The Rapidian

City commissioners discuss development of old schools, single-stream recycling

On January 24, the Grand Rapids City Commission had their bi-monthly meeting. The agenda included single-stream recycling and Brownfield Plans for several schools.
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/Nancy Finney

The city commission meeting on January 24, 2012 discussed several ordinances and public hearings.

Public Comment

Many citizens addressed the commissioners during the first open comment period. Concerns voiced by citizens included single-stream recycling bins and redevelopment of vacant Grand Rapids Public Schools buildings.

Ordinances to be Adopted

The first ordinance was to amend a section of the salary ordinance for the Association of Public Administrators of Grand Rapids. First Ward Commissioner Dave Shaffer explained, "This will reorganize departments using a private sector model of business for efficiency." This ordinance received a unanimous go-ahead from the commissioners.

The second ordinance on the agenda amended section one of the budget. Second Ward Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss explained this was in regards to public service and refuse funds. In order to have the single-stream refuse bins, a larger initial investment must be made and money from the general fund needs to be used to afford the bins. First Ward Commissioner Walt Gutowski expressed his concern for this initiative stating that "abandoning bags and tags may cause hardship for some residents."

The City Manager, Greg Sundstrom, explained that two approaches could be used for the bins. The city could take a loan over five years and borrow 2 million dollars at a 2% interest rate from the county or they could borrow internally from the transformation fund with a hearty return back to the general fund. Second Ward Commissioner Ruth Kelly stated that some refuse service employees have identified the people in the community that struggle with the large bins go out of their way to obtain bins from residents that are unable to do so alone. Citizens that addressed the Commissioners during public comment explained they have difficulty moving the bins to the street, and are worried about their cars. Some residents feel a one-size-fits-all approach isn't best for trash pick-up. Kelly explained, "There are still issues and they'll be worked out." This ordinance moved forward with a vote of 4-2 (both First Ward Commissioners voted against it).

Public Hearings

Proposals from members of the community that want to make changes (such as developers) happen during the public hearing time. This allows a chance for both commissioners and the public to hear potential plans for their community.

The first hearing was to consider the renovation project plan for the Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic of Grand Rapids, Aquinata Hall located at 153 Lakeside Drive NE. They addressed the Commissioners explaining that the building already was gutted and will provide more residential space which would create new jobs for the area.

The following four hearings were to amend Brownfield Plans for several Grand Rapids Public Schools. All of the properties would be developed by Bruce Michaels, of Ojibway Development, LLC. He has presented his initiatives in the past to the commission. He would like to renovate the following properties and transform them into apartments: Eastern Avenue Elementary School (758 Eastern Avenue NE), Lexington School (45 Lexington Avenue NW), Oakdale School (944 Evergreen Street SE) and Stocking Elementary School located (863 Seventh Street NW). The developer wants to renovate them utilizing adaptive-reuse techniques andconvert them into affordable housing. He also intends to register them with the National Historic register and gift the parks next to the schools as land for the community. He intends to have development commence mid-summer.

The Commissioners expressed a variety of concerns about these projects including funding sources, parking, and architecture. Commissioner Shaffer asked, "How have your projects in other cities impacted the community positively or negatively?" Commissioner Gutowski explained: "We'd rather have a school." Commissioner Bliss asked, "Who will pay the price when something goes under?" The hearings brought a variety of residents to the stand both for and against the possible development plans for the schools in their community.

Public Comments

The meeting ended with the Mayor's Youth Council addressing the Commission about youth employment and its importance for Grand Rapids. 

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