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East Lansing City Council Meeting Recap 6/14/22

** Thanks for reading!
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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 2022 meeting schedule here: https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/997/2022-Meeting-Dates. (https://www.cityofeastlansing.com/997/2022-Meeting-Dates)

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


** Highlights from the June 14 Meeting
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The East Lansing City Council met this past Tuesday, June 14 at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center for its discussion-only meeting.

During communications at the start of the meeting, Councilmember Lisa Babcock acknowledged two individuals who recently passed away: Ethel Brody (https://www.lansingstatejournal.com/obituaries/lsj080578) and Howard Ballein (https://www.dignitymemorial.com/obituaries/east-lansing-mi/howard-ballein-10329535) . Brody was an active member of the East Lansing community and Ballein was the owner of the Student Book Store in downtown East Lansing.

Councilmember Babcock also took time during her report to remind community members that the East Lansing Public Library (ELPL), 950 Abbot Road, is available as a cooling center this week in response to the forecasted heat. Community members can learn more about ELPL being available as a cooling center here. (https://cityofeastlansing.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1704)

During her comments, Councilmember Dana Watson wished all the fathers in the community a happy Father's Day. She also reminded community members that the use of commercial fireworks is permitted on Juneteenth (Sunday, June 19) from 11 a.m.-11:45 p.m.

She also noted that, in observance of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday, several City offices will be closed on Monday, June 20. Community members can learn more about the Juneteenth holiday and City office closures here. (https://cityofeastlansing.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1703)

During the mayor's report, Mayor Ron Bacon encouraged community members to check in on people, particularly the elderly and people with disabilities, during the warm weather.

He also gave a shout-out to the East Lansing Police Department's Sector 2 officers, who hosted a Meet & Greet over the weekend at Patriarche Park. "It's a good opportunity to build relationships and good best practices and I just want to tell the department that I appreciate them engaging in that way," said Mayor Bacon.

Additionally, Mayor Bacon encouraged community members to attend the Summer Solstice Jazz Festival (SSJF) this weekend in downtown East Lansing. The festival will take place from 3:30-11 p.m. on Friday, June 17 and 2-11 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Community members can learn more about the SSJF here. (https://cityofeastlansing.com/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=1696)


** Deer Management Update
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At this past Tuesday's meeting, East Lansing Parks, Recreation & Arts Director Cathy DeShambo provided a deer management update for the Council. Prior to DeShambo’s presentation, Councilmember Watson explained that she had requested the update along with an opportunity to discuss some of the alternatives to the City’s recent deer removal operations over the past two years.

DeShambo explained that, for almost a decade, the City of East Lansing has been engaging with residents, researching best practices and partnering with experts in the field concerning deer management and deer populations in the City. She noted that deer management can be a very divisive topic for communities and that is why the City has spent and continues to spend considerable time and effort around community input and engagement.

DeShambo then went through many of the efforts undertaken over the past decade to define, understand and address urban deer issues in East Lansing. This has included, but not been limited to: community surveys, creation of a deer management website, educational outreach to community members, community meetings/education forums, extensive research into both the non-lethal and lethal deer management options available, adoption of an ordinance to ban the feeding of deer in East Lansing and the establishment of several beneficial partnerships with local experts from USDA Wildlife Services, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and MSU. DeShambo also outlined the data that has been collected/tracked over the years, including, but not limited to: estimated deer population volumes via observation surveys and trail cams, deer-vehicle collision data and Lyme disease cases.

While the City has implemented several non-lethal deer management measures over the years (i.e. deer management webpage, educational outreach to the community on protecting landscapes from browsing deer and the City’s deer feeding ban), there are several non-lethal options that have been researched by staff that have been determined to not be permitted, possible and/or effective based on research. These options include contraception, sterilization, translocation, fencing, wildlife corridors and reflective material. Community members can watch this portion of DeShambo’s presentation here (https://youtu.be/NcnY6kUh6zM?t=2291) .

In 2021 and 2022, professional deer removal operations were conducted in East Lansing by USDA Wildlife Services, with all venison processing funded through Michigan Sportsman Against Hunger and all venison donated to the Greater Lansing Food Bank. The decision to remove deer took many years of community input, research and thoughtful consideration, which has continued post deer removal. DeShambo explained that reducing the population by professional, lethal removal is an option to begin to provide relief for those parts of the City that report higher levels of deer conflicts. She also noted that research indicates that it can take roughly two to five years to have measurable impacts from a population reduction. To date, USDA Wildlife Services has removed 146 deer from parks and City property in East Lansing, which has yielded approximately 4,400 pounds of venison for community members in need that are served by the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

DeShambo went on to share that post-removal community surveys are being developed with MSU partners and will be out to residents this summer. Additionally, trail cams are being reinstalled this summer at the same locations where they were installed prior to the City’s removal operations, to measure deer activity post removal. Staff are also continuing to meet regularly with partners to ensure all options are being explored and another community input and education forum is being planned. DeShambo closed out her presentation by sharing some of the recent community feedback that she has received (https://youtu.be/NcnY6kUh6zM?t=3079) .

Following DeShambo’s presentation, several Councilmembers asked questions and shared feedback.

Councilmember Watson expressed interest in learning more about the non-lethal options, including the price of green corridors, and exploring other ways for communities to co-exist with deer. Councilmember Watson also noted that she appreciates that there will be a new community survey going out to residents this summer and that another community input and education forum is being planned.

Mayor Pro Tem Gregg thanked DeShambo for her presentation and the compassion that she brings to her work. She also discussed the previous Council’s vote to move forward with the deer removal operations. “I was on the Council, very newly elected, when we voted this through, and it was not an easy decision for any of us. I think everyone knows it was a 3-2 vote,” said Mayor Pro Tem Gregg. “It’s not my first preference to remove the deer, but I also feel that the depth you’ve (DeShambo) brought to the history of this shows the problem, which is that there is not really some great deer nirvana where they can all live happily, where we can transport them to. I think the state’s deer herd is overpopulated. And we’re not trying to exterminate them, we’re trying to bring them back down to a socially acceptable level.”
Community members can watch DeShambo’s full presentation and Council’s full discussion here (https://youtu.be/NcnY6kUh6zM?t=1636) .


** Discussion of Potential Ballot Language
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Next, Council discussed potential ballot language to modify the City Charter to allow alcohol at City-sponsored events.

East Lansing Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Fehrenbach explained that, with the November 8, 2022 State General Election coming up, there is an opportunity to ask voters to amend the City Charter to allow alcohol at City-sponsored events, including award ceremonies, receptions and festivals.

During discussion, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg expressed her support to modify the City Charter. She also noted that the community has expressed interest in having alcohol at City-sponsored events, such as a beer tent at the East Lansing Art Festival.

During his comments, Mayor Bacon indicated that he wants to ensure that ballot language isn't restrictive and that the City has a simple process for reviewing requests to have alcohol at City-sponsored events. Fehrenbach noted that, if the City Charter amendment was approved by voters, Council would have the discretion to create the policies and procedures to review the requests.

Fehrenbach explained that staff will work with the City Attorney to draft a ballot resolution and will bring it back to Council in July for consideration of approval. View the agenda item report for Council's discussion of potential ballot language to modify the City Charter to allow alcohol at City-sponsored events. (https://cityofeastlansing.civicweb.net/document/79740/Discussion%20of%20potential%20ballot%20language%20to%20modi.pdf?handle=AAA841B918124378A0BE007A1486A766)


** Fraternity and Sorority Ordinance Overview and Update
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This past Tuesday's meeting continued with a presentation from East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser, who provided an overview of the City's ordinance related to fraternities and sororities.

Menser began his presentation with an update on the number of fraternities and sororities in East Lansing. He reported that there are 27 fraternities and 14 sororities with physical homes in the City. There's also an additional 23 fraternities/sororities at Michigan State University that do not have a physical house.

Furthermore, fraternities and sororities are allowed in seven of the City's zoning districts and require a Special Use Permit (SUP). The City required fraternities and sororities to have an SUP beginning in 1992, but many of the buildings pre-date this requirement. Menser explained that staff apply this requirement to all new applications to establish or relocate a fraternity or sorority and applications to expand current buildings.

Menser continued his presentation by explaining that staff researched 14 college towns across the country to learn about their process for establishing fraternity and sorority houses. During their research, staff found that most of the cities have a similar process to East Lansing's and require a municipal review. Menser then provided his recommendation on potential policy changes to the City's process for establishing fraternities and sororities.

"My recommendation is for the City to stay the course and continue to use the special use permit process to vet these proposals. The special use permit process provides the ability to add conditions to approvals. Conditions can be used to ensure that the use conforms to all applicable requirements of the [City] code and to require compliance with existing ordinances," said Menser.

Menser also noted that the SUP process allows the City to revoke an SUP from a fraternity or sorority in the event of non-compliance or repeated violations of the SUP and any related conditions. Additionally, the SUP process allows neighbors to review the requests and provide feedback at multiple public hearings.

During discussion, Mayor Bacon requested that staff continue to have conversations with MSU regarding the large number of incoming classes and if it will cause more students to live off-campus. He indicated that he wants the City to be prepared if MSU outgrows its policy requiring first-year and second-year students to live on campus.


** Discussion of Restaurant and Entertainment License Fees
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Next, Council held a discussion on restaurant and entertainment license fees. These fees were waived in Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 to provide support to businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were included in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget and also in the City’s recently approved Fiscal Year 2023 Budget. At the previous Council meeting, a business owner from the Responsible Hospitality Council (RHC) voiced concerns about the reinstatement of fees and, at this past Tuesday’s meeting, two business owners from the RHC were present to reiterate their concerns.

During the discussion, East Lansing City Clerk Jennifer Shuster provided an overview of the process for restaurant and entertainment licenses, which she explained are governed by the City Code at the rates set by the fee schedule in the annual budget. Clerk Shuster also provided Council with an overview of how many active restaurant and entertainment licenses that the Clerk’s office has on file and a list of the 12 businesses that have both a restaurant and entertainment license. She also explained that fees are determined by a scaled occupancy rate, zone area and also if an additional late-hour fee is applicable. Renewal applications are typically sent out each year by June 1 and are due June 30. If payments are not made on time, the Code also requires a 50 percent late fee. However, semiannual payment installments can be made without interest if requested in advance. East Lansing Police Department Deputy Chief Chad Connelly also spoke during the discussion, explaining that he sees a
direct correlation between the fee structure and the services rendered in and around the establishments in East Lansing where there is consumption of alcohol and entertainment, such as dancing, music and DJs.

After some discussion, Council directed staff to consult with the City’s attorney to see if there is a way to extend this year’s deadline for payment and late fees. It is expected that this will be discussed further at the June 21 meeting.

View the agenda item report for the Council's discussion of the City's restaurant and entertainment license fees. (https://cityofeastlansing.civicweb.net/document/79835/Discussion%20of%20restaurant%20and%20entertainment%20lice.pdf?handle=48B95C7D95904AA69F9954BE1A58C91B)


** Discussion of a Substantial Amendment to CDBG Budget
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Council discussed substantial amendments to the Fiscal Year 2020 and Fiscal Year 2021 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) budgets.

Community and Economic Development Specialist Matt Apostle explained that staff are proposing two amendments:
* FY 20: Re-appropriate $23,000 from the Capital Area Housing Partnership's (CAHP) Homeownership Opportunity Assistance Program (HOAP) to CAHP's Homeowner Rehabilitation Program.
* FY 21: Re-appropriate $83,820 from a line item for business support to the Stoddard Park Improvement Project.

Apostle provided staff's reasoning for each proposed amendment. First, he explained that HOAP has not been utilized by prospective homebuyers in recent years due to the City's current housing market and it not being conducive to this program. He also noted that, if the proposed amendment was approved, there would still be funds available for HOAP if someone was interested in utilizing the program.

Next, he explained that the East Lansing Department of Parks, Recreation and Art is expected to receive $121,850 in CDBG funding for the Stoddard Park Improvement Project. However, this allocation is less than the department's original request. To ensure the project can be completed, staff suggest transferring funds from a line item in the FY 2021 CDBG budget for business support to sufficiently fund the project.

Furthermore, Apostle explained that the City received approximately $167,644 in FY 2020 from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which the City used to create a Small Business Relief Grant program. The City has used approximately $128,000 to help 18 East Lansing businesses and the rest of the funds have been earmarked to be spent within a year.

With this substantial amendment, staff are seeking to sufficiently fund the Stoddard Park Improvement Project and plan to revisit allocating CDBG funds for business support once the City administers the remaining CARES Act funds.

Staff's next steps are to set a public hearing for the proposed amendments to the FY 2020 and FY 2021 CDBG budgets for the July 12 meeting. View the agenda item report for the discussion of a substantial amendment to the FY 2020 and FY 2021 CDBG budgets. (https://cityofeastlansing.civicweb.net/document/79870/Discussion%20of%20a%20Substantial%20Amendment%20to%20the%20Ci.pdf?handle=D5D922DF01E04458846DD1543D1E6A57)
To learn more about all items discussed during the meeting, view the Agenda Packet. (https://cityofeastlansing.civicweb.net/Portal/MeetingInformation.aspx?Org=Cal&Id=759)
Next Meeting: Tuesday, June 21
Regular Meeting


** Additional Information
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The City of East Lansing has transitioned back to in-person public meetings and East Lansing City Council meetings have been temporarily relocated to the East Lansing Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road. Budget work sessions take place at 5 p.m. and regular and discussion-only Council meetings take place at 7 p.m. A remote option for viewing the meetings and providing public comment is continuing to be offered for City Council and Planning Commission meetings via the City's public meeting portal (https://cityofeastlansing.civicweb.net/Portal/) . The number to call in for public comment is posted at the top of each meeting agenda.

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