ACLU says city ordinance was unconstitutional

During the Monday meeting of the Mount Pleasant City Commission, a letter from
the ACLU saying the city’s sign ordinance was unconstitutional was presented.

“Given there is no provision for political signs in the Mount Pleasant
sign ordinance, the ordinance, at least as it relates to political signs, is
unconstitutional,” said John Scalise, ACLU Isabella County representative.

Scalise said he was asked to looked into the matter by Eric Stone, the director
of the Wesley Foundation, 1400 S. Washington St., following the city’s
decision that the sign on the front lawn, which reads “We value all life;
end the cycle of violence,” was too large to meet zoning requirements.

Paul Preston, city manager, said the city was looking into the legality of
the sign ordinance.

“This matter was reviewed by the city attorney, the Zoning Board (of
Appeals) and Tony (Kulick, city planner). Further research is needed, and we
need to look at the way the Zoning Commission handles things like this,”
he said.

Mary Irvine, Wesley Foundation resource assistant, attended the meeting as
well. She said she was proud of the way the city and the Foundation worked
together on the issue.

“It was quite an interesting activity in free speech. We worked well
together, even though we didn’t know each other very well. Who knows –
maybe we’ll be friends,” she said.

The sign was removed as of press time.

In other news:

  • A request by Dean Burger to rezone two lots at 803 Mosher St. from R-3
    Single Family Residential to C-3 General Business was denied. The Planning
    Commission recommended the property be changed to P-1 Parking, so Burger
    could use it to park employee cars and cars waiting to be fixed in the body
    shop of Dean Burger Chevrolet.

    Residents from the surrounding properties came to the meeting to voice their
    objections to the change. Rosemary Gray brought with her a petition signed
    by all the residents of the surrounding neighborhood, all of whom were against
    the change.

    “The reason we bought our house on Broadway was because of the backyard.
    Without the backyard (which would be obliterated if the parking lot was installed),
    our property values would go down. … There are about 50 people on that
    petition who live in this neighborhood, who pay taxes, who don’t want
    this rezoned. … (Burger) goes home. I come home, and so does everybody
    else in that neighborhood. Vote for the neighborhood, not for the business.”

    Ed Roberts, who also lives next the proposed change, said the traffic would
    increase if the vacant lot was paved.

    “I’m fearful of the noise, the extra traffic through my yard. When
    we purchased this property, we did so with the thought, the hope, that it
    would remain residential.”

    Burger also spoke to say he didn’t plan to use the lot as a commercial
    space on which to park for-sale cars.

    “I don’t have any intention of putting up a lot of lights to ruin
    the neighborhood. … I don’t have a problem leaving a 10- to 15-foot
    buffer zone (of trees and bushes) around the property.”

    Gray said people blocks away can hear the loudspeakers and see the lights
    from the dealership as it is now.

    “I don’t think there is room for a buffer. A few trees and a fence
    isn’t going to cut it,” she said.

    Miller, Vice Mayor Matthew Showalter and Commissioner Jon Joslin voted in
    favor of the change. Miller said the city, which has not raised residential
    taxes in four or five years, can not continue to do so unless more business
    taxes come in. Showalter said he voted in favor of the change because a city
    the size of Mount Pleasant needs to have a mixture of residential, commercial
    and industrial properties, and Joslin, who used to be on the Planning Commission,
    said he supports what that commission decides.

    Commissioners Ron Roby, Cynthia Bradley, Keith Spycher and Jim Moreno all
    voted against the resolution, because they said the residents were more important
    than a single business.

  • Commissioners voted to change the way meetings are run. Miller said the
    commission will follow more strictly Robert’s Rules of Order, with the
    exception of new rules commissioners agreed upon during a recent meeting.

    “This will be a far more smooth way of running our meetings, as well
    as (creating) important equity and fairness with regard to introduction and
    removal of ordinances.”

  • The regular meeting of the commission will take place May 27, because of
    the Memorial Day holiday. A public hearing also will take place that night
    to hear comment on the Proposed 2004-2008 Capital Improvement Plan.

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