Flint, MI– During a long virtual meeting, the Flint City Council held multiple public hearings on amendments to the zoning code, street vacations, and the creation of an assessment relief board.
But in the course of seven and a half hours, they didn’t get to the actionable agenda items.
One of those agenda items was a $500,000 contract extension for Rowe Professional Services, the company handling project management for the service line replacement project.
In a press release sent out on April 13, Mayor Sheldon Neeley criticized the council for postponing this item again, as it has been on the council agenda since February. In March, Neeley called on the council to approve this extension.
According to the release, Rowe notified the City that their work on the project has stopped.
“It is unconscionable for our work to be stalled when so many have been negatively impacted by lead contamination,” Neeley said in the release. “This is blatant filibustering designed to delay and distract us from moving our community forward. People should always be placed over politics. I am calling on all City Council members to do the right thing and approve this contract to protect the health, safety, and welfare of our residents.”
There were nine public hearings scheduled for the council meeting on April 12. For each hearing, members of the public could call in and speak on the subject of the hearing for up to ten minutes, and many of them used all the time they were given.
By the time the council reached the end of the public hearings, it was 11:30 p.m. They voted to recess the rest of the agenda items to Wednesday, following the budget hearings during the day.
The ordinance documents for each hearing can be viewed here. Here’s what the hearings were about, and what the public had to say:
Ordinances to amend the Zoning Chapter of the City Code
The Zoning Code is being updated in accordance with the Imagine Flint Master Plan as the old code was last updated in 1974. Six of the public hearings were related to ordinances amending articles in this chapter.
The amendments are primarily to change the zoning districts names and definitions to align with the master plan. The first article is being changed to provide a new introduction to the chapter explaining the title, purpose, and scope of the Zoning chapter. The second article establishes the 17 zoning districts, and the details and definitions of each new zoning district are in the articles that follow.
“So when we talk about residential zoning districts now, we are no longer going to be talking about A-1, A-2, we’ll be talking about green neighborhoods, low density and there’s different density levels,” said Director of Planning and Development Suzanne Wilcox. “So, GN-1, Green Neighborhood One, is low density, Green Neighborhood Two is medium density,” and so forth, she said.
The new zoning district names include: Green Neighborhood, Traditional Neighborhood, and Mixed-Residential for residential zoning districts. For commercial zoning districts, names include: Neighborhood Center, City Corridor, Downtown-Edge, and Downtown-Core. Employment districts names would be: Commerce and Employment, Production Center, and Green Innovation-High Intensity. For institutional/innovation districts, names are: Institutional Campus, University Core, and Green Innovation-Medium Intensity. Open space districts are just labeled Open Space.
Chris Del Morone called in to speak on the ordinance, and said it was important to recognize that this was more than just changing the name of these districts.
“It’s not just a matter of semantics and changing words, it is the change, because those words that you’re changing it to, have a definition to them,” he said. “And that definition is what will be allowed under the new name change. So don’t be hoodwinked on this…You need to consider that, you need to take this back to committee and have it vetted very well.”
Wilcox said Del Morone was correct, and that the following articles will get into all of those new definitions. You can view the proposed amendments to these articles here.
Street Vacations to build a welcome center for the Ruth Mott Foundation
There were two public hearings on street vacations for the purpose of building a welcome center as part of the Ruth Mott Foundation’s Applewood Master Plan. According to the ordinance, the welcome center would offer “year-round education, conference and exhibit spaces open to the community and broader access to the archives and collection materials that are part of the foundation.”
The streets that are being considered for vacation are Decker Street Between Robert T. Longway Boulevard and Kearsley Street, and Kearsley Street between Walnut and Robert T. Longway Blvd.
Resident Arthur Woodson called in and said Flint was being played “like the Sims.”
“You won’t even lower the water rates halfway for people here, but we always giving everybody else something for nothing,” Woodson said. “I mean, it’d be cool if you at least charge them for the street. You’re not even charging them anything.”
Del Marone said he thought because the Mott Foundation has given so much to Flint, the council should vote for this street vacation to give back to them. He also said he thought this would benefit the community, potentially bring jobs, and create a tourist destination. His only concern was traffic flow.
Create an Assessment Relief Board to assist people with property issues
The final public hearing was for an ordinance which would amend sections in Article I (Assessments) of Chapter 18 (Taxation, Funds, Purchasing) in the City Code. These amendments would create a Special Assessment Relief Board to relieve people from paying multiple fees for lots they cannot combine.
These proposed amendments were brought before the council in February as a legal solution to the issue some residents were experiencing as they tried to combine properties with a “brownfield” designation.
The proposed amendments include a section explaining that a “request for relief shall be made in writing and submitted to the assessment division of the department of finance and administrative services on or before May 1, of the year in which the special assessment is to be levied.”
The amendment says that the review board would then determine whether a grant of relief would be appropriate. If they deem it fair, the board can grant relief and waive the collection of “all or any portion of the special assessment from the property owner.” This would benefit residents, so they could be charged once as opposed to twice for special assessments on their properties.
Del Marone said he sees residents bring up this issue of assessments frequently to the Board of review.
“Most people who come before the Board of Review who have an adjacent lot to their property, their concern is that they don’t have to pay the second light fee assessment, special assessment,” he said.
He said he does not believe the properties can be combined due to an issue with bonds, but that this ordinance would allow them to get relief from having to pay two assessments as a result of being unable to combine the properties.
After public hearings ended, the council voted to postpone the rest of the agenda items, although not all members were in favor of this decision.
Councilman Maurice Davis encouraged his colleagues to get a cup of coffee and buckle down.
Councilman Eric Mays said he wouldn’t mind meeting another day of the week, but that long meetings are part of the job, and with nine public hearings on the agenda, it was no wonder that it went as long as it did.
But some councilmembers explained that they had to be up early for other jobs, or weren’t able to think as clearly so late into the night.
“Even though I certainly want to get the business of the city conducted, you have to be realistic,” Council President Kate Fields said. She said she’d rather work on the agenda items another night with a “fresh mind.”
The council voted 6-1 to recess the rest of the agenda items to Wednesday at 6 p.m.