The City of Ludington will forge ahead with its applications for a pair of grants, one for the James Street Plaza and the other for downtown rehabilitation of rentals at its regular meeting Monday night at the municipal building.
The council decided unanimously to go ahead and pursue a Community Development Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation for $2.1 million that would provide a pavilion, upgrades to utilities, new bathrooms and storage along with landscaping for the James Street Plaza that stretches from Ludington Avenue to Court Street. The local match for the grant is $235,910.
Following a presentation by Heather Tykoski, the city’s community development director, the council hosted a public hearing where differing opinions on the approval of the James Street Plaza took place. Some, like Dick Paul, Lyla McClelland and Kathy Maclean all spoke in favor of the plaza. While Paul and McClelland provided historical perspective, Maclean said she was in support of the work on the plaza.
“One of the reasons we purchased our building is because the plaza was there,” said Maclean, co-owner of Spindrift Cyclesports with her husband Dave. “It’s the center of our downtown, and we decided to put our money where our mouth is. We put a store there, and the plaza is a part of why we did that.”
Tom Tyron, Tom Rotta and Diane Seelhoff all spoke in opposition to the plaza to varying degrees. Seelhoff said investment could be done elsewhere in the city, and Tyron expressed concern about stretching the maintenance of things the city has too thin.
“There’s nothing wrong with the existing plaza,” Tyron said. “I don’t see the need for $2 million to further cost you people in terms of maintenance.”
Once a motion was made and seconded, various council members asked Tykoski questions about the project itself. She said the maintenance costs already associated with the plaza could climb because portions of it are wearing out. She cited the bathrooms and the bricks that were bought as donations as already trouble areas for the plaza.
Rehabilitation of rentals
The council also heard comments during a public hearing as the city was fiduciary in the pursuit of a Community Development Block Grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to assist in the renovation of three buildings to create a total of 12 apartments — four in each.
The buildings — at 119 W. Ludington Ave. where Grateful Heart and Home is located, at 212 W. Ludington Ave. where Sloany’s is located, and 327 S. James St. where Victoria’s Jewelry is located — would all be allowed to receive a part of the grant.
The city is seeking $720,000 in grants with a local match of $555,445 in local matches generated by private funding.
Mclean again spoke in favor of this grant while Seelhoff opposed it. However, much of the discussion, once the motion was on the table, centered around a previous Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) for the building at 327 S. James St.
Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster explained that there are a handful of projects that seek, and even obtain, several different tax breaks and grants to get their work off of the ground.
“Take the Wolverine building at Harrison and Rowe,” he said. “We all realize the construction costs for work is obscene. It’s not uncommon for these to be stacked in the way they are.”
After further discussion, the council unanimously approved the pursuit of the grant.
Foster expressed his concern over a potential inability to fill a supervisor of the water treatment plant. He said his colleague, who is the city manager at Sault Ste. Marie, has a similar position open, and that city did not have a single candidate apply because of the necessary licensing.
As a part of his report, there were two items in the regards to an appeal of FOIA requests. One was from Dingeman & Dancer, representing Keith Kolfage and Suzette Hodges-Kolfage. The council voted to deny the appeal of a FOIA request, and then decided to make an exemption to give what the firm was seeking. Part of the request was the preliminary minutes of a zoning board of appeals meeting — which is already published on the city’s website — as well as an audio recording of the meeting.
The second appeal stems from the closed sessions from the Nov. 25 and Dec. 9, 2019, meetings where Tom Rotta is seeking the minutes of each of those sessions. The closed sessions were called so the council and its attorney could discuss settling a previously filed lawsuit with Rotta and Seelhoff.
The city, on Nov. 25, had a quorum of four members, but was one short of a majority of the body to go into closed session. Two weeks later, and with the appropriate number of councilors present, the council went into closed session on Dec. 9.
The council voted to not approve Rotta’s appeal, and it will force Rotta to sue the city and have a court to compel the city to bring the minutes of each of those sessions into open records.
“Even if we rule that the Nov. 25 meeting (was incorrect), it’s still going to take a lawsuit to compel the minutes,” said councilor Joe Lenius. “Why not let the courts make the decision? We’ve got the meter running (on legal fees adding up). Let’s let it lie and whatever happens, happens.”
In other business, the council:
• approved a professional services agreement with Prein & Newhof for the James Street Plaza Project;
• approved the adoption of an ordinance to regulate the parking and storage of recreational vehicles on city streets;
• approved the adoption of an ordinance to establish a fee for cemetery deed transfers as well as the approval of setting the deed transfer fee at $50 each.