City Commission votes to expand city sidewalk clearing map

Commissioners also voted to schedule a public hearing about recreational marijuana at the June 10 meeting

Vice Mayor Lori Gillis holds up a booklet regarding the city's snow and ice removal policy at the Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting on May 28 at City Hall.

After nearly a year of discussion, the Mount Pleasant City Commission voted to expand the area of sidewalk snow removal in the city.

At their May 28 meeting at City Hall, commissioners chose not to approve a proposed ordinance in the city's snow and ice removal policy from last fall, but they did approve clearing more city-owned sidewalks.

On Nov. 12, 2018, the commission chose to postpone voting on a proposed ordinance. The ordinance proposed a requirement for residential property owners to clear sidewalks in front of their property. During a work session on May 13, commissioners indicated they don't mind encouraging residents to clear sidewalks, but didn't want to require it.

At the May 28 meeting, Commissioner Kathleen Ling proposed an amendment that would only require property owners to clear sidewalks in two zoning districts. 

She explained that she thought this would be effective because the two districts were mainly commercial properties, which are already required to clear their own sidewalks. 

The residential properties in the districts were mostly attached, multifamily rental properties. Ling said since most rental properties already include snow maintenance in the rent, it wouldn't burden single family households. She also argued that properties run by businesses or rental companies should be treated similarly to commercial properties.

Vice Mayor Lori Gillis argued against the ordinance, saying she feels the responsibility for clean sidewalks should be on the city, not private property owners. 

"When the city puts a sidewalk in front of a person's house, it should be partially its responsibility to clear it," she said. She also argued that in the city's master plan is the goal to make Mount Pleasant more walkable and bike-able, therefore, it should be up to the city to clear sidewalks to make it more walkable and bike-able.

Commissioner Petro Tolas also disagreed with the amendment, arguing that it would be too difficult to enforce.

Ultimately, the amendment was approved by commissioners, but they voted to deny to ordinance, so neither the ordinance nor amendment will go into effect.

The commission also discussed the city sidewalk snow removal routes.

Currently the city plows streets, parking lots and alleyways, along with 13 miles of sidewalks along school walking routes.

Ling moved to expand the snow plowing map to 25 miles of sidewalks within three years. She proposed using money from state grants and the Economic Initiative Fund or General Funds to pay for city staff to clear the extra sidewalks.

Commissioners approved the motion, with an amendment from Gillis that will require a review at the end of the three-year period to determine if additional staff is needed to expand the map.

Other Business

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion to hold a public hearing regarding recreational marijuana at their June 10 meeting at City Hall.

The public meeting will be about whether or not to temporarily prohibit recreational marijuana facilities from opening in town. 

City Manager Nancy Ridley said when marijuana was legalized last fall, the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency initially planned to begin issuing licenses for recreational marijuana establishments on Dec. 1. Because of this, the commission set a timeline to have time, place and manner restrictions established by then. 

However, the agency recently announced it will begin issuing licenses on Sept. 1. Ridley said it would be nearly impossible to have policies ready by then, so the city could temporarily prohibit establishments. This would allow adequate time to discuss local laws and time, place and manner restrictions. 

"This doesn't mean we're opposed to allowing recreational marijuana," Commissioner Tony Kulick said. "It's a big decision for the city and we want to properly vet this."

The commission also had a discussion about public records. 

Commissioner Tolas requested city staff make three public documents available on the city's website, including a cost spreadsheet for the demolition of the Mt. Pleasant Regional Center.

Tolas said he felt the city should publish the documents on the website as an act of transparency, but Mayor William Joseph, Commissioner Amy Perschbacher and Ridley said the documents are publicly available already and there isn't an issue with transparency.

Ridley said as long as the documents are public and aren't extremely voluminous, residents can go to the city clerk's office and request a copy. There is no need to file a Freedom of Information Act request for most public documents.

"I would rather not create an image of the commission being withholding," Perschbacher said. "That's not what's happening here."