City approves contract with county for planning services

MANISTEE — A new contract with the Manistee County Planning Department was approved by Manistee City Council on Tuesday night, which is anticipated to save the city $25,000 in costs.

The new agreement follows the retirement of Denise Blakeslee, the former planning and zoning director, who retired on Aug. 31 after 25 years with the city.

City council approved the agreement on Tuesday at a vote 4-3, which includes a five-year term with a five-year renewal, and a termination clause. The first year cost would total $70,000, with an annual cost increase of 2 percent.

The county will perform all duties of the zoning administrator; enforce zoning ordinances with help of local police; provide support to the Planning Commission, Historic District Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals; perform site visits and property inspections; and attend city staff meetings.

The city continues to pay operation costs for the Planning Commission, Historic District Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals at $8,000.

Council members Erin Pontiac, Chip Goodspeed and James Grabowski voted no to the contract.

“They are considering having office hours,” said Thad Taylor, city manager. “We do not have a specific review process, but obviously if we don’t like how it’s being run we have that 90 day out.”

The room was split with opinions on the issue, while a few council members were concerned about the overall workload for the county. Taylor said the Planning Department is going to expand and hire for another position.

“This is concerning to me, because I do not know how they would have enough time,” said Pontiac.

Goodspeed said he could not get on-board with the idea.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Goodspeed. “I think this is our planning and zoning and we (should) have our own here.”

However, council member Lynda Beaton said she felt confident with the plan, and noted that Rob Carson, county planner, has plenty of knowledge of Manistee’s zoning ordinances.

“I feel comfortable with contracting with the county, this is definitely in Rob’s wheelhouse,” said Beaton. “He is certainly very familiar with what’s going on in the city… if we brought in somebody new to replace Denise, that would take awhile for that person to get on-board.”

Mayor Jim Smith said his support of the issue is due to the savings the city would receive with the deal.

“We can save by coordinating with another agency,” said Smith. “I think we should take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

While the city monitors progress of the new contract, Taylor said he plans to keep in contact with department and make sure adjustments run smoothly for all involved.

On Tuesday council also discussed two zoning ordinance amendments.

Council members were in consideration of Ordinance 18-08 modifying “Section 1060.08” to require sealed receptacles or containers in the Central Business District; establish violations as civil infractions; establish penalties for violations; and repeal all ordinances in conflict.

A motion was made in support of the ordinance; however, council voted unanimously to deny the motion, and instead directed staff to create an ad hoc committee to further study the issue.

The second ordinance amendment would enforce and prohibit all dogs, bicycles, skateboards and Rollerblades along the Riverwalk; modify the chapter heading; and repeal all ordinances in conflict.

Mayor pro-tem Roger Zielinski made a motion, and then retracted it. No other motions were made on the agenda item.

After a discussion at a recent work session, some of the council members were open to allowing dogs on a certain portion of the Riverwalk, but only where it is wide enough to allow dogs and people to pass comfortably.

A few council members were leery about the idea, due to dog owners who would not clean up after their pets, or the possibility of an aggressive or high energy dog that might deter certain people from using the Riverwalk.

“When we had the ordinance meeting we came up with no dogs, bicycles, skateboards and I would like to go that way,” said council member Dale Cooper. “No dogs, period.”

Council decided to hold an open discussion and take note of which council members were against the idea, and who would be on-board with allowing dogs on a certain portion of the Riverwalk. This was not an official council vote.

“You could just go council person by council person and just say what you want in that ordinance, then we could bring it back at the next meeting,” said city attorney George Saylor. “We are just trying to see what the majority is.”

Council members Cooper, Smith and Grabowski said they were opposed to the idea. However, council members Beaton, Goodspeed, Pontiac and Zielinski were open to allowing dogs on certain portions of the Riverwalk.

In turn, city staff is now drafting an ordinance to allow dogs on a certain portion of the Riverwalk — which has yet to be decided — and that also addresses enforcement in the areas they are not allowed, signage and other details. Taylor said the city would provide bag stations, as well.

The ordinance amendment will be brought back to council; two separate votes would be held on the item before it could be adopted.

Council also unanimously approved the purchase of a three-quarter ton, F250 pickup truck in the amount of $30,728. The budgeted amount is $30,000.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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