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Thanks for checking out the East Lansing City Council Recap. This publication is sent out after each regular, discussion-only and special City Council meeting. Plan for future meetings by viewing the 2020 meeting schedule here: Please note that additional, upcoming meetings will be added to this schedule soon. 

Readers are encouraged to contact the East Lansing City Manager's Office with questions: (517) 319-6920

Highlights from the Sept. 15 Virtual Meeting

The East Lansing City Council met on Tuesday, Sept. 15 for a special meeting, which was held electronically via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During communications from Councilmembers and during the City Manager's report, several Councilmembers and East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas made statements regarding the recent spike in COVID-19 cases in the City:

"We have, for some months, demonstrated reasonably responsible behavior and we know now, certainly, that it slows the spread considerably and that it takes a pretty dramatic flouting of that rule of law or rule of suggested health advice to cause a very dramatic and very sudden spike," said Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg. "We know what we need to do. We need to stay away from people, six feet plus, and we need to cover our faces. We see very dramatically and significantly that it will slow the spread because we have seen it in our community."

"For the young people, we're really not asking a lot," said Councilmember Ron Bacon. "This really isn't comparable to what's been asked for a lot of previous generations. This is your opportunity, so live up to it if you're out there and do your part." 

"To all the people who are doing the right thing, we appreciate it," said City Manager Lahanas. "To the people who aren't listening, it's time to be responsible. It's time to take personal responsibility and protect your fellow citizens."

Also during his report, City Manager Lahanas requested that Council enter into closed session following the meeting to continue his performance evaluation. 

Age Restriction for Newman Lofts

Council discussed a request from Harbor Bay Ballein Management East Lansing, LLC (HB BM) to eliminate the restriction on the Newman Lofts building, which requires that residents are limited to those who are 55 years of age or older. This restriction was agreed to by both the City of East Lansing and HB BM in the Master Development Agreement (MDA) for the project. During communications from the audience, Council heard from several residents of Newman Lofts who were not in favor of eliminating the age restriction.

Council also heard from representatives from HB BM, who explained their reasoning for the request, including the challenges they have faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While addressing Council, the representatives from HB BM said that it's not their intent to convert Newman Lofts into student housing, but to lease its units to mid-career professionals, business owners and MSU faculty and administrators who are 55 years of age or younger. Currently, HB BM has leased 25 of its 91 units in Newman Lofts, which, according to HB BM, includes four units that have been leased to individuals who are younger than 55 years of age. Community members can watch HB BM address Council and watch Council ask HB BM questions here.

During discussion, Councilmember Babcock requested that East Lansing City Attorney Tom Yeadon draft a memo to Council explaining whether HB BM violated the MDA by leasing units to individuals younger than 55 years old. During his comments, Councilmember Bacon expressed that he wants to see the full financial situation presented to better understand why HB BM is requesting an elimination of the age restriction.

Additionally, Mayor Stephens and Councilmember Babcock expressed that they were not in favor of removing the age restriction at the Newman Lofts.

"I think they made a commitment to the City and they made a commitment to residents," said Mayor Stephens. "I wasn't on Council when this deal was made, so I can't really speak to the decision-making process then, but I can speak to what I've heard now. What I've heard, basically, from every resident that has reached out to me that lives in this facility and most people in the community, is that they would like to see this deal honored." View the agenda item report for the request from HM BM East Lansing, LLC. 

Chesterfield Hills Rental Conversions

Council discussed converting rental properties to single-family, owner-occupied homes in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood.

East Lansing Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Fehrenbach explained that the developers of the Campus Village II project and the City of East Lansing had a goal of converting a maximum of 25 rental properties within the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood into owner-occupied homes. However, the developer only converted seven homes and, the City and developer later agreed to a $300,000 payment to satisfy the developer’s remaining obligation under the brownfield plan. The $300,000 is now available specifically for the conversion of rental properties to owner-occupied homes in a defined area within and around the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood. 
Fehrenbach then presented three policy questions for Council to consider:
  1. Should the City attempt to acquire rental licenses or properties outright, or leverage the fund to incentivize others to purchase, rehabilitate and deed restrict?
  2. Should the deed restrictions required as part of the conversion last for a period of years or be permanent?
  3. Should our efforts place a priority on specific properties such as those within the core of the neighborhood?
Fehrenbach also presented the pros and cons if the City were to acquire the rental licenses or properties outright and the pros and cons of leveraging the fund to incentivize others to purchase, rehabilitate and deed restrict. Community members can watch Fehrenbach present the pros and cons here. 

Based on the pros and cons as well as conversations with a Chesterfield Hills neighborhood leader, staff recommended exploring a grant program to incentivize a market response. During discussion, Council agreed that it would like to move forward with staff's recommendation. Additionally, Council agreed that it would like to leverage the funds and have the deed restrictions last for a period of years instead of being permanent. 

The next steps are for staff to develop a program based on Council's direction, then return to Council for its approval and begin outreach to potential buyers, sellers and agents. View the agenda item report for the Chesterfield Hills discussion.

Business Support Programming

Council discussed other opportunities to support businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. East Lansing Community Development Administrator Adam Cummins explained that, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, staff are considering several ideas that enhance and activate public and private spaces in downtown East Lansing as a way to increase foot traffic for businesses as well as provide opportunities for community members to socialize safely.

Specifically, staff are exploring the options of creating downtown pedestrian paths/loops, hosting winter markets along pedestrian paths/loops and more. Staff are also considering outdoor dining and shopping options, including setting up an area with huts/kiosks. Cummins explained that the huts/kiosks would be an extension of the businesses in downtown East Lansing, where community members could shop as well as pick up take-out food. Staff are considering several locations to implement these ideas, including Valley Court Park, street closures, parking garages, alleyways and on-street parking spaces.

During discussion, several Councilmembers voiced support of staff's ideas to support downtown businesses, specifically having outdoor dining and shopping areas as well as a winter market. Councilmember Babcock also recommended that staff increase communications with businesses that don't sell food or alcohol when implementing these ideas. Additionally, Mayor Pro Tem Gregg suggested hosting an art trunk show out of artist's cars in one of the City's parking garages.  View the agenda item report for business support programming.

Amendment to Emergency Rental and Mortgage Relief Program Guidelines

Council discussed an amendment to the City's Emergency Rental and Mortgage Relief Program guidelines. Community Development & Engagement Manager Amy Schlusler-Schmitt explained that the City launched the program last month to provide financial assistance to East Lansing residents in response to the coronavirus. Through existing program guidelines, income-eligible East Lansing households can apply to receive up to three months of financial assistance with a household cap of $2,000 in grant funds towards rent or mortgage assistance. 

Schlusler-Schmitt went on to explain that the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development recently released a new program waiver indicating that Community Development Block Grant - Coronavirus funds could be allocated by municipalities to support up to six months of financial assistance, with a new household cap of $5,000. Upon review of this waiver and existing client needs, staff recommended that Council amend the existing program guidelines to increase the amount of financial assistance that applicants can receive from $2,000 to $5,000 and from up to three months to up to six months

During discussion, Mayor Stephens requested that more steps be taken to let community members know that the program is available, specifically to students. Additionally, several Councilmembers voiced their support of the amendment. Following discussion, Council unanimously approved the amendment to the City's Emergency Rental and Mortgage Relief Program guidelines. View the agenda item report for the amendment to the City's Emergency Rental and Mortgage Relief Program guidelines.

Discussion of Policy Resolution 2020-1

Council discussed Policy Resolution 2020-1; a resolution supporting 100 percent clean energy. East Lansing Environmental Services Administrator Cathy DeShambo explained that the Commission on the Environment (COE) reconvened the Renewable Energy Subcommittee in 2018 in response to the City's strategic priority to reduce the City's environmental footprint and move the City towards the use of 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

DeShambo also noted several of the committee's key activities and initiatives that helped with the creation of Policy Resolution 2020-1, which include, but are not limited to: meetings with the Lansing Board of Water and Light and Consumers Energy, the completion of SolSmart Gold Certification, consultation with energy professionals that are experienced in clean energy policy, exploring the possibility of increasing solar infrastructure throughout City facilities and more. 

During discussion, Council voiced its support of the policy resolution and thanked the COE for its hard work on creating the policy resolution. Following discussion, Mayor Stephens requested that the policy resolution be placed on a future business agenda to allow for community input and additional feedback from Councilmembers. View the agenda item report for Policy Resolution 2020-1.
Next Special Meeting: Tuesday, Sept. 22

Additional Information

All special meetings are continuing to be held electronically during the COVID-19 pandemic. As special electronic meetings become finalized, additional information on each meeting will be posted on the City's new electronic public meeting notices webpage.

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