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.