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City Commission hears opposition to proposed zoning ordinance


Residents line up to speak at the Mount Pleasant City Commission meeting on Nov. 13 in City Hall.

In a public hearing that lasted almost three hours, only seven of 63 speakers supported Mount Pleasant’s proposed zoning ordinance. 

About 150 people packed into a crowded chamber for the hearing that dominated the City Commission's Nov. 13 meeting.

The commission did not take action on the ordinance, and a public work session was scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 28 in City Hall. Commissioners Jim Holton and Mike Verleger were absent.

Two particular changes are mired in controversy. Proposed rezoning of Lansing, Franklin and University streets from multi-residential housing to single-family housing. And new regulations for duplexes that would require owners to occupy half of their building. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story reported the proposed ordinance would rezone Lansing, Franklin and University streets from multi-residential to single-family owner occupied housing. The ordinance would require that rentals allow no more than two unrelated tenants, but would not require owners to occupy their properties.  

Spenser Robinson, who also spoke at the Planning Commission’s public hearing on Oct. 19, is the director of real estate in Central Michigan University’s Department of Finance and Law. He made clear he doesn’t speak for the university and praised many aspects of the new ordinance. 

However, he said it isn’t in the city’s best interest to rezone the area north of campus. He believes the changes would unfairly target students, hurt property values and decrease tax revenue.

“Taxes aren’t the only reason we zone. We zone for economic vibrancy and the best interests of the city,” Robinson said. “The reason for these changes is essentially that families or young university faculty would be better served using that area. That says the city is going to choose to prioritize one demographic over another.

"I have long said that if we as a community could keep 1 to 2 percent of the students here we could become one of Michigan’s most vibrant communities. If students are forced to live in only high-density housing and don’t get the opportunity to experience the charm of our city, why would they want to stay?” 

Robinson also challenged claims from city officials that the changes will offer more options for owner-occupied housing. As a young university faculty member with children, he said he has no interest in living in the area and doesn’t believe there’s a demand. 

Ramon Beaulieu has a “dog in the fight.” He lives a block away from the area north of campus and rents to students. He believes some residents treat students unfairly, and said the cost of repairing and maintaining the affected buildings is prohibitive for a single family. 

“I bet there’s a lot of people going ‘boo hoo, so someone doesn’t get to have 25 houses or will lose some money,’” Beaulieu said. “Let’s take all of that out of (the discussion) and forget about the money. Are people really going to buy these homes? 

"They’re not. I know what it takes to move into these houses and fix them -- it takes a lot of work. It takes months and it takes years.” 

Former mayor Sharon Tillman expressed concern about the potential loss to tax revenue. 

“Where is the community impact study that will tell me how this is going to affect me?” she asked. “I don’t want to see you dip into the (reserve) fund balance. If you don’t do that, are you going to raise my taxes? I don’t want you to raise my taxes.” 

City Planner Jacob Kain previously said no economic or demographic study was conducted before drafting the ordinance. 

CMU senior Nicholas Busman supports the ordinance and said students have been misinformed about the ordinance's impact.

“I’m concerned about the fear mongering that’s gone on recently in regard to students,” Busman said. “(It’s not) as if students are going to be evicted immediately.” 

The stories that students will be “swept out” of the area are baseless, said Edward Clayton, a political science and public administration professor. He pointed out that owners will still be able to rent their property and sell it to other potential landlords. 

He added curbing the density of students in the area will help deal with resident complaints and safety concerns. 

“Everyone who lives in Mount Pleasant knows about Welcome Weekend, Western Weekend and St. Patrick’s Day,” Clayton said. “Our public safety officers do a tremendous job and I don’t want to create additional risks for them by adding more people to conditions that can still be hazardous.”