City Commission candidates debate Mount Pleasant issues at forum
Six candidates on the ballot for the Mount Pleasant City Commission debated several city issues Tuesday, including improving downtown, medical marijuana facilities and student housing.
The League of Women Voters of the Mount Pleasant Area hosted a forum Oct. 17 at Mount Pleasant City Hall, 320 W. Broadway St.
The forum included Amy Perschbacher, Damian S. Fisher, Kristin LaLonde, Marni Taylor, Rick Rautanen and William Joseph -- all candidates for seats on the Mount Pleasant City Commission. The forum allowed the candidates to present their views in front of city residents before elections take place Nov. 7.
There will be two seats up for grabs as Commissioners Jim Holton and Mike Verleger are not seeking re-election.
Ruth Helwig of the League of Women Voters read 10 audience questions during the nearly two-hour forum. Candidates were given one minute each for opening statements, responses to questions and closing statements.
Here are a few of the topics the candidates discussed:
Improvements to downtown
Joseph, a Central Michigan University senior, expressed concerns about foot traffic in downtown Mount Pleasant. He said few businesses are open after 6 p.m. and there is a lack of activity outside the summer months.
LaLonde said she wants to make downtown a destination and provide quality housing for young professionals and older people who want to walk in the city.
Perschbacher said a key for Mount Pleasant is to look at what downtown should look like.
“The thing about downtown is one day a store is there, one day it’s not," she said.
Perschbacher suggested creating a task force to help out downtown and make it a "walkable, beautiful, vibrant area."
Rautanen, a former city commissioner, said cities such as Saginaw, Bay City and Midland have revitalized their downtown. He said it comes down to a question of money.
“I love this downtown and I want to do what I can to help see it grow as well," Rautanen said.
Taylor said a disconnected society is present in today's world. Connections and relationships have started to fizzle and encourages people to build upon relationships to improve downtown.
Fisher said it's important to release the creativity of entrepreneurs downtown.
“I love downtown and that’s where it begins," Fisher said.
Student housing and neighborhoods north of campus
LaLonde said Mount Pleasant doesn't need more student housing but quality housing. She said students want to live in a nice place and be around neighbors.
Perschbacher used to live in rentable areas for student housing, she said. She loves the neighborhoods in the city and doesn't want students to suffer financially.
Rautanen explained the city cannot re-write zoning rules and expect people to sell their house.
“It’s kind of hard to let the genie back in the bottle after we let it out," Rautanen said.
He added the commission needs to work with developers and builders on this issue.
Taylor continued with the idea of relationships between students and residents in the northern neighborhoods. She said once those relationships are developed, "things will follow suit after that."
Fisher described the area north of campus as an "intense melting pot." He said the city's new character-based zoning code is behavioral. After attending CMU's Homecoming parade, he said fraternity houses are important to the communities.
Joseph said the city needs to preserve houses that could be found in any other town. He said it was better for him to live in a house that reminded him of where he grew up than in an apartment complex.
Medical marijuana facilities
Perschbacher works as a mental health therapist and said patients uses medical marijuana to relieve pain and anxiety. She questioned how many facilities Mount Pleasant would need if they made the switch.
“I think we need to be willing to follow the regulations," she said.
Perschbacher added she believes it helps it helps people but the federal government still classifies marijuana as illegal.
Rautanen said some studies have shown benefits from marijuana but it is a class one drug as defined by the federal government.
"At least we’re taking steps to be ahead of the issue," Rautanen said.
Taylor believes Mount Pleasant will have facilities in town soon. She said the city needs to be restrictive at first and only offer a few opportunities for dispensaries. She said it's easier to add than subtract and also advised to think about youth in the area and their accessibility to it.
Fisher said it is "responsible government" to talk about marijuana. He said it requires how to regulate in five areas listed under the Michigan Medical Marihuana Facilities Licensing Act and said business demand will help determine.
“You start small and you take steps," he said.
Joseph served on the city's MMFLA ad-hoc committee and said downtown is off-limits. He said there was hope that a dispensary would add to foot traffic downtown and there has to be some limits.
“We have to not squelch business but also give it some regulation," Joseph said.
LaLonde voiced her approval for medical marijuana. She said medical marijuana is citizen-mandated at this point and there is support for it from residents.