these upgrades are badly needed and would also allow the City to generate about $200,000/year in additional revenue from the Wastewater Treatment Plant. However, this is a lot of debt for the City to be taking on, and it is critical that we minimize any further utility rate increases in the coming years. I will need to see a specific debt service schedule and analysis of impact on utility rates before I can support issuing these bonds. However, I voted Yes to approve the Notice of Intent so we can continue having these conversations at future City Commission meetings.

Approve Williams Park Upgrades: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve a contract to replace the tennis courts and the basketball court and make much-needed accessibility upgrades at Williams Park. The accessibility requirements are necessary to bring the park (including the playground) into full compliance with ADA standards, and the tennis and basketball courts have been in poor shape for years. The Marquette Tennis Assn. also raised $40,000 in matching funds to assist the City in obtaining a grant for this project, which will cost $250,000 in total and will be completed this year. This will require a budget adjustment of $107,659 due to the recent increase in material costs, but I felt that this additional expense was worthwhile given the time-sensitive nature of the grant, the fact that the Tennis Assn.’s substantial contribution had already been sitting unused for several years, and the fact that we will be able to cover this expense by transferring funds from reserves, meaning that we will not have to cut or delay any other City projects to pay for this. I live just a couple blocks from Williams Park and occasionally walk and play tennis there with my fiancé Aubrie, and I can’t wait to see this project completed!

Design that was finally selected by the Marquette Public Art Commission for the Hurley Park basketball court in south Marquette. The City Commission approved the $15,000 expense by the Public Art Commission on May 10

Approve Hurley Park Basketball Court Public Art Project: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve the Marquette Public Art Commission’s request to fund the painting of a mural on the Hurley Park basketball court. This basketball court (and really the entire playground at Hurley Park) has been in terrible condition for years, to the point that it is actually closed to the public right now. This is the culmination of the Public Art Commission’s Queen City Courts Mural design competition, and it will only cost $15,000 to resurface the entire court and paint the mural on the new surface. Strong public support for this project was presented at the last Public Art Commission meeting, and I think this will benefit the surrounding neighborhood by attracting more children and families to Hurley Park and dramatically improving the condition of the basketball court. This was an enthusiastic Yes vote for me.

Rezone Vacant Land at 505 Lakeshore Blvd: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a common-sense vote to rezone a tiny triangular parcel of City-owned land from Municipal to Mixed-Use. It is currently used as part of the commercial parking lot on the corner of Lakeshore Boulevard and E Ohio Street, which is owned by Mr. Mike Potts, and this rezoning will not result in any change in the current land use. The City also voted to transfer the property to Mr. Potts via a quit claim deed as part of the Consent Agenda, as a deed restriction does not allow the City to sell this parcel. I felt that it makes perfect sense for both Mr. Potts and the City that Mr. Potts should own this tiny parcel and be able to continue using it as part of his parking lot, so I voted Yes.

April 26, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

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.

Marquette Housing FAQs Part 6: Housing Affordability & Parking

When off-street parking requirements exceed actual minimum parking needs, it can seriously hinder the creation of Missing Middle Housing, like these former single-family houses that have been converted into a couple of nice duplexes on West Ridge Street.

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?

On-street parking on Ridge Street around 6pm on a weeknight, during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some neighborhoods may be experiencing parking shortages in Marquette, most residential streets in the City look a lot more like this most of the time.

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 ebonsall@marquettemi.gov 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!

Sources

(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.

(vii) “Cottage Court.” MissingMiddleHousing.com, Opticos Design. 2021.

(viii) Steuteville, Robert. “Testing new ideas with cottage courts.” Public Square, Congress for the New Urbanism. 29 Aug. 2019.

(ix) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(x) “City Commission Meeting Agenda – Monday, January 11, 2021.” City of Marquette, pp. 29.

(xi) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 8-10.

(xiii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xiv) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 25 Mar. 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoQg4rKrWC8

(xv) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 25 Mar. 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QoQg4rKrWC8

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 5: What Are Accessory Dwelling Units?

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: What are Accessory Dwelling Units?

A: Accessory Dwelling Units (a.k.a., ADUs or “granny flats”) are small housing units that are typically built on properties on which a single-family home is already located. They are basically tiny homes that you can build in your backyard, on a side lot next to your house, on top of your garage, etc. (i) Because they are smaller than most single-family homes and many rental units, and are generally easier and cheaper to build than most other types of housing, ADUs can often be rented at prices that are affordable for working-class people.

(ii) Even more than other types of Missing Middle Housing, ADUs also have the added benefit of NOT changing the appearance, character, property values, or parking needs of existing neighborhoods. (iii) This makes ADUs a great way to meet the housing needs of households in the “workforce housing” income range of 80%-120% of the area median income (in the City of Marquette, about $35,000-$53,000 per year). (iv) For more information on ADUs, I would suggest checking out this article from Strong Towns and AccessoryDwellings.org. (v, vi)

Backyard ADU in Portland, OR that would be right at home in almost any Marquette neighborhood. (PC: AccessoryDwellings.org)

Many years ago, ADUs were allowed (or at least, were not prohibited) in the City of Marquette – they weren’t called ADUs back then, but were usually referred to as “granny flats,” “garage apartments,” or “in-law apartments,” and they were a common source of housing for students, young professionals, and extended family members. My dad lived in an ADU in Marquette when he was a young, single police officer in the 1970s and ‘80s – there were quite a few ADUs in Marquette and most other American communities throughout the 20th century. (vii) At some point, they were prohibited by our City zoning code. Then, in 2019 the City approved a new Land Development Code (i.e., the zoning code), and among many other changes, it technically re-legalized ADUs in the City of Marquette. (viii) However, the new zoning code still imposed many zoning restrictions on ADUs, including:

– ADUs could not be occupied by more than 2 people (other rentals in the City can be occupied by up to 4 unrelated tenants, and by any number of family members);

– There were stringent setback, parking, and lot size requirements, making it hard to site ADUs on many residential lots in Marquette;

– The owner of an ADU had to live on the property where the ADU would be located;

– ADUs were limited to 750 square feet of floor area;

– ADUs had to be inspected annually instead of every 3 years like other rentals;

– In perhaps the most extreme example, ADU tenants had to be related to their landlord by blood or marriage. (ix)

ADUs were also defined as a “Special Land Use” in the new Land Development Code – this meant that, unlike “Permitted Land Uses” (a.k.a., “by-right” or “as-of-right” land uses), ADUs would have to go through a complicated (and often lengthy and expensive) special land use permitting process involving administrative review, a public hearing, and special approval from the Planning Commission. (x)

Taken together, these restrictions were essentially still a ban on ADUs in everything but name – indeed, virtually no ADUs were built in the 2 years after the new Land Development Code was approved. Thankfully, in January 2021 the Planning Commission and City Commission voted to ease the most extreme restrictions on ADUs, eliminating the requirement the ADU tenants be familial relations of their landlord, and limiting ADU occupancy to “2 unrelated individuals” rather than “2 persons,” which will allow families with more than 2 members to live in ADUs. (xi) However, while these changes have made ADUs easier to rent, they have not made them easier to actually build. Many restrictions on ADUs – some sensible, and some not – still remain on the books in the City of Marquette.

Q: What does the Housing Committee’s Initial Report say about ADUs?

ADUs can be attached to the primary home as well. Here you can just barely make out an ADU that is subtly attached to the rear of a small single-family home in Florida. (PC: Daniel Herriges, Strong Towns)

A: The Ad Hoc Housing Committee has heard from many local, state, and national housing experts over the past year, and one of their most common suggestions was that the City ease restrictions on ADUs. (xii) The Housing Committee came to a consensus that it did not make sense to force potential ADU developers to jump through all the hoops required to obtain a special land use permit. After all, common sense tells us that we should not need a lengthy permitting process, a special public hearing, and a vote of the entire Planning Commission just so a homeowner can build a single housing unit of less than 750 square feet in their backyard. We already have many other requirements in place that will prevent any negative impacts from ADUs – why erect more barriers to ADUs that serve no purpose other than to make it a lot harder to build them?

As a result, in our Initial Report the Housing Committee recommended legalizing ADUs as “Permitted Uses” in every residential zoning district in the City. In other words, if you can build a traditional single-family home in a neighborhood in Marquette, you should be able to build an ADU in that neighborhood just as easily. While some sensible extra regulations will still be placed on ADUs, the Initial Report recommends that ADUs be treated more or less like single-family homes from a zoning and permitting standpoint. For what it’s worth, the Initial Report also makes the same recommendations about duplexes as for ADUs. (xiii)

The Housing Committee has also discussed the fact that it can be very hard to site ADUs on existing lots in the City given setback and off-street parking requirements. (xiv) The requirement that the owner of an ADU live on the same property where the ADU is located is also a significant limiting factor. The Housing Committee may discuss these issues further in the future. However, the changes that the City has already made to allow ADUs to actually be rented out and to be occupied by families with children, coupled with the Housing Committee’s recommendation that ADUs be legalized as regular permitted uses in every Marquette neighborhood, will hopefully lead to many new ADUs being developed in Marquette. With these changes, ADUs can finally begin to provide a meaningful increase in the supply of affordable “workforce housing” in Marquette.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about ADUs or the Housing Committee’s Initial Report, suggestions for the Final Report, or any special knowledge or experience that you would like to share with the Committee, please reach out to me at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov 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!

Sources

(i) “Accessory dwelling units: what they are and why people build them.” AccessoryDwellings.org.

(ii) “Accessory Dwelling Units.” Planning.org, American Planning Association.

(iii) “Summing up ADU research: are accessory dwelling units as great, or as horrible, as people say?” AccessoryDwellings.org.

(iv) “Accessory Dwelling Units: A Smart Growth Tool for Providing Affordable Housing.” Ross, Jamie. Housing News Network, vol. 32, no. 2. August 2016.

(v) “If You’re Going to Allow ADUs, Don’t Make It So Hard to Build One.” Herriges, Daniel. Strong Towns, 11 September 2018.

(vi) AccessoryDwellings.org.

(vii) “Making Normal Neighborhoods Legal Again.” Herriges, Daniel. Strong Towns, 03 July 2019.

(viii) “Panel OKs land development code project.” Depew, Jaymie. The Mining Journal, 12 February 2019.

(ix) “Draft Land Development Code Amendments,” Marquette City Planning Commission Agenda, 20 October 2020, pp. 100-101. https://www.marquettemi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/102020.pc_.agenda.pdf

(x) Land Development Code, City of Marquette. https://www.marquettemi.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Effective-1-21-21-LDC-amended_updated-with-regulating-plan.pdf

(xi) January 11, 2021 Marquette City Commission Meeting Agenda. file:///C:/Users/Evan%20Bonsall/Downloads/Agenda_2021_1_11_Meeting(2068).pdf

(xii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

(xiii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xiv) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, March 10, 2020,” p. 3.

What is Missing Middle Housing? And How Do We Create More of It?

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: What is Missing Middle Housing?

A: Missing Middle Housing is one of the most important terms to know when it comes to housing affordability. It was coined in 2010 by Dan Parolek, a world-renowned architect and planner (i) – in fact, the Housing Committee was fortunate enough to have Mr. Parolek himself present about Missing Middle Housing at our Dec. 6, 2020 meeting. (ii) Missing Middle Housing generally has two definitions:

1) Housing that is affordable for middle-income families (including those in the “workforce housing” range of 80-120% Area Median Income that we discussed in the last housing blog post), and

2) Housing that falls somewhere in between a large single-family home and a large apartment complex in terms of scale and form. (iii)

These definitions are interrelated – Missing Middle Housing types generally produce smaller, more affordable housing units, and a shortage of Missing Middle Housing is making it harder for middle-income households to find affordable housing in Marquette and many other communities. (iv) But what does the Housing Committee’s Initial Report say about Missing Middle Housing?

For starters, the Housing Committee included Dan Parolek’s definition of Missing Middle Housing in the Initial Report – it reads as follows:

“A range of house-scale buildings with multiple units – compatible in scale and form with detached single-family homes – located in a walkable neighborhood.” (v)

This is a very profound definition, and the point about “house-scale buildings” is especially important – we are not talking about giant, ugly apartment buildings, but buildings that could fit right into existing neighborhoods in Marquette. In fact, as Mr. Parolek noted during his presentation (and as Housing Committee member Antonio Adan and I pointed out in an earlier presentation to the Committee that was included in the Initial Report), Marquette already has many great examples of Missing Middle Housing, especially in our historic neighborhoods in east and central Marquette. (vi, vii)

A triplex on East Ridge Street. (PC: Antonio Adan)

Just take a walk down Pine Street or Ridge Street, and you will see everything from Victorian mansions to small apartment buildings with 2-to-4 units. In fact, these are often one in the same – I live in an affordable fourplex that was once an expensive Victorian mansion owned by a single wealthy family, but which is now home to 4 different low-to-middle-income households. There’s an affordable duplex next door, a huge Victorian mansion across the street, and a more modest, affordable single-family home on the same block. This pattern is repeated throughout the neighborhood, yet this is still one of the most desirable places to live in Marquette, property values are strong, there is adequate parking, and most homes are well-maintained. If more neighborhoods were like this in Marquette, City residents would have a much wider array of housing choices to meet their needs, and housing would be more affordable.

An old Victorian home on the corner of Ridge Street and Pine Street that has been converted into a fourplex. I’m fortunate to be a tenant in this excellent example of affordable Missing Middle Housing in Marquette.

Mr. Parolek’s planning and design firm, Opticos Design, has created an award-winning website about Missing Middle Housing, which goes through the wide range of potential Missing Middle Housing types. (viii) The excellent image below also provides a great, easy-to-understand visual representation of the various Missing Middle Housing types. (ix)

This visual representation of “Missing Middle Housing” was created by Daniel Parolek of Opticos Design.

As you can see, Missing Middle Housing types include duplexes, Accessory Dwelling Units (a.k.a., ADUs or “granny flats”), cottage courts and courtyard apartments, townhomes, upper-level apartments in mixed-use buildings, triplexes, fourplexes, etc. (x, xi) There also seemed to be a consensus among the Housing Committee members that, at least for our purposes here in Marquette, it made sense to consider small single-family homes to be a type of Missing Middle Housing as well.

Some great examples of small, affordable single-family homes in central Marquette. (PC: Antonio Adan)

These different types of Missing Middle Housing can all work in different contexts, and they aren’t all a good fit for every neighborhood, but by legalizing more types of Missing Middle Housing in our zoning code and encouraging Missing Middle Housing development, over time the City of Marquette can gradually but significantly increase the supply of housing that falls in the “workforce housing” price range and which meets the evolving housing needs of Marquette residents. Speaking of which…

Q: Who is Missing Middle Housing for?

A: As Antonio Adan and I noted in our presentation to the Housing Committee in October 2020, expanding Marquette’s supply of Missing Middle Housing can help meet the housing needs of many City residents. (xii) For example, Missing Middle Housing can be great for NMU students, who often struggle to find decent, affordable apartments in Marquette. It’s also great for young professionals (including young couples), who are often working lower-paying entry-level jobs and who frequently prefer to live near services and amenities. Many Missing Middle Housing types can also provide adequate affordability and space for young families with children.

And it’s not just young people who could benefit from more Missing Middle Housing in Marquette. As Antonio and I noted in our presentation to the Housing Committee and as Mr. Parolek and Arthur C. Nelson explain in their recent book, Missing Middle Housing can also help meet the needs of seniors by providing housing that is affordable for retirees on fixed incomes, and modest-sized units that are perfect for seniors looking to downsize. (xiii) And because Missing Middle Housing works best when it is located in walkable neighborhoods, it is also a great option for seniors with limited physical mobility or who may be unable to drive, who need to live in accessible, affordable housing that’s within easy walking distance of vital services. (xiv) This is why the AARP strongly supports Missing Middle Housing and zoning reform in both rural and urban communities. (xv, xvi)

In fact, the City’s 2004 and 2015 Community Master Plans both identified a need for more “higher-density housing for mature households (55+) years in close proximity to downtown and established neighborhoods” in Marquette. (xvii) Both Master Plans were based on a large amount of community input going back to 2003, so it’s clear that between the evolving housing needs of the Millennials and those of the Baby Boomers, a need for more affordable, accessible Missing Middle Housing has existed in Marquette for many years.

Finally, lest you think that the Housing Committee is only concerned about renters, Missing Middle Housing is for homeowners, too. Smaller single-family homes, townhomes, cottage courts, and so on are all types of Missing Middle Housing that are often owner-occupied. ADUs can also provide a source of much-needed supplemental income for homeowners, and landlords often occupy one of the units in the duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes that they own – in fact, my landlords live in one of the units in my fourplex.

A good example of a purpose-built triplex in Marquette that is similar in size and shape to a single-family home. (PC: Antonio Adan)

Q: How does the Housing Committee recommend that we create more Missing Middle Housing in Marquette?

A: There are several recommendations in the Housing Committee’s Initial Report that are related directly to Missing Middle Housing, which were all unanimously approved by the Housing Committee in January 2021. (xviii) Here they are, in the order that they appear in the Initial Report:

1) “Allow Accessory Dwelling Units and Duplex Units as a Permitted Use.” (xix)

The Housing Committee determined that duplexes and Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs, a.k.a. “granny flats”) were Missing Middle Housing types that were low-impact and very similar in scale to single-family homes, and that as a result they would be a good fit in any neighborhood in Marquette. I’m sure we’re all familiar with duplexes, and we will discuss ADUs in greater detail in a future blog post – they are essentially small housing units of less than 1,000 square feet which can be built in backyards or on top of garages on the same property as an existing single-family home. (xx) In the meantime, if you’re curious about ADUs, I would encourage you to check out this article by Strong Towns. (xxi)

The Housing Committee recommends that duplexes and ADUs should be made a “permitted use” in all residential zoning districts in the City of Marquette – in other words, you should be able to build a duplex or an ADU in any neighborhood in Marquette without going through a lengthy, complicated Special Land Use permitting process. (xxii) After all, why should a special public hearing and a vote by the entire Planning Commission be necessary just to put an ADU in your backyard? Allowing duplexes and ADUs as permitted uses across the City was also recommended by many of the expert sources the Housing Committee consulted, including Mr. Parolek, (xxiii) David Allen (a former City Commissioner and housing expert from Grand Rapids), (xxiv), Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development (CUPPAD), (xxv) and a report on small-town housing affordability released in 2020 by the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) and the State of Vermont. (xxvi)

Of course, not all types of Missing Middle Housing make sense in every neighborhood. Mr. Parolek advised that while in his view the ideal Missing Middle Housing type is the fourplex, “the ideal places for development of these units are neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, as those are transition areas.” (xxvii) In our Initial Report, the Housing Commission did not include any recommendations regarding triplexes, fourplexes, cottage courts, or other types of Missing Middle Housing besides duplexes and ADUs. There will likely be more information and recommendations about Missing Middle Housing in the Housing Committee’s Final Report in June 2021.

Historic homes can be tastefully converted into duplexes, like these on West Ridge Street. (PC: Antonio Adan)

2) “Adjust lot size requirements to accommodate duplexes.” (xxviii)

The City imposes lot size and setback requirements on all residential buildings, and the idea behind this recommendation is that there is not really any good reason why duplexes should be treated differently than single-family homes when it comes to these lot size requirements. And yet, under the current City zoning regulations, lots that contain duplexes must have double the minimum side yard setback (10 ft. instead of 5 ft.), must be 33%-100% wider (50-75 ft. instead of 37.5 ft.), and must be 33%-100% larger by area (6,000-9,000 sq. ft. instead of 4,500 sq. ft.) than lots containing single-family homes. (xxix)

These lot size requirements do not make much logical sense, and they often make it very difficult or even impossible to develop duplexes on small lots, severely limiting Marquette’s supply of Missing Middle Housing. In fact, at our last meeting the Housing Committee was informed that a small developer who recently purchased several lots south of the old hospital property is struggling to site the affordable single-family homes and duplexes they want to develop on those lots due to lot size requirements. (xxx) Reducing required lot sizes for duplexes to be similar to those for single-family homes would make duplexes much easier and less expensive to develop in Marquette, and would not have any foreseeable negative impacts on Marquette neighborhoods.

3) “Relax minimum parking requirements for multi-family developments where appropriate.” (xxxi)

Mr. Parolek noted in his presentation that “parking requirements are a hindrance” to Missing Middle Housing development in many cases. (xxxii) Off-street parking requirements are an important part of the City zoning code, especially given the fact that Marquette receives a lot of snow and prohibits overnight on-street parking during the winter. However, that does not mean that the City’s current minimum off-street parking requirements necessarily make sense, or that they cannot be sensibly reduced to facilitate more Missing Middle Housing development. The specifics of any parking policy changes will be left up to the City of Marquette Planning Commission – in fact, they are already working diligently on this issue – and ultimately will need to be approved by the City Commission after public review and at least two public hearings.

Final Thoughts

Before I wrap up this blog, I want to reiterate that the Housing Committee has only released our Initial Report – this is really just a polished draft, which you can read for yourself HERE. There will be much more detailed information and many more recommendations in the Final Report when it is approved by the Housing Committee in June 2021. It is also important to remember that even the Final Report will not include any mandates or final decisions, but merely policy recommendations, as the Housing Committee is a temporary City advisory board and does not have the power to make policy. That power ultimately lies with the City Commission alone.

If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about the Housing Committee’s Initial Report, suggestions for the Final Report, or any special knowledge or experience that you would like to share with the Committee, please reach out to me at ebonsall@marquettemi.gov 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 realize that it has been a couple of weeks since the last one, and I plan to post one or two each week moving forward until all the FAQs have been answered!

Sources

(i) “What Is Missing Middle Housing?” missingmiddlehousing.com, Opticos Design, 2019.

(ii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, December 6, 2020,” p. 1-2.

(iii) Same as previous two citations.

(iv) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, December 6, 2020,” p. 1-2.

(v) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 6.

(vi) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, December 6, 2020,” p. 1.

(vii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix E: Missing Middle Marquette Walking Tour, presentation by Adan, Antonio and Evan Bonsall, October 13, 2020.

(viii) missingmiddlehousing.com, Opticos Design, 2019.

(ix) “Missing Middle Housing Diagram.” Dan Parolek, Opticos Design, 2020.

(x) “The Types.” missingmiddlehousing.com, Opticos Design, 2019.

(xi) “Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis.” Parolek, Daniel and Arthur C. Nelson. Island Press, 2020.

(xii) City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix E: Missing Middle Marquette Walking Tour, presentation by Antonio Adan and Evan Bonsall, October 13, 2020.

(xiii) “Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis.” Parolek, Daniel and Arthur C. Nelson. Island Press, 2020.

(xiv) “What Is Missing Middle Housing?” missingmiddlehousing.com, Opticos Design, 2019.

(xv) “Bring Back Missing Middle Housing.” AARP, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/housing/info-2019/bring-back-missing-middle-housing.html

(xvi) “Where We Live: Communities for All Ages, 2018 Edition.” LeaMond, Nancy. AARP, 2018.

(xvii) “City of Marquette Community Master Plan: A Superior Vision for Marquette.” City of Marquette, Aug. 11, 2015, pp. 2-2.

(xviii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, January 14, 2020.”

(xix) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xx) “A couple built an apartment above their garage. Ann Arbor officials want more like it.” Stanton, Ryan. MLive.com. 01 March 2021.

(xxi) “Strength Test #4: Are accessory dwelling units allowed in your town?” Quednau, Rachel.            Strong Towns. 16 August 2017.

(xxii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 6.

(xxiii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, December 6, 2020,” p. 1-2.

(xxiv) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 6.

(xxv) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix C: CUPPAD Marquette County Housing Market Assessment, December 2020, pp. 5.

(xxvi) “Enabling Better Places: A Zoning Guide for Vermont Neighborhoods.” Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development and the Congress for the New Urbanism. August 2020.

(xxvii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 6-7.

(xxviii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xxix) City of Marquette Land Development Code, Section 54.403: Footnotes to Schedule of Regulations, Subsections C & D, pp. 4-2.

(xxx) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 9 February 2021.

(xxxi) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, pp. 9.

(xxxii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, December 6, 2020,” p. 1.

COVID-19 Vaccination Update from Protect Michigan Commission Meetings

Today I attended the second meeting of the Protect Michigan Commission (PMC). The PMC is a statewide advisory board which provides input on Michigan’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts – I was one of 3 Yoopers appointed to the PMC by Gov. Whitmer last month. I have also been participating in meetings of the PMC Rural Workgroup and Youth (Ages 16-30) Workgroup, which are focused on vaccination access and communications for rural Michiganders and young folks in our state. As you can see from the image above, the U.P. is actually well ahead of the rest of the state when it comes to vaccination, with 18% of Yoopers having received at least the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (vs. 16% of all Michiganders) and 11% having received both doses (vs. 9% of all Michiganders). The U.P. (Region 8) is ahead of all other regions in the state in terms of vaccination rates.

Contrary to some initial concerns that I had heard, the U.P. is not being disadvantaged by the state’s focus on equity or the use of the CDC Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) to help determine vaccine distribution. This makes sense, because the SVI not only measures race and ethnicity, but also poverty, age, the prevalence of certain health conditions, disability rates, high school dropout rates, lack of transportation, and other local data. High SVI ratings also correspond very strongly with areas which saw high COVID-19 infection and mortality rates in 2020, including many parts of the U.P. In fact, the U.P. and Northern Lower Peninsula score at least as high on the SVI as any other part of the state.

Sadly, some state legislators in Lansing (led by State Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville) are currently trying to prevent the state from using equity-based metrics like the SVI to determine vaccine distribution – they want to prohibit the consideration of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status to help determine how to allocate COVID-19 vaccine doses. This would almost certainly hurt the U.P., and would lead to much less equitable vaccination outcomes on a statewide level. Please consider contacting State Rep. Sara Cambensy and State Sen. Ed McBroom to urge them to oppose Sen. Barrett’s amendment – in my view, it is clearly bad for the U.P. and will hurt millions of Michiganders in both rural and urban communities and will mostly benefit relatively well-off folks living in downstate suburbs.

The state’s goals for vaccine distribution are as follows: 

  1. Get 70% of Michiganders age 16+ vaccinated ASAP.
  2. Ensure that vaccine distribution is at least 90-95% efficient.
  3. Have zero disparity in vaccination rates re: race, ethnicity, or Social Vulnerability Index (SVI).
  4. Make sure that no Michigander is more than 20 minutes away from a vaccination site.

To achieve those goals, MDHHS has devised 5 strategies which will help us get as many Michiganders vaccinated as quickly as possible:

  1. Get more people vaccinated.
  2. Build a robust network of vaccination sites.
  3. Promote efficiency in vaccine delivery and administration.
  4. Mobilize personnel to maximize vaccination efforts.
  5. Empower people with information to gain the confidence to get vaccinated (this is really where the Protect Michigan Commission comes in, although we also provide input and feedback that can strengthen the other 4 strategies as well).

Here are some other highlights from the first two Protect Michigan Commission meetings:

– We have now delivered more than 2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, nearly 1 in 10 Michiganders are fully vaccinated, and we may be able to expect double the current supply of vaccine by May.

– The State is not “hoarding” any vaccine – 100% of the vaccine doses controlled by the State of Michigan has been scheduled, and 84% have been administered already.

– In the graphic below you can see that the initial MDHHS vaccination plan had projected that the general population age 16+ would be able to start receiving the vaccine this fall. However, MDHHS now seems to be more optimistic about vaccine supply and distribution capacity, and it was stated at our Jan. 29 meeting that the general population will hopefully be able to start receiving the vaccine by this summer.

– The State of Michigan is also launching a targeted public information campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated through paid media advertising, and will be devoting at least $30 million to this effort.

– The new Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is 100% effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19, and 60-70% effective at preventing infection. This vaccine will be available as soon as next week, and will allow us to vaccinate Michiganders much more quickly.

02-22-21 City Commission Vote Explanations

My vote explanations for last night’s City Commission meeting will be very brief, because there was very little on the agenda – in fact, at just 28 minutes in length, this may have been the shortest City Commission meeting I have ever attended since being elected in November 2019. Here is my explanation of my vote on the only agenda item that was not a routine appointment or Consent Agenda item:

Water Use Ordinance Review: YES, Passed 7-0

This was a common-sense vote to hire a law firm at minimal cost to the City (less than $10,000) to conduct a legal and technical review of our current water use ordinances in coordination with City staff – this is the same firm that recently completed a similar review of the City’s wastewater system and related ordinances, and I felt that they offered a high level of service and expertise at a fair price.  This will ensure that our ordinances and water distribution system are in compliance with all modern laws, standards, and regulations. This expenditure was already included in the FY 2021 City budget.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 3: What is the Housing Committee’s definition of “affordable housing”?

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: What is the Housing Committee’s definition of affordable housing?

A: The Housing Committee did not use a single definition of “affordable housing” because Marquette’s housing needs and the issue of housing affordability are much more complicated than any single definition could ever hope to capture. In August 2020, the Housing Committee unanimously approved the following definition of housing affordability:

Housing is considered “affordable” for a particular household if that household spends 30% or less of their gross household income on all housing expenses. (i)

This 30% standard, while not perfect, is a very widely accepted definition of housing affordability that is used by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) (ii), the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) (iii), the Marquette Housing Commission (iv), and nationwide housing experts. It also has the important benefit of being simple and easy to understand.

However, it is important to keep in mind that this definition of housing affordability includes ALL housing expenses – in other words, not just a household’s monthly rent or mortgage payment, but also routine maintenance and repair costs, utility bills, internet service, property taxes, and so on. For example, a household earning the City of Marquette median income of $43,977 per year ($3,665 per month) could, according to this definition, afford to spend no more than $1,100 per month on housing, but their actual monthly rent or mortgage payment would almost certainly have to be significantly lower than this to be considered “affordable.” (v) After all, if they are renting, their monthly rent probably does not include certain fees or utilities, and if they are homeowners they will have to pay for utilities, insurance, taxes, and maintenance, not just their monthly mortgage payment. This is not only common sense, but it is also how the U.S. Census Bureau defines housing expenses. (vi)

Q: So are you just saying that all housing is “affordable”? How is this definition useful?

A: No, not really. Of course, all housing is technically “affordable” for someone, but the real question is “Affordable for whom?” After all, the Housing Committee’s sole purpose is to study the housing situation in the City of Marquette and make recommendations to the City Commission about how the City can promote housing affordability. The Housing Committee recognized that the 30% housing affordability standard is pretty much useless without anything to compare it to, so the Committee also approved specific definitions for “low-income housing” and “workforce housing.”

“Low-income housing” is defined by the Housing Committee as housing that is affordable for households earning less than 80% of the City of Marquette’s median income (v) – according to the latest Census Bureau data from the 2019 American Community Survey, this means households earning less than $35,182 per year. (viii) It is important to note that there is a very wide range of incomes and housing price points within this category. For instance, it is possible to find modest market-rate apartments in Marquette that are affordable for households earning close to 80% median income, while for households earning 30-50% median income, low-income subsidized housing such as Pine Ridge or Lake Superior Village may be the only option. Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) can be used to produce new low-income housing, and while LIHTC housing usually services households in the 60-80% median income range (ix), LIHTC developers can produce housing that is affordable for households earning as little as 30% median income– a great local example of this is Grandview Marquette (the old orphanage), which offers income-based apartments for households earning 30% to 80% of the area median income. (x)

“Workforce housing” is defined by the Housing Committee as housing that is affordable for households earning 80%-120% of the City of Marquette’s median household income. (xi) Workforce housing is essentially housing that is affordable for “working-class” or lower-middle-class Marquette households earning about $35,000-$53,000 per year. (xii) Households in this category will generally be more financially stable than those in the low-income category but still likely to be “living paycheck to paycheck,” and are also more likely to be able to consider homeownership as an alternative to renting.

Since releasing the Initial Report in January 2021 and hearing feedback from the public and the City Commission, the Housing Committee has identified a need to discuss these definitions of housing affordability in greater detail and determine what they actually mean in terms of dollars and cents. (xiii) What is the actual price range for owner-occupied homes in the workforce housing range? How much can a household earning 80% median income actually afford to pay in rent? How much could the same household afford to spend if they were looking to buy a home? I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on the Housing Committee to find specific, concrete answers to these questions over the next few months, and sharing those answers in the Final Report in June 2021.

Sources

(i) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(ii) “HUD’s Public Housing Program.” hud.gov, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

(iii) “Housing Trust Fund Rent Limits.” hudexchange.info, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Accessed via “Compliance Current Income and Rent Limits,” michigan.gov/mshda, Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

(iv) Marquette Housing Commission presentation, Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

(v) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(vi) “Who Can Afford To Live in a Home?: A look at data from the 2006 American Community Survey.” Schwartz, Mary and Ellen Wilson, U.S. Census Bureau. 2008, p. 3.

(vii) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(viii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(ix) Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

(x) “Historic Orphanage Begins New Life as Affordable Housing in Marquette, Michigan.” huduser.gov, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 19 February 2019.

(xi) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021. Appendix A: Meeting Minutes, “Official Proceedings of the Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee, August 11, 2020,” p. 1.

(xii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xiii) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 9 February 2021.

Marquette Housing FAQs, Part 2: Housing is unaffordable. Why should we care?

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.

In Part 1 of this series, I explained why the City of Marquette’s Ad Hoc Housing Committee was created – a housing affordability crisis exists in Marquette, and it is getting worse every year. The median sale price of a single-family home has risen from about $175,000 in 2015 to $220,000 in 2020(i), and median rent rose 21% from 2015-2019 alone(ii). As a result, 1 in 6 Marquette homeowners and 55% of Marquette renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they are forced to spend more than 30% of their income on housing(iii). For thousands of Marquette residents, homeownership is increasingly an unattainable dream – median incomes have risen 36% in Marquette County from 2000-2017, but during that same time period median home values rose 85% and home sale prices rose 68%(iv); the homeownership rate for Marquette residents ages 25-34 was just 8.9% in 2017, nearly 4 times lower than the national average of 34%(v); and there was mounting statistical and anecdotal evidence that young people and working-class families with children were leaving Marquette to find more affordable housing elsewhere.

However, some Marquette residents may look at these alarming statistics and not be very alarmed at all – they may see the rapidly rising cost of housing in Marquette and ask, “So what? Why should we care?” That is a big question, but in this blog post I will try to answer it as simply and objectively as I can.

Q: Why should we care that housing is unaffordable in Marquette? Why is that a problem?

A: Rising housing prices are not always a problem – in fact, they are often a sign of a healthy local community and a strong economy, and they allow many working-class families to build wealth through homeownership. However, when housing prices rise much more rapidly than inflation or local incomes (as is the case in Marquette), this can become a very serious problem for several reasons.

First, rising housing prices can effectively price people out of our community, especially (but not exclusively) young people and families with children. This has already been happening in Marquette for years, with the number of households with children declining by 7% from 2000-2010, meaning that for the first time in decades, families with children no longer represent the majority of households in the City of Marquette, even while the number of families with children has grown in neighboring communities like Negaunee (vi). Once they are gone, these residents may become rooted in other communities and never come back. Because our schools are mostly funded through state per-pupil funds which follow each child from school to school, this will mean less money for our already-underfunded public schools. It will mean fewer children using our City playgrounds and playing on our youth sports teams. It will lead to less vibrant neighborhoods and a decline in Marquette’s civic life, and because most entrepreneurs are young people (vii), it will mean less economic dynamism and less job creation. It will also make Marquette an increasingly unattractive place to go to school for cash-strapped NMU students, about 60% of whom live off-campus – this would not only hurt NMU (one of the largest employers in Marquette County), but our community as a whole.

Second, rising housing prices can hurt the local economy in the long run. Sure, the real estate industry might do great for a while and create some jobs in the short term, but eventually, if working-class people are priced out of Marquette, local employers will begin to find it harder and harder to hire qualified workers. This has already happened in peer communities like Traverse City, Petoskey, and Charlevoix, where rapidly rising housing prices have not only forced out low- and middle-income residents, but have also hurt local businesses (viii, ix). Having more people of all incomes living in the City of Marquette is better for the local economy. After all, who is more likely to shop downtown or buy gas or get their car fixed in Marquette – the person who lives within walking distance or a 5-minute drive of our downtown businesses, the gas station, or the auto shop, or the person who lives 30 minutes away in Ishpeming, which has its own restaurants, shops, gas stations, and auto mechanics? There is a lot of empirical evidence that allowing more people of all incomes to live closer to downtown districts increases foot traffic and revenue for local businesses (x), and that lower-income people actually spend a higher percentage of their income, with that money then circulating throughout the local economy. (xi)

Third, and this is just my personal opinion, making sure that Marquette is an inclusive, diverse, and welcoming community is just the morally right thing to do, and providing adequate affordable housing for people of all income levels is a vital part of achieving that goal. Rather than ask ourselves why we need affordable housing, we should ask ourselves whether we want to remain a community for everyone, or become a community only for those wealthy enough to live here.

Q: But aren’t these young people who want affordable housing just entitled?

A: It is understandable why some Marquette residents (especially those over a certain age) might feel this way. However, the short answer is no. Before accusing their younger neighbors of being “entitled” for wanting more affordable housing, Marquette residents should consider the following facts:

First, an often-overlooked fact is that young people are not the only Marquette residents who are struggling to pay rent or buy homes in our community. Many Marquette residents are retirees on limited incomes struggling to make rent or to maintain their homes. Many Marquette seniors are looking to downsize, some to smaller, more manageable owner-occupied homes, and others to rental units. In either case, Marquette seniors increasingly need housing that is both affordable and accessible, and ideally located within walking distance of basic amenities. As the Baby Boom generation ages and retires in the coming years, their housing needs will continue to grow and evolve, and to meet those needs we will need to expand the supply of affordable, accessible single-family homes and multi-family rental properties in Marquette, both through new construction and by renovating existing homes.

Nationwide, Millennials (i.e., people ages 25-39) are just as likely to be employed as previous generations were at the same age, and they work similar hours. Despite this, Millennials on average have slightly less accumulated wealth and lower incomes than Baby Boomers or Generation X did when they were the same age. They also have significantly more debt (mostly due to college loans), and are delaying marriage, homeownership, and having children until much later in life than previous generations partially due to these financial challenges (xii). The idea that Millennials are “lazy” or that they “don’t want to pay their dues” is false by any objective measurement.

As for Marquette, the median home sale price in the City of Marquette in 2020 was $220,000 – even after adjusting for inflation (xiii), that is 14% higher than in 2015 (xiv) and 100% higher than in 1985 (xv). In other words, aspiring Millennial homeowners in Marquette today have to pay twice as much for the same homes as their parents and grandparents did in the 1980s. Perhaps it is not surprising then that, as mentioned earlier, the homeownership rate among 25-34 year-olds in the City of Marquette is 4 times lower than the national average. Similarly, even after adjusting for inflation, median rent in the City of Marquette has risen 13% since 2015 (xvi) and 34% since 2000 (xvii). Health care, housing, and education costs have all risen far faster than incomes and inflation over the past 50 years (xviii), and inflation-adjusted median household incomes in Marquette County have actually declined slightly since 2000 (xix). In 1980, Michigan’s minimum wage was $10.42 per hour in 2021 dollars – today, it is $9.65 per hour, meaning that low-income Marquette residents are not only paying more for housing but are also earning slightly less to begin with (xx).

Q: Can’t these people just move out to the townships, Negaunee, Ishpeming, or Sawyer to find more affordable housing?

A: Yes and no. Housing has always been more expensive in Marquette than in the surrounding cities and townships in Marquette County, mostly due to a combination of our desirable lakeside location and the presence of NMU and the regional hospital. However, housing has not always been unaffordable for low- and middle-income people in Marquette, and housing prices have not always been rising so rapidly. And as was noted at a recent Ad Hoc Housing Committee meeting, moving out of town to find affordable housing may not remain an option for very long. For example, today housing is actually more expensive in Marquette Twp. than in the City (xxi); housing prices are already rising in Negaunee and Ishpeming due to out-migration of families from Marquette, with a modest $128,000 home in Ishpeming recently drawing 8 scheduled showings within 24 hours and a small modular home in Negaunee recently selling for $210,000; and Dennis Stachewicz, the City of Marquette’s Director of Community Development and a Forsyth Twp. resident, noted that nearly all of the housing at Sawyer that is fit for human habitation is already occupied, with some apartment complexes having long waiting lists and many homes in Forsyth Twp. selling or renting within days (xxii). Subsidized low-income housing in Marquette is no longer a realistic option either, with qualified applicants having to wait 6-12 months to get through the long waiting lists at Pine Ridge and Lake Superior Village (xxiii).

Finally, in my view, telling low-income and working-class folks (many of whom have lived and worked in Marquette for years) that they need to leave our community to find housing that they can afford is not a real solution – it’s a copout, a white flag of surrender, especially when there is so much more that the City could be doing to help make housing more affordable in Marquette. After all, why should the nurse, the teacher, the police officer, or the auto mechanic who works hard all day providing essential services to our community (usually for less pay than she deserves) not be able to afford to live and enjoy the fruits of her labor in the very community she serves? Rather than asking whether we should care about housing being unaffordable in Marquette, we should be asking what kind of community we want Marquette to be, and then take action to make that vision a reality.

Sources:

(i) “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

(ii) 2015 and 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(iii) 2019 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(iv) “Housing Market Assessment – Marquette County.” Central Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Commission (CUPPAD), Dec. 2020, pp. 25.

(v) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021.

(vi) “2019 Five-Year Parks and Recreation Master Plan.” City of Marquette, Feb. 2019, p. 19.

(vii) “Young people are more entrepreneurial than ever – but challenges remain.” Centre for Entrepreneurs, 2021.

(viii) “High housing costs in Traverse City now hurting more industries in region.” VanHulle, Lindsay. bridgemi.com, Bridge Magazine, 15 August 2019.

(ix) “In Charlevoix and Petoskey, pricey housing leaves businesses without workers.” Beggin, Riley. bridgemi.com, Bridge Magazine, 28 August 2018.

(x) “Smart Growth and Economic Success: The Business Case.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nov. 2013.

(xi) “Keeping up with basic needs: spending patterns over the past 30 years.” Boone, Graham. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2016.

(xii) “Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations.” Bialik, Kristen and Richard Fry. Pew Research Center, 14 May 2020.

(xiii) CPI Inflation Calculator, bls.gov, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(xiv) “Neighborhood Report – Marquette, Michigan.” Upper Peninsula Assn. of Realtors and Stephanie Jones, Realtor. 8 Sep. 2020. Appendix B in Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.

(xv) Closser, Bruce (retired appraiser). Cited in “Real Estate Boom and CBD Sales,” Cabell, Brian. wotsmqt.com, Word on the Street, 5 April 2019.

(xvi) 2019 and 2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xvii) 2000 U.S. Census, U.S. Census Bureau.

(xviii) “Millennial life: How young adulthood today compares with prior generations.” Bialik, Kristen and Richard Fry. Pew Research Center, 14 May 2020.

(xix) “City of Marquette Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Initial Report of Findings.” Ad Hoc Housing Committee, City of Marquette. 15 January 2021, p. 11.

(xx) “State Minimum Wage Rate for Michigan.” fred.stlouisfed.org/series/STTMINWGMI, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, 2021.

(xxi) “Region Dashboard: Borealis Beach.” mqtcoplan.org, Planning Division, County of Marquette. 2019.

(xxii) City of Marquette Ad Hoc Housing Committee Meeting, 9 February 2021.

(xxiii) Marquette Housing Commission presentation, Marquette City Commission meeting, 8 February 2021.

09 February 2021 Vote Explanations

DISCLAIMER: This is a blog post written by Marquette City Commissioner Evan Bonsall. The views expressed herein are his own, and do not represent the views or imply the official endorsement of the City of Marquette, the Marquette City Commission or any of its individual members, or any other City of Marquette officials.

Here are my vote explanations from the Feb. 9, 2021 City Commission meeting:

You can download the Feb. 9 meeting agenda here: https://marquette.novusagenda.com/Agendapublic/DisplayAgendaPDF.ashx?MeetingID=2070

You can watch the meeting video here: https://youtu.be/ze2q-_tj7nI?t=284

Coastal Management Grant Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to accept a $200,000 grant from Michigan EGLE which we will use as part of Phase II of the Lakeshore Project, which will consist of lakeshore engineering, landscaping, and rehabilitation to enhance public enjoyment of and access to the shoreline in north Marquette while also preventing future erosion and coastal flooding. The City will provide a $167,469 cash match, as well as various in-kind services, and our partner on the Lakeshore Blvd. project, the Superior Watershed Partnership, will provide an additional $12,851 match. This will require a budget adjustment, as we were not anticipating receiving this grant when we approved our FY2021 budget, but we can accommodate this cost through bonding like we routinely do for capital improvement projects – the long-term cost of funding this project through bonding will be negligible, especially when considering the long-term savings associated with preventing serious damage from erosion and coastal flooding. As a result, I felt that voting Yes was not only the right choice for protecting our lakeshore and our environment, but the fiscally responsible choice as well.

Approve Firefighters Labor Agreement: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City and Marquette Firefighters Association Local 643 agreed to a 3-year contract which includes a higher rate of overtime pay, a conversion from salaries to hourly pay, and keeps employees’ share of health care premium costs at an affordable level. However, like other City contracts negotiated in the midst of the fiscal challenges and uncertainty resulting from COVID-19, the firefighters’ contract does not include a regular pay raise. The lack of a pay raise is not ideal, but our firefighters will now be compensated more fairly for the significant overtime they often work, and managing the increased overtime costs (about $40,000 in additional compensatory time per year) and hourly wages (about $80,000 more per year) will be much easier for the City. The rest of the contract changes were limited to minor language changes. I felt this was a fair compromise between the City and the firefighters’ union.

Reimburse Firefighters for Unpaid Overtime: YES (Passed 7-0)

It was recently determined through a U.S. Dept. of Labor (DOL) investigation that the City has been improperly calculating firefighter overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act since at least October 2018. No one in the City administration or the Marquette Firefighters Assn. Local 643 bargaining unit was aware of this problem until an anonymous complaint was filed with the DOL, and action was immediately taken to correct it. The DOL determined that the City owed our firefighters a total of $12,000 in back pay, but did not require the City to pay a penalty. The Marquette Fire Dept. is now in full compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, and has also purchased new payroll software to prevent this from happening again. This problem arose from factors that were unique to the Fire Dept., and we do not believe that similar issues exist for any other City departments. While the City certainly did not do this intentionally, I think this is a reminder of why collective bargaining rights and strong labor laws are so important for working people. I voted Yes to provide our firefighters with the back pay they were owed.

Hire City Manager Search Consultant: YES (Passed 7-0)

In December 2020, our current City Manager Mike Angeli announced his intent to retire at the end of May 2021, and the City Commission formed a subcommittee consisting of Commissioners Davis, Mayer, and Stonehouse to develop a process for hiring our next City Manager. They issued a Request for Proposals seeking a consultant to help the City attract a large and diverse pool of applicants, and received 6 responses. The subcommittee recommended Walsh Municipal Services, LLC as being a truly outstanding applicant based on their scope of services, proposed process, favorable references, and their expertise in municipal executive recruitment in Michigan. I was also impressed with their emphasis on diversity and inclusion of women in the City Manager search process – 3 of the last 6 municipal managers they have helped Michigan communities hire have been women. I’m sad to see Mr. Angeli go, but I have every confidence that Walsh will help us attract an excellent pool of talent from which we will hire our next City Manager.

Rezone 5 Properties as Medium Density Residential: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City approved a new Land Development Code and zoning map in February 2019, and inevitably a very small number of properties were improperly rezoned as part of this very large and complicated process. In this case, 5 residential properties adjacent to NMU’s campus were unfortunately rezoned as “Civic” (i.e., for public use), because the City mistakenly believed that they were part of NMU’s campus, which is all zoned Civic as well. However, they are in fact all privately-owned single-family homes, are definitely not part of NMU’s campus, and are located in a neighborhood which is zoned Medium Density Residential (i.e., allowing single-family homes as a permitted use and duplexes and ADUs as a special land use). This was simply a common-sense vote to correct this simply mistake and rezone all 5 properties as Medium Density Residential.