City retains special counsel for marijuana petitions

Following a request by City Attorney J. Patrick O’Malley, Three Rivers City Commissioners voted Monday to retain special counsel regarding two marijuana-related petitions. O’Malley said the firm of Miller Canfield is handling a number of such petitions around the state, which would place permitting marijuana establishments in cities on local November election ballots.

O’Malley said the petitions were submitted last week. One petition proposes a city ordinance measure, while the other proposes a city charter amendment. After the statewide electorate voted in 2018 to allow the sale and distribution of marijuana, the City Commission in 2019 adopted an ordinance prohibiting it within the city. 

O’Malley said the submissions were last-minute, which he believes was intentional because other municipalities have reported similar submissions. State law specifies procedures and timelines for such petitions. If it challenges the ordinance petition, the commission must conduct a special meeting on August 11. The charter measure, which requires more signatures, has a longer timeline. 

The City’s Board of Election Commissioners, which include the city clerk, treasurer, and attorney, reviews petitions for compliance with rules affecting validity, including signatures, format, and other issues. Due to the time frame, and in order to help protect the city from potential lawsuit liability, O’Malley asked to have Miller Canfield assist.

Lockport Water and Sewer Agreement Authorized

The commission also approved a proposed agreement between the city and Lockport Township in which the city would provide water and sewer services to a former shopping center property under development by Clark Logistics on North Main Street. The township will vote to approve the measure at its own regular meeting on August 10.

According to Mayor Tom Lowry, “Clark Logic is willing to make a payment equivalent to city taxes on order to get these services. As long as we do that, I’m very OK with this.” The property sits immediately outside the city line. 

The city would still have to reach a service agreement with Clark Logistics, which City Manager Joe Bippus said would detail installment and operating costs, whether the city would provide a hookup at the property line or run lines to buildings, and other responsibilities. O’Malley said township ordinances will still apply to the property, and the owner will still pay township taxes. “This is a special circumstance, and not a precedent for future (service) outside the city,” he said.

Lowry said the arrangement came about because “the township has not been willing to work with Clark Logic. They threw it back in our court, and we have to help a major contributor to this community.”

Property Sale Resolution Filed

Bippus said city staff are negotiating with a developer, Allen Edwin, to sell 4 acres of city-owned property on Garfield Court for a 10-house development. The property is near The Meadows housing development and the Armstrong youth sports complex.

Commissioners voted Monday to place a resolution in support of the sale on file for 30 days. City staff are in the process of negotiating a separate buy/sell purchase agreement, which must be ready before the commission can proceed with the sale. Bippus said the price is tentatively set at $35,000, but that and other details are yet to be finalized.

Specific details would include utility service and connection arrangements and potential tax forgiveness. O’Malley said there is currently a special assessment in place of roughly $32,000, which paid to bring utilities to the property under a previous development proposal. The developer has requested that be cleared at the time of sale, with purchase monies applying toward paying it off. Garfield Court, which would become a city street, is also currently not paved.

First District Commissioner Pat Dane and At-Large Commissioner Clayton Lyczynski II suggested the buy/sell agreement might include a commitment to follow through with the development. Lyczynski suggested a “stipulation that if they don’t move forward and we put in water and sewer, they become responsible for that.”

Lowry said at proposed rental prices of $1,600 to $1,800, the housing would be the priciest in Three Rivers. He said there is a market to support that. Bippus said manufacturers are hiring employees who have trouble finding places to live and end up in Kalamazoo or Portage.

Allen Edwin previously built 20 houses in the Meadowbrook Farms subdivision and is now building out its remaining planned lots there. Bippus said there is an agreement in place with the city to help pay for its sewer lines.

New Ambulance Purchase to Move Forward

Commissioners approved a new 2020 MEDIX Type III ambulance, which Fire Chief Jeff Bloomfield said replaces a 2014 Type II. “This is a backline unit that’s just kind of become obsolete over the last seven years,” Bloomfield said. “Generally, because of mileage and the trips to Kalamazoo, we only get about two and a half years out of a frontline unit. So, this will actually help us to be able to get more years out of it.”

Because the new ambulance matches others in the fleet, Bloomfield said it can be rotated between frontline and backline service, which he hopes will bring lifespan for the entire fleet closer to three years.

The purchase, previously budgeted at $130,000, comes in at $123,679. Fourth District Commissioner Carolyn McNary said, “our fire department and our EMT guys do a great job here and I am always in support of upgrading. They don’t seem to do things unnecessarily. It’s always for a big impact and benefit to our community.”

Construction Contracts Approved

Under a Michigan Department of Transportation grant, a rough, worn section of Fourth Street is being rebuilt. Commissioners awarded a construction contract to Northern Construction Services Corp. for $595,735, and a construction engineering contract to Fleis and Vandenbrink for $106,000. The project is previously budgeted under street and water funds, but combined costs require using roughly $14,000 from the street fund balance and $36,000 from the water fund. 

Department of Public Services Director Amy Roth said work will include paving the street in solid concrete, similar to Day Drive. The work will also attempt to match the grade of the railroad crossing in the construction area. 

As part of a statewide mandate that must be funded locally, Roth predicted that another change order may be forthcoming on the project. She said often street work reveals that newer galvanized water mains still have lead pipes providing the house connections. If that proves the case, those lead pipes will be replaced.

McNary Thanks Bippus, Bringman

McNary expressed thanks to Bippus and Chief of Police Tom Bringman for help in addressing recent vandalism of the “Black Lives Matter” mural on Broadway Street.

“Right now, this one is very touchy, very emotional,” McNary said. “I appreciate the city showing support to the group that was responsible for putting the Black Lives Matter sign on the ground. A couple of people called me and said the city was really working with them, and that’s good. That’s holding up the resolution that we all agreed that we would have. I just want to thank you, Joe, for being present. You were present for that. Thank you.”

Dave Vago is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice. A Philadelphia native with roots in Three Rivers, Vago is a planning consultant to history and community development organizations and is the former Executive Director of the Three Rivers DDA/Main Street program.

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