09-27-2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my explanations of all of my votes on substantive, non-Consent Agenda items from the September 27, 2021 City Commission meeting. You can watch the meeting at: https://youtu.be/EYv5_EClHuA?t=264

Approve FY 2022 City Budget: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was easily the most important and complicated item on the agenda Monday night. As such, I will be making an entire separate post in the next few days explaining the details of the FY 2022 City budget and the long-term fiscal challenges the City is facing. In short, it’s important to note that this budget was created in the midst of a $5.6 million budgetary shortfall which was the result of numerous decisions going back decades, and after a lot of hard work City staff and the City Commission are close to having a solid plan for overcoming these long-term challenges. This budget is far from perfect, but given the circumstances, I’m grateful that we were able to maintain current levels of City services and staff, keep utility rate increases as low as possible (much lower than the steep rate hikes approved in 2018 and 2019), and take an important first step towards setting Marquette on a more sustainable fiscal path.

FY 2021 End-Year Budget Adjustment: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a common-sense but very important vote to approve a year-end budget adjustment for FY 2021 (the City’s fiscal year ends on September 30 and begins on October 1). This budget adjustment incorporated critical cost-saving measures into the FY 2021 City budget, allowing us to finish the year “in the black” and carry that balanced budget forward into the current fiscal year, which will be a tough one. Without this budget adjustment, it would have been impossible to balance the FY 2022 City budget without major cuts to City staff and services. This budget adjustment also granted limited discretion to the Chief Financial Officer to make necessary adjustments to ensure that we ended FY 2021 with a balanced budget, as some City bills come due at the very end of the fiscal year, after the last City Commission meeting.

Support Recycling Grant Applications: YES (Passed 6-1)

This was a vote to approve letters of support for two City grant applications which would provide significant additional funding for City recycling operations. Currently, our private trash and recycling hauler, Waste Management, frequently fails to pick up residents’ recyclables when they are left out in small bins and rigid containers, and on glass recycling weeks, the glass recyclables generated by City residents are almost completely unusable by the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority due to cross-contamination with other recyclables (plastic, paper, cardboard, metal, etc.). At the same time, for several years the City has been promoting the use of City recycling carts, which are more economical for most residents, and more than 40% of City residents have already switched to the recycling carts. These grants would allow the City of Marquette to provide a free cart for every household in the City that lives in a building with 5 or fewer residential units – those residents currently using the carts would no longer have to pay the small additional fee on their taxes. Because these carts would be provided at zero cost to all City residents who are eligible for curbside recycling collection, the City would ask all City residents to switch to using the carts for their recyclables. I live in a fourplex, and all the tenants in my building use the carts, which are provided by our landlords – they are incredibly convenient, can be stored discretely outside or in a garage or shed, and we never have any problems with our trash and recyclables not being picked up by WM. If we accepted these grants, we would also change our glass recycling system starting next year, shifting to a community glass recyclable drop-off site and discontinuing curbside glass collection due to the ongoing contamination issue. Glass recycling would continue – we would NOT get rid of it under any circumstances. We still need to seriously re-evaluate our contract with WM and continue to put serious pressure on them to improve their curbside collection service, but switching to free recycling carts for all residents and a community glass recyclable drop-off site would solve several major problems all at once at no cost to City taxpayers. I voted Yes because this seems like a common-sense, win-win solution for all City residents – that’s probably why Chocolay and Marquette Townships have already made a successful switch to this system using these same grants just this past year.

Waive PUD Minimum Lot Size for Osprey Court Housing Development: YES (Passed 7-0)

This is an exciting one – the City Commission was asked to waive the normal 2-acre minimum lot size for a Planned Unit Development at 1025 Osprey Court (just off 553/McClellan near Econo Foods), which is a roughly 1-acre lot. This will allow the Marquette County Land Bank and InnovaLab Development Group to build two duplexes which will contain a total of 4 owner-occupied housing units. InnovaLab, based out of Grand Rapids and led by housing expert and former Grand Rapids City Commissioner David Allen, specializes in affordable workforce housing development using modular construction techniques. This property was supposed to be the site of luxury condo development, but went into tax foreclosure in 2009 following the housing market crash. The County Land Bank has been trying to sell and redevelop it ever since, to no avail. However, the County Land Bank recently partnered with InnovaLab and the Michigan State Land Bank to build housing on the site, with the goal to get price points within the upper end of the workforce housing price range (80-120% Area Median Income, or a purchase price of less than $210,000). However, Mr. Allen stated at the meeting that even if they cannot get the price points for these units within the workforce price range, InnovaLab is planning to expand its presence in the U.P. and develop many more workforce housing units at lower price points in the City of Marquette and other communities in Marquette County in the near future. This project is the culmination of over a decade of worthwhile efforts to redevelop this abandoned parcel of land, and will hopefully provide a good case-study for future developments and herald the arrival of a responsible developer of badly needed affordable housing in our community – this is exactly the kind of progress Marquette needs right now in the midst of an unprecedented housing affordability crisis, and that’s why I voted Yes.

Approve Lakeshore Blvd. Coastal Restoration Design Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City of Marquette received a $200,000 EGLE Coastal Management Grant in February 2021 for coastal restoration along the lakeshore near the southern portion of the new Lakeshore Blvd. This was a simple vote to approve a $9,600 contract with RES to design this portion of Phase II of the Lakeshore Blvd. project – the total construction budget for the project is set at $140,000, and when complete, the lakeshore between Pine and Wright Street will be transformed into dunes, swales, and coastal wetlands which will mimic the natural environments found along the south shore of Lake Superior to the greatest possible extent. This area will also be 100% open to the public, and this project will not only beautify the area and restore it to its previous natural state, but will prevent the serious erosion and coastal flooding that this area has experienced in recent years due to rapidly rising lake levels and more severe storms on Lake Superior.

Approve City Manager & City Attorney Performance Evaluations: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City Charter requires an annual performance evaluation of the City Manager and City Attorney, who are the only City officials hired directly by the City Commission. At our Aug. 30 meeting, the Commission authorized Mayor Smith to appoint three Commissioners – herself, Commissioner Hanley, and Commissioner Stonehouse –  to an evaluation subcommittee. All Commissioners provided feedback regarding the City Manager and City Attorney’s performance so far in their limited tenure in the position, as both were hired within the past year, and established goals for both of them for FY 2022.

The overall evaluation was very positive for both City Manager Karen Kovacs and City Attorney Suzanne Larsen. No increase in compensation was considered for either of them due to current fiscal constraints. I think they’re both doing a very good job, and I voted Yes.

08-30-21 & 09-13-21 Vote Explanations

These are my vote explanations for the City Commission meetings on August 30 and September 13 – because the meeting on September 13 had only one business item that required a vote, I decided to post explanations of my votes at both meetings together, rather than make separate posts. I will make a separate vote explanation post as usual for the September 27 meeting, where we will be considering and voting on the FY 2022 City budget and several other important items. As usual, if you have any questions, please contact me at (906) 236-0247 or ebonsall@marquettemi.gov. You can watch the videos of both of these City Commission meetings at the City of Marquette YouTube channel.

August 30, 2021 Vote Explanations:

Rezone 301 W Baraga Ave. to Multi-Family Residential: Tabled Until Sep. 13 on 5-2 Vote *Rezoning request was later approved by City Commission on Sep. 13, see below.

Zoning map of the neighborhood surrounding St. Peter Cathedral. As you can see, this is a mixed neighborhood with a variety of land uses, including many properties already zoned Multi-Family Residential (in brown) and Mixed-Use (in orange) within just a couple blocks of the Cathedral property (outlined in blue).

This was a public hearing to consider the proposed rezoning of 301 W Baraga Ave., the St. Peter Cathedral property, from Medium Density Residential to Multi-Family Residential. The Catholic Diocese had filed this request for two reasons: 1) The property contains 11 apartments which are occasionally occupied by Catholic clergy members, which is a non-conforming land use that was not in compliance with our City zoning code, and 2) Catholic Social Services (CSS) wanted to develop a women’s recovery house on the property, which was not allowed in the Medium Density Residential zone but would have been allowed in the Multi-Family Residential zone, pending a separate public hearing and permitting process to allow the recovery house as a “Special Land Use.” There was significant opposition to this proposal from neighbors and parishioners. However, the City Commission was informed just before the hearing that the Church had decided to cancel their plans and look for other locations to develop a women’s recovery house, most likely outside the City of Marquette. As a result of this major last-minute change of plans by the Church, the Commission voted 5-2 to postpone the final vote on the rezoning request until the Sep. 13 meeting so we could have time to gather all the facts before making a decision – I voted in favor of postponing the vote, while Commissioners Mayer and Stonehouse cast the only two dissenting votes.

Sell City Property at 213 S Front St. to Ore Dock Brewing Co.: YES (Passed 7-0)

The City has been in negotiations with Ore Dock Brewing Co. for some time regarding the sale of a City-owned railroad right-of-way behind their bar/brewery on Spring Street, and tonight we were voting on whether to sell the property to the Ore Dock for $40,600. As you can see in the image above, this is a narrow strip of property without easy access from any street, and their plans to turn it into a beer garden were the first realistic redevelopment proposal for this vacant property that have been presented to the City in the many decades that we have owned the property. Fortunately, we came to an agreement on a fair price and voted to sell the property, which will provide another beautiful outdoor social space in downtown Marquette, and provide an opportunity for a successful and beloved local business to continue to grow and thrive. This was a common-sense Yes vote for me.

Rezone 213 S Front St. to Central Business District: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was necessary to allow the new owners of the property mentioned above, Ore Dock Brewing Co., to redevelop this property into a beer garden, which is a commercial use. Another common-sense Yes vote.

Rezone 2700 Lakeshore Blvd. to Conservation/Recreation: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to rezone a 5-acre, 1,000-foot piece of City-owned public lakeshore across from the Presque Isle Power Plant as Conservation/Recreation. The property is essentially undeveloped but had previously been zoned Industrial/Manufacturing, as it was owned by WE Energies and part of the larger Presque Isle Power Plant property across the street until the City recently acquired it for free from WE Energies through a quit claim deed. This rezoning reflects the City Commission’s desire to permanently preserve this space for public use and conservation, and I hope that this property will eventually be incorporated into a larger Conservation/Recreation Easement and/or Lakeshore Park District which would guarantee that all City-owned lakeshore property east of Lakeshore Blvd. from Presque Isle to Picnic Rocks would be permanently preserved for public use and conservation. There seems to be considerable support for this concept from Mayor Smith and most other City Commissioners, so I’m optimistic that we can get this done within the next year.

Approve New Supervisory Employees Labor Agreement: YES (Failed 2-5)

This was a vote to consider a new contract with the City supervisors, which was negotiated between the City Manager’s office and the supervisors’ bargaining unit (the supervisors are unionized through AFSCME). This contract would have affected only 8 City employees, and would have provided 3% raises each year for 5 years, amounting to a total increase of $86,450 in additional wages over 5 years (i.e., an average pay increase of $2,160 per employee per year). Many of my colleagues expressed concern that this contract had been negotiated in June, before we knew of the true extent of the City’s steep budget shortfall for FY 2022, which represented about 20% of the entire City general fund from FY 2021. As a result of this fiscal uncertainty, several Commissioners expressed opposition to approving a 5-year contract, even if most of us did not disagree with the idea of a 3% annual raise (which is fairly modest by today’s standards and is not currently even keeping pace with inflation).

I understood these concerns, and this is one of those decisions where there really is no “right” answer. However, from my experience growing up in a household where both of my parents worked in local law enforcement, I know first-hand that many working-class City employees and their families often struggle to make ends meet financially, given the rapidly rising cost of living and contractual raises which are usually either nonexistent or fail to keep pace with inflation. I also did not necessarily agree with the argument that approving this small contract (which only affects 8 employees) would set a precedent for other upcoming union contracts that the City has to negotiate in the coming year, as we have approved multiple other contracts in the past year which affect far more employees which included zero contractual wage increases. We need to invest in our people just as much as we need to invest in City infrastructure and City services, because in the end, it is our City employees who provide those services and care for that infrastructure. I voted to approve the contract along with Commissioner Mayer, while the rest of the Commission voted No. This contract will now be renegotiated along with several other union contracts next fiscal year.

Terminate City Lobbyist Contract: YES (Passed 7-0)

This is one of many small bits of “fat” that the City Commission is trimming from the City budget to put the City in the best possible financial position in FY 2022, given our current budget shortfall and the structural deficits we are seeing with many of our City infrastructure funds. Having a lobbyist representing the City in Lansing has been helpful at times, but ultimately I did not feel that we were getting enough value or communication from our lobbyist to justify retaining them. This action will save the City $36,000 each year, and in a year in which tough budgetary choices have to be made, I would much rather spend those taxpayer dollars on maintaining City parks, roads, and services.

Authorize the Mayor to Appoint a City Manager/City Attorney Performance Evaluation Committee: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a routine vote to allow the Mayor to appoint 3 City Commissioners to serve on a temporary sub-committee of the City Commission to evaluate the performance of our City Manager and City Attorney, and help set goals for them for the next year given that they have both been appointed by the City Commission within the past year. Mayor Smith appointed herself, Commissioner Stonehouse, and Commissioner Hanley to this committee, and they have already been doing excellent work in the past couple of weeks.

Authorize the Mayor to Appoint a City Delegate to the MML Convention: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to allow the Mayor to appoint a City Commissioner to represent the City as our voting delegate at the annual Michigan Municipal League (MML) Convention in Grand Rapids later this month. Normally the entire Commission and the City Manager would also attend the MML Convention, but this year we have cut City travel funds from the budget due to the City’s current financial constraints. As a result, only Mayor Pro Tem Hill and Commissioner Davis will be attending at their own expense. Mayor Smith appointed Mayor Pro Tem Hill as the City of Marquette’s delegate.

September 13, 2021 Vote Explanations:

Rezone 301 W Baraga Ave. to Multi-Family Residential: YES (Passed 5-2)

*This rezoning request was initially tabled at the Aug. 30 meeting (see above).

Since the Aug. 30 public hearing on this rezoning request, the Catholic Diocese and Catholic Social Services had confirmed that they had cancelled their plans to develop a women’s recovery house in the 11-unit residence at St. Peter Cathedral, and did not intend to change any of the current land uses on the property – instead, they were merely seeking rezoning to Multi-Family Residential to allow them to continue their pre-existing non-conforming use of the property as a residence for visiting clergy members, and did not feel that the property was a good fit for other reuses that neighbors and parishioners had expressed concerns about, such as substance use treatment, rental housing, etc. Some neighbors were still opposed to the rezoning request – based on correspondence and public comments I received from constituents, some people still incorrectly believed that a women’s recovery house was being developed there, while others expressed concerns that at some point in the future the property could be redeveloped into rental housing or other facilities that they found to be undesirable.

I understood the concerns from neighbors, but I voted Yes on the rezoning request for several reasons:

  1. Nothing is actually going to change as a result of this rezoning – it will have zero impact on the daily lives of neighbors or parishioners. The Church has publicly committed to not pursue additional uses of the property for the foreseeable future, and in any case, it is unlikely that the Cathedral property could be redeveloped into rental housing due to the practical needs of the Church, space constraints, and City off-street parking requirements.
  2. This rezoning is merely bringing a long-standing, pre-existing land use into compliance with the City zoning code. This is something that the City does all the time – in fact, because allowing non-conforming land uses to proliferate does have real negative consequences for property owners and the City as a whole, the City has been steadily trying to reduce the number of non-conforming land uses in Marquette ever since the new Land Development Code was adopted in 2015.
  3. Multi-Family Residential zoning is not actually inconsistent with the neighborhood. Baraga Avenue and Rock Street already have a healthy mix of homeowners and renters and many different land uses, including both multi-family and single-family housing. In fact, there are already many properties zoned Multi-Family Residential or Mixed-Use within just two short blocks of the Cathedral property. As a result, while I carefully listened to and understood neighbors’ concerns, I felt that voting to approve this rezoning request was clearly the most responsible option available to the City Commission.

7-12-2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the July 12, 2021 City Commission meeting – apologies in advance for the length of these explanations and the delay in publishing them, this was a very full meeting packed with complex issues, and a very busy week for me in my personal and professional life. You can watch the video recording of the meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnHN9-EAHF0.

Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan: NO (Passed 5-2)

I voted No on the Brownfield Plan for the Vault Marquette/Savings Bank Building development proposed by Braveworks and their architect, Barry Polzin. I am not at all opposed to development on this property, and I agree that the two private parking lots behind the Savings Bank Building are a wasteful use of space in the heart of downtown Marquette. However, I felt that there were too many unanswered questions about this project and not enough time for public input, and I was not convinced that the proposed development was the right fit for the property in question or for Marquette’s downtown and waterfront as a whole.

There were several reasons why I voted No. First and foremost, I did not feel that the Vault Marquette proposal was the best realistic potential reuse of this property. To review, Braveworks proposed a luxury boutique hotel with over 100 rooms in the Savings Bank Building and a new 5-story building to the rear connected by a glass atrium, with a 5-story, 36-unit luxury apartment building next door and a 220-space parking structure and green roof/public event space in between the hotel and the apartment building. This was a high-density development in comparison to most of Marquette’s downtown and waterfront, and the design seemed to be similar to the controversial Marquette Place development at Founders Landing. 20% of the apartments would also be reserved for renters earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and a private “maker’s space” would also have been included in the development. However, this is a highly desirable property in the heart of downtown Marquette with a view of Lake Superior. Had the Commission rejected this proposal on Monday night, it is virtually certain that within a short time another developer would have come forward with another proposal for the property which could have yielded greater public benefits to the people of Marquette. For instance, the exact same development with the same 20% workforce housing commitment, with the sole difference that the 100+ hotel rooms would instead be developed as long-term residential units, could have produced dozens of affordable workforce housing units, rather than just 7 not-actually-affordable units in the Braveworks proposal. The City would have almost certainly had the leverage to request public benefits like this from future developers, as the Braveworks developers and Mac McClelland (the Marquette Brownfield Redevelopment Authority’s consultant) both stated that without a Brownfield Plan “there would be no project,” and that any future development on this site would likely require a Brownfield Plan. In other communities, market-rate housing developments (even those in prime locations like this one) routinely include a certain percentage of low-income or workforce housing units – the common refrain that, “You will never get any affordable housing on the waterfront,” is simply not correct, especially when the City government is actively facilitating the development.

Which brings me to my second reason for voting against this Brownfield Plan – I was not convinced that the workforce housing units promised by Braveworks would actually be affordable for working-class City residents. As mentioned above, at the City Commission work session on June 30, Braveworks committed to setting aside 20% of the apartments in the development for renters earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income – i.e., the “workforce housing” price range which is affordable for lower-middle-income households. However, this would only amount to 7 affordable units out of 36 total units, and Braveworks later revealed at the City Commission meeting on July 12 that the rents for these “attainable” workforce housing units would still be $1,250-$1,350 per month for 500-600 sq. ft. studio and 1-bedroom apartments. This is not truly affordable for a 1- or 2-person household earning 80-120% of the City of Marquette’s median income. For comparison, I pay $680/month for a 1-bedroom apartment 2 blocks from downtown in a nice neighborhood in east Marquette, and according to the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee’s Final Report, the HUD Fair Market Rent for studio and 1-bedroom apartments in Marquette County is $542 and $624 per month respectively, and the monthly housing budget of a household earning 80-120% of the median household income in the City of Marquette is $880-$1,319. At best, units priced at $1,250-$1,350/month would just barely fall into the top end of the workforce housing price range, but it is also important to note that 1) these monthly housing budgets include rent plus utilities, and 2) the median household size in Marquette County is 2.4 people, whereas only 1-2 people could realistically live in a studio or 1-bedroom apartment, so the “median household” in Marquette probably earns slightly more than the households that would actually be living in these apartments. Finally, this 20% workforce housing commitment is purely verbal at this time, and there is a very recent example – the Gaines Rock Townhomes at Founders Landing – of another developer and the exact same architect telling the City Commission that they would build “attainable” housing priced for “the average household” in Marquette in order to convince the Commission to approve a Brownfield Plan, and then going back on their word and instead selling the housing units in question for $400,000 or more.

I was also concerned about the impacts this development would have on the City’s ability to issue bonds to facilitate the redevelopment of other, higher-priority problem properties in Marquette (for example, the old Marquette General Hospital property, the Cliffs-Dow site, or the old Shopko property). The City was being asked to issue about $7.5 million in bonds to finance the construction of the public parking structure that was included in this project. This would bring us $7.5 million closer to our Legal Debt Limit, leaving the City with only about $10 million in remaining bonding capacity for projects that could not be financed through Capital Improvement Bonds (which have a different bonding limit). When you factor in the huge scale and cost of redeveloping the old hospital property (which will require a Brownfield Plan and which needs to happen within the next 2-3 years), as well as the ever-present potential for a devastating (and expensive) natural disaster like the Father’s Day Flood which hit the Keweenaw Peninsula in 2018, I did not see how approving this project would not significantly limit the City’s ability to issue bonds to support the redevelopment of other, higher-priority properties in the coming years.

This vote explanation is already very lengthy, so I will conclude by listing a few other concerns which heavily factored into my decision to vote No:

  1. The Commission first learned about this project barely 2 months ago, leaving no time for proactive public planning, and inadequate time for public input and meaningful negotiations between the City and the developers. I understand that this was due to the time-sensitive nature of Braveworks’ financing for this project, but frankly, that should have been treated as their problem, not the City’s.
  2. Concerns about the impacts of this development on both short-term and long-term traffic patterns and congestion in downtown Marquette were not adequately addressed.
  3. The Savings Bank Building is of course very old, but its clock is still functioning and it is not in dire need of structural repairs or exterior maintenance. This project was not necessary to preserve the Savings Bank Building in the long term, and the building has several active tenants.
  4. The aesthetics of the proposed buildings, at least as presented in the architect’s conceptual illustrations, were not respectful of the historic character and beauty of downtown Marquette. Rather, they would dramatically change Marquette’s downtown skyline, and seemed very similar to the aesthetics of the One Marquette Place building, which most City residents (myself included) do not find aesthetically appealing. Some may say that this is a trivial concern, but I think it is actually very important – after all, when we talk about the best aspects of downtown Marquette, one of the first things we always mention is its historic beauty and aesthetic appeal.
  5. The public feedback about this proposed development that I received from my constituents – in my email inbox, on social media, and at the public hearing on July 12 – was overwhelmingly negative, and given that this will have a huge impact on downtown Marquette, that the City would be issuing over $8 million in public bonds to support this project, and the fact that I was elected to represent the people of Marquette, I felt a responsibility to listen to that feedback.

For these reasons, I voted No on this Brownfield Plan, along with Commissioner Sally Davis.

Deny Rezoning Request for 1651 S Front Street: YES (Passed 4-3)

The owner of the vacant Pizza Hut/Union Grill property on 1651 S Front Street in south Marquette had requested that the City Commission rezone his property to General Commercial to allow the property to be sold and redeveloped as a marijuana retail and consumption establishment. As a City Commissioner, I have always strongly supported the growth of the marijuana industry in Marquette, and I sympathize with the property owner, who has been trying to sell the property for several years. Strengthening his argument for rezoning was the fact that this property has been used solely for commercial uses for over 40 years, and prior to the adoption of the City’s new Land Development Code in 2015 it was always zoned commercial. However, in 2015 the zoning of the property was changed from commercial to Mixed-Use because it is surrounded largely by residential properties. In 2020, the City Commission voted 5-2 to “conditionally rezone” the property as General Commercial, with the conditions that the property could not be used for certain commercial purposes, including “Excess” (i.e., very large) marijuana growing facilities and marijuana consumption establishments – I gladly voted Yes on this conditional rezoning.

However, most of my fellow Commissioners and I felt that rezoning this property to General Commercial with no conditions would permanently allow a wide range of future uses – hotels, motels, gas stations, etc. – which would not be appropriate at this site due to its proximity to a residential neighborhood and a hazardous curve on a busy highway. Instead, several of my colleagues and I encouraged the property owner and the prospective developers, who were present at the meeting, to instead apply for conditional rezoning to specifically allow marijuana consumption establishments. I am not opposed to a marijuana consumption establishment on this property, but I felt that rezoning the property to General Commercial with no restrictions would have been irresponsible and potentially dangerous in the long term, and as a result I voted to deny this rezoning request. I hope the property owner comes back with a conditional rezoning request in the near future.

Allow PUD Amdt. for 6-Foot Fence at 1301 Picnic Rocks Drive: YES (Failed 4-3)

This was a vote on a requested Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment for the Picnic Rocks PUD along Lakeshore Boulevard. The homeowner at 1301 Picnic Rocks Drive had been given incorrect information by a contractor and the president of her HOA, and the HOA had erroneously granted her permission to build a 6-foot fence on her property. In reality, her condo association is governed by the City Land Development Code, which only allows fences to be up to 4 feet tall in residential zones, and she never obtained a City permit to build her fence as required by the Land Development Code. Ignorant of this, she subsequently built an unpermitted 6-foot fence because her dog could jump over a 4-foot fence. However, it was clear to me that the applicant had not been acting with any malicious intent and had been genuinely misled by her contractor and the leaders of her HOA. She had already paid $1,900 in fees to the City to request a PUD Amendment to allow the fence to remain, and many of her neighbors and other members of the public had expressed support for her application. I was also not convinced that granting this PUD Amendment request would have set a precedent of any kind, for 3 reasons:

  1. The PUD Amendment clearly stated that the 6-foot fence would only be allowed on the applicant’s property, and that the 4-foot height limit in the Land Development Code would continue to apply to the 14 other properties in her HOA.
  2. When asked at the June 1 Planning Commission meeting whether granting this PUD Amendment would set a dangerous precedent for fence-related variances in the City as a whole, the City Zoning Administrator clearly stated, “No, (because) we review everything on a case-by-case basis … it is the same for variances (outside of a PUD).”
  3. This would also not have set a precedent within this specific PUD, as the circumstances surrounding this PUD Amendment request were very unique, each PUD amendment is considered on a case-by-case basis, and similar PUD amendments had been granted in the past – for example, the City Zoning Administrator described a recent PUD amendment where “they just asked for a setback to go … from 10 feet to 9 feet or something like that, and that was reviewed and approved.”

After visiting the property myself and listening to the comments at the public hearing, it was also clear to me that the fence does not actually block anyone’s view or negatively impact driver or pedestrian safety, so the argument that this would negatively impact other properties seemed to be quite weak. For all of these reasons, I voted along with Commissioners Jess Hanley and Cody Mayer to grant the PUD Amendment and allow the fence to remain on this property, although the majority of the Commission voted against the PUD Amendment.

Street Performers Ordinance: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a vote to approve an ordinance to allow street performers in public spaces, including on local streets, sidewalks, and paths and on public properties. The ordinance establishes regulations on the permissible location and hours for street performances, limits monetary transactions, provides for keeping pedestrian walkways clear and free of litter, prohibits dangerous activities and the use of amplifying equipment by street performers, and requires that street performers be a certain distance from businesses, playgrounds, and schools. This ordinance was crafted in close consultation with the City of Marquette’s Arts & Culture Advisory Committee. I felt that this was a common-sense policy, and voted Yes.

Presque Isle Open Burning Ordinance: YES (Passed 7-0)

This ordinance amends the City’s current Open Burning Ordinance to reduce the risk of wildfires on Presque Isle, which is significant due to the natural condition of Presque Isle Park and the high visitor volumes and dry summers we have seen in recent years. This ordinance explicitly states that patio wood-burning units can only be used on private property, and that the only fires permitted in Presque Isle Park are those in City-owned grilling appliances provided for cooking purposes – in other words, visitors will no longer be allowed to bring their own grills or wood-burning units to Presque Isle, and campfires will continue to be strictly prohibited. This ordinance was developed and approved with the full support of the Presque Isle Park Advisory Committee. I was glad to see this ordinance finally make it to the City Commission for approval after years of discussions and development, and I voted Yes.

Resolution in Support of MBLP Public Broadband: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was a resolution in support of the Marquette Board of Light & Power (MBLP) developing a publicly-owned and operated broadband network in the City of Marquette and offering high-speed broadband internet service as a public utility like electricity. The BLP is currently conducting a feasibility study, and peer communities in Michigan and throughout the country, including Holland and Traverse City, have already established successful, financially sustainable public broadband utilities that provide faster internet (with upload and download speeds on the order of 1 Gbps, which is currently unavailable anywhere in Marquette County) at lower prices than the private sector. This would be a huge step forward for economic development, education, and quality of life in Marquette, and I hope this happens in the next couple of years.

On a related note, I also hope that in the coming years the City of Marquette (perhaps in partnership with the DDA and the BLP) can provide free, high-speed public Wi-Fi in downtown Marquette. The Village of L’Anse and the Cities of Holland and Traverse City already do this. If L’Anse can do it, why can’t we?

June 28, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

Here are my vote explanations for the City Commission meeting on Monday, June 28. My apologies for posting these a couple days late – I have been dealing with an ankle injury since Tuesday night, and I have also had many other personal and professional commitments that had to take priority this week. As a result, I have not had time to sit down to write these vote explanations until the past 24 hours. You can watch the meeting video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGUvc15SnDQ&t=3667s.

Schedule a Public Hearing for Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan: YES (Passed 7-0)

This vote was only to schedule a public hearing on the Vault Marquette Brownfield Plan for the July 12 City Commission meeting (NOT for final approval of this project). Approval of this Brownfield Plan will be necessary if the proposed redevelopment of the Savings Bank Building and adjacent parking lots into a boutique hotel, apartment complex, and public parking structure is to move forward. The developer is Braveworks, and the architect is Barry Polzin. I still have many questions and concerns about this project, even after the City Commission work session on this topic which was held on Wednesday, June 30. Here are a few of the most important ones:

– How will taking out an $8.5 million infrastructure bond for the proposed parking structure impact the City’s finances and ability to bond for future projects/emergencies?

– How would this development impact traffic flow on Front, Lakeshore, Washington, and Main Street?

– Does the proposed design truly respect the unique, historic nature of the Savings Bank Building and the rest of downtown Marquette’s historic waterfront and skyline?

– At the June 30 work session, I appreciated that the developers committed to working with the MEDC to set aside at least 20% of the residential units in the proposed building as “workforce housing” units that would be affordable for households earning 80-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), but how many workforce housing units would be produced, what would be the dimensions of these units, and what specific price points would they be offered at? Would City or County AMI figures be used to calculate affordable price points (this is important because the City of Marquette’s median income is significantly lower than Marquette County’s)?

– How many of the 220 spaces in the public parking structure will actually be available to the general public at any given time? The developers have stated that there will be 80-90 spaces available in the lot during peak usage after accounting for parking for hotel guests and long-term residential tenants. It is also unclear whether individuals or businesses will be able to reserve private parking spaces, or what the parking rates and hours of operation will be.

– Perhaps most importantly, what is the “opportunity cost” of approving this Brownfield Plan? In other words, what potential opportunities would the City be giving up if we approve this particular project? Is this the best potential use of this property, or could another developer come along in a year or two with a proposal that might be a better fit and yield more benefits to the community (for example, a 3-4 story building instead of a 5-6 story building, and/or a purely residential development which would allow dozens of workforce housing units to be produced instead of 7 or 8)? Would statutory bonding limits prevent the City from taking out Brownfield Redevelopment Bonds in the future to help redevelop other vacant properties in the City which are in more urgent need of redevelopment than this site, most notably the old Marquette General Hospital campus?

In the next couple of weeks, please contact me and my fellow Commissioners with your thoughts and any questions or concerns you have regarding this proposed development. Your voices truly could swing the Commission one way or another on this one. Our contact info can be found at www.marquettemi.gov/commission/#meetthecommission.

Accept Ad-Hoc Housing Committee Report: YES (Passed 7-0)

One of the major themes of the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee’s Final Report is the need for more “Missing Middle Housing” in Marquette, which is housing that is generally affordable for middle-income households and which falls somewhere between large single-family homes and large apartment buildings in terms of scale. Dan Parolek of Opticos Design, who coined the term “Missing Middle Housing” and created this Missing Middle Housing diagram, was one of the many experts who advised the Housing Committee over the past 18 months.

This was a procedural vote to accept the Final Report of the Ad-Hoc Housing Committee. The Housing Committee was created by the City Commission in January 2020 to study the issue of housing affordability in the City of Marquette and report back to the City Commission with our findings and a set of policy recommendations. I have served as the Chair of the Housing Committee for the past 18 months. In that time, the Housing Committee (with the invaluable support of City staff) has done a tremendous amount of research; gathered input from dozens of experts and stakeholders not only from Marquette but from across the state and country; released an Initial Report in January and listened to public feedback on that report; had lengthy and at times contentious debates about various housing issues in Marquette; and ultimately produced a Final Report to the City Commission, which was unanimously approved by the Committee at our final meeting on June 8, 2020. I was glad to see my colleagues vote unanimously to accept the report, and I look forward to holding a City Commission work session on the Final Report in the near future, and working to implement the Housing Committee’s many recommendations in the coming months and years. If we do so, I think we will succeed in our goal of making sure that Marquette remains an affordable place to live for City residents of all incomes.

You can read the Final Report for yourself at marquettemi.gov/adhochousingcommittee/

(Note: while the entire Final Report is 200 pages long when you include appendices, you really only need to read the first 23 pages to see all of our most important findings and our policy recommendations to the City Commission).

Move Ordinance #697 (Wastewater Treatment Plant Bonds) to July 12 Meeting: YES (Passed 7-0)

This was another procedural vote, this time to move an ordinance authorizing $8.5 million in bonds for upgrades to the Wastewater Treatment Plant to the July 12 City Commission meeting for a second public reading and final vote. The City is considering participating in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF), which would allow us to secure low-interest bonds to make much-needed upgrades to our biosolids handling system at the Marquette Area Wastewater Treatment Plant. The proposed $8.5 million in bonds would be for a 20-year period and would carry an interest rate of 1.875%. These upgrades would allow us to comply with EGLE requirements for biosolids handling, and also allow the City to earn about $200,000 in additional revenue each year by processing waste products from other communities for a fee. The bonds would also potentially be eligible for principal forgiveness after a few years, and the City of Marquette would only be responsible for 84% of the debt service payments, with the remainder paid by Marquette and Chocolay Townships.

This project is clearly necessary, and this is the lowest-cost way to finance it. However, I am seriously concerned about the impact this will have on utility rates in the City of Marquette. The most recent City of Marquette Utility Rate Study, which was presented to the City Commission by Raftelis in May 2020, incorporated these Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrades into its calculations, and it recommended significant Sewer Rate increases of 9.5% for the next two fiscal years (FY 2022 & 2023) and an increase in the monthly Fixed Sewer Charge of more than 50% in the same time frame. Those are large increases that many City residents simply cannot afford to pay, and that isn’t even considering the large rate hikes for Water (8-9% per year) and Stormwater (15.25% per year) that are also proposed for the next 4 years by the Utility Rate Study. This will require serious additional discussion by the City Commission as we prepare our FY 2022 budget over the next 3 months. However, for the time being I voted Yes so we could consider this proposed bond issue at our next meeting.

Authorize Capital Improvement & Refunding Bonds: YES (Passed 7-0)

Every year the City of Marquette issues Capital Improvement Bonds to fund major infrastructure upgrades, and we generally try to not take on more Capital Improvement Bond debt than we pay off each year, so these bonds do not result in a net increase in the City debt. This was a vote to issue up to $6,118,881 in Capital Improvement Bonds to replace City streets and water/sewer pipes over the next year. After some discussion, the City Commission approved a Resolution of Intent to issue bonds in this amount at our April 26, 2021 meeting (where I successfully advocated for the inclusion of both Shiras Drive and Newberry Street in the Capital Improvement Plan for this year). This is final step in the process of issuing these Capital Improvement Bonds. We also had an opportunity to refinance previous Capital Improvement Bonds from 2011 and 2012 to obtain a much lower interest rate for the remaining life of these bonds. This will save the City at least $164,000 over the next 6 years. This was a common-sense Yes vote for me.

June 14, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 24, 2021 City Commission Vote Explanations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.