2016-11-10 / Front Page

Council Considers Housing Needs

By Erich T. Doerr

The St. Ignace City Council weighed the costs and benefits of a proposed amendment to the community’s housing ordinance at its Monday, November 7, meeting. It met with Planning Commission Chair Betsy Dayrell-Hart who presented the amendment for the purpose of better defining and various types of housing in the city’s zoning ordinance. Following a lengthy discussion, a motion to introduce the amendments to Ordinance 564 was approved, although the council will discuss the amendments further at a work session Monday, November 28 beginning at 6 p.m.

In other matters, Council received an update on the search for a new city manager.

In introducing the zoning ordinance amendments to the council, Dr. Dayrell-Hart said the planning commission strived to clean up the definitions of housing in the ordinance, and to make the ordinance consistent with the city’s master plan. It has spent many hours working on the amendments, both before and following a public hearing on the matter earlier this year.

Among the amendments submitted are defining transient housing as being used for a maximum of 30 days and limiting the density of renters allowed in boardinghouses and dormitories, or non-family dwellings.

Non-family dwellings are designed mostly to serve the area’s seasonal employees, and this area of the ordinance received the majority of the discussion Monday night. The proposed amendment suggests the city should require all of these apartments to have a minimum of 300 gross residential square feet per person, with gross square footage including stairways, entryways, kitchens, toilets, and other parts of the dwelling.

Councilman Luke Paquin said he thinks 300 feet may be too large to be practical in St. Ignace, where many houses are old and small. Many buildings have only about 960 feet of residential space, he noted, and the proposed density would limit occupancy to only three renters. Some members of the council suggested lowering the figure to about 240 to 250 feet to allow housing four people in a building instead of three.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart remained in favor of allowing employees more space, noting no members of the planning commission thought the amount was excessive during development, but welcomed the feedback and was willing to help rewrite it if necessary. She will attend the workshop.

Mr. Paquin stressed the need for local non-family housing for the area’s seasonal employees, as St. Ignace lacks the population to fill all the positions its businesses need. While looking at possibly lowering the amendment’s required space, he also stressed that he still wants comfortable living conditions for the workers. He said he did not want to see dwellings with people packed tightly into them.

The ordinance aims to encourage the construction and use of non-family dwellings in the tourist business district. Dr. Dayrell-Hart said putting non-family housing in residential areas would decrease the already low number of rental homes available in the area for families, while the tourist district best conforms with the city’s master plan.

The new amendment also proposes that all rental units in the city be inspected yearly. Councilman Paul Fullerton contended that the city cannot require an inspection of properties, especially those where tenants are long-term renters, without permission, although city attorney Tom Evashevski said he believed such inspections could be required if written into the leases, and he will further research the matter. Inspections to ensure compliance with city laws would be in the best interest of both renters and landlords, Dr. Dayrell-Hart said.

City Manager

Discussion on the qualifications for a new city manager by the end of next year continues with the city’s Negotiations Committee, and Councilman Jim Clapperton said the committee will propose hiring a professional manager to work full time and possibly take over the role of Downtown Development Authority director, as well. Both City Manager Les Therrian and DDA Director Deb Evashevski plan to retire at the end of 2017. Both have worked in their respective jobs part time, with Mr. Therrian also working as director of the department of public works. The committee is exploring the idea that city manager and downtown director positions both involve strategy and planning aspects, which could perhaps be shared.

The committee is working toward advertising for the position by the first of the year, but has not determined exactly how the search will be conducted.

Dr. Dayrell-Hart said she has heard comments from some residents that they don’t want a manager who would use St. Ignace as a stepping stone to a better position. She said a short-term manager might actually be the best course of action, suggesting that St. Ignace should hire someone who would do the most good for the community and then might move on. She said it might be unrealistic for St. Ignace to find someone to make a lifetime career as the St. Ignace city manager because the trend today is that executives do not remain in the same position long-term, and that finding one who would, might be more expensive.

Members of the search committee said they agree that a short-term professional manager could bring lasting advantages for the city. The plan is not to restrict the search to those who would necessarily make a long term career here, but to seek a well qualified professional.

St. Ignace Police Chief Mark Wilk was granted a gasoline credit card to be used when purchasing gasoline downstate. The department is required by the courts to transport mental health patients to treatment facilities, he said, and, while some of these runs are as near as Kinross, many people, including all juveniles, must go to facilities further away, such as to Battle Creek or Auburn Hills. The police department already has a fuel arrangement with Blarney Castle Oil, which has gas stations in St. Ignace and in many locations downstate, but not east of West Branch.

The police department will take part in a “No-Shave November” campaign to raise money for Toys for Tots. The program will allow male members of the department to grow a trimmed beard this month for a $25 contribution to the organization. Officers opting out of beard growth will also make a contribution.

The Mackinac County Sheriff’s Office is also running a similar program this month, Mr. Wilk told the council.

A list of building permit fees proposed by city manager Mr. Therrian was returned for further review following discovery that many of the fees were for zoning permits, which already have been approved. Mr. Therrian said the fees had been submitted by the city’s new building inspector, Brian Olsen, and were intended to raise enough money to pay for construction inspections. He did not compare them to already approved zoning fees and will meet with Mr. Olsen to clarify the fees before resubmitting them to the city council.

Council will submit a resolution to the Michigan Bureau of State Lottery recognizing the St. Ignace Area Chamber of Commerce as a local nonprofit organization, so it can have its charitable gaming license renewed. The license is used for raffle ticket licenses, both for the Chamber and for other groups in the area who do not have their own charitable gaming license. The renewal is routine, in the sense that the state is merely updating its records, Chamber manager Janet Peterson told the council, and some licensing records were lost during the state’s transition to digitized files.

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