May 25 2010 12:00 AM

Parks tax language approved, plus a couple of public hearings you might want to go to

Another down to the wire decision by the Lansing City Council: on Monday night, Council approved the ballot language for the renewal of the Parks and Recreations Department tax. Monday was the deadline for Council to approve the language to get it on the August ballot. Voters renew the tax every five years.

The delay was that Council wanted to tweak the language that would appear on the ballot. The discussion on this began at a Council Committee of the Whole meeting last Monday, and was left that Council would forward its intentions to the City Attorney Brig Smith. Apparently, Council did not get a chance to re-meet and re-discuss its intentions, so the body had to have a special CoW meeting Monday night to … discuss its intentions.

The language that Council eventually agreed upon: “To renew a levy … for the purpose of maintaining, operating and capital improvements to the city’s parks and recreation system.”

While that was fine, there was contention over whether to put an actual percentage into the ballot language, so that it would read something like, “50 percent of the parks millage will be used for … .” Smith cautioned against this because if, in the future, it is determined that whatever percentage was not going toward what voters approved, then there could be a legal issue. He invoked Alexander Bolt, who in 1995 sued Lansing for its “rain fee,” which the state Supreme Court overturned as an unconstitutional tax. (Council enacted it by ordinance, not a vote).

The ballot language — without the percentage included — was approved 6-2 on a roll-call vote requested by Vice President Kathie Dunbar. At-large Councilwoman Carol Wood and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt voted against it. Wood said that she would have like to see a percentage in the language. “I absolutely support the parks millage, but I have a philosophical difference on how it comes out.”

In other business, the Council saw four “special ceremonies,” including a mayoral presentation (not presented by the mayor) recognizing the Cristo Rey Fiesta Days, a tribute to Lansing winning a bicycling award, a recognition of young Lansing spelling bee participants, and a recognition of winners of ACT-SO (academic, cultural, technological and scientific Olympiad).

Council held “show cause” hearings for three properties headed for demolition by the city: 6226 Barker 711 Carrier streets and 420 N. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. During a show cause hearing, property owners can come out and tell the Council why it should not order their unsafe property to be demolished. No one did.

Council also held seven public hearings on a variety of issues Monday, including tax incentives for Pat Gillespie’s redevelopment of the Marshall Street Armory into an office building for nonprofits; plus four hearings on ordinance changes to the city’s retirement system. Two ordinances would allow retirees to purchase five years’ worth of “service credits” (time worked that counts toward retirement benefits), and another two would bar retirees from receiving their retirement benefits if, as retirees, they came back to work.

In eyesore news, Council approved a public hearing for the rezoning of Laning’s biggest (literally) dilapidated building. On June 14, the public can weigh in on Abundant Grace Faith Church’s plans to turn the abandoned Farmer Jack’s building on South Cedar Street into a megachurch. If you aren’t already familiar with this building, take a drive south down Cedar Street and turn your head about after Volunteers of America, and you’ll see a boarded-up big box store at the end of a weedy parking lot.

Council also approved public hearings for June 14 for the sale of the Comfort Station building — located next to Pablo’s Restaurant in Old Town — a Brownfield incentive for the redevelopment of the Holmes Street School, and an OPRA tax incentive for the Foresight Group, which wants to buy an old Peckham Industries building up near the airport to use.

Council also voted to accept the donation of a piece of landlocked parkland near the intersection of Interstate 496 (is this really an interstate?), US 127 and East Lansing’s wastewater treatment plant.

Council was slated to approve an ordinance that would change the zoning of the Marshall Street Armory, but At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries pulled it from the agenda saying that the rezoning had not been discussed in his Development and Planning Committee.

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