Ask ELi: Rental Restrictions, Evaluating the City Manager, and the Dairy Store Reopening

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Raymond Holt for ELi

Young people enjoy some ice cream.

Today’s “Ask ELi” column covers questions we’ve gotten in response to our report on the state legislature moving to outlaw zoning-based rental prohibitions, about the City Manager’s annual evaluation, and about when the MSU Dairy Store might be reopening.

If the state legislation effectively outlawing East Lansing’s rental-restriction overlay districts becomes law, does that mean condo and homeowner associations can’t prohibit rentals?

No. The state legislation only affects zoning; it limits what municipalities (cities and townships) can do in terms of zoning. At its core, it says that Michigan cities like East Lansing can’t create special zoning districts in which owners of residential properties are prohibited from renting altogether.

Homeowners’ associations and condominium associations are created through private agreements, and are therefore not affected by this legislation in terms of prohibitions on rentals.

Who will decide whether the rental-restriction overlay districts in East Lansing are eliminated?

The state law will be decided by the usual process – going through the legislature and then, if passed by the legislature, going to the Governor for her signature. If she vetoes it, the legislature could try to overturn her veto.

There are two bills, one in the house (HB 4722) and one in the senate (SB 446). If you want to weigh in for or against this legislation by contacting the sponsors, click here to see the House bill’s sponsors, and click here to see the Senate bill’s sponsors.

Note that, if the state law doesn’t pass, the East Lansing City Council could still choose to alter or eliminate rental overlay districts with a vote of three members or more. If you want to express your opinion on rental overlay districts to City Council, you can write to council@cityofeastlansing.com.

The Mayor got back to us with his take on this state legislation.

Mayor Aaron Stephens had not responded to questions when we published our article about the rental overlay issue on Wednesday. Yesterday, he got back to us and had this to say:

“I am in strong opposition to House bill 4722 and the subsequent Senate bill 446. As the leader of a college town in Michigan, we have the difficult job of managing the influx of thousands of people during high traffic game days, graduations and more. Having control over the short term rental properties ensures safety for visitors staying within the city and the impact on our neighborhoods.”

A rental house in the Oakwood Historic Neighborhood, which has a blend of older owner-occupied and student-rental houses.

He continued, “Local governments continue to face attacks on our decision making ability. While dealing with a multitude of issues we need our state legislature giving us the tools and resources to be successful, not taking them away. Every city is different, every neighborhood is different, let the folks who are closest to the issue address it.” He added that he was working with people at the legislature this week on this issue.

When will the City Manager’s annual evaluation happen?

In Sept. 2020, although his contract was not up, City Manager George Lahanas’ contract was renewed for four years by a unanimous vote of the newly-reconstituted City Council: Mayor Stephens, Mayor Pro Tem Jessy Gregg, Lisa Babcock, Ron Bacon, and Dana Watson.

Two months earlier, the City had been roiled when Stephens, Gregg, and Babcock voted to fire the City Attorney and in response, Mayor Ruth Beier and Mark Meadows immediately resigned. That resignation led to the appointments of Bacon and Watson to Council, and then the five on Council decided to give Lahanas a new contract in a show of stability and appreciation of Lahanas.

At the time, Bacon said Council needed to formalize the review process by May 2022. He referred to that date because May 31, 2022, is the date the new contract sets as the earliest opportunity for a review of Lahanas.

Raymond Holt for ELi

City Manager George Lahanas at the Aug. 13, 2019, meeting of City Council.

However, both the prior and existing contract state that “each year…Council shall meet in closed session, at the Manager’s request, to discuss the performance of Manager during the prior year.” (See the new contract, and the changes made from the old contract, here.)

So, it appears that, because the contract says the review happens “at the Manager’s request,” if Lahanas doesn’t ask for an evaluation from Council, it won’t happen during the term of this contract.

So far, Council has not discussed performance metrics for the City Manager in public, and they have also not met in closed session for an evaluation of the City Manager’s contract. It’s not clear when Lahanas might ask for it, but as noted above, the earliest the contract calls for him to do so is after the next Council election in November 2021.

The seats of Stephens, Watson, and Bacon will be on November’s ballot. Stephens has said he will not run again, and Watson and Bacon are running for election. That means that if Lahanas asks for an evaluation, it will be under a different Council, at least as far as Stephens’ seat goes.

A reader wrote in: “Hi to you wonderful investigators! Can you get the inside scoop on the MSU Dairy Store? Why is it still closed? Why is there a very sad message on their voice mail apologizing that they will be closed indefinitely?? Did something happen other than just all the Covid issues? Politics?? Espionage? Embezzlement? Pres. Stanley hates ice cream? Please find the truth, and let us know how we can lobby for the immediate return of the Dairy Store! Thank you.”

ELi’s Managing Editor Emily Joan Elliott dropped a note to MSU’s spokesperson to ask about this, but we haven’t heard back yet. But just a few days after she asked, MSU Dairy Store posted a new note on social media saying, “We are excited that restrictions are beginning to lift and the safety of our employees and patrons can be addressed. Plans to reopen the MSU Dairy Store are underway, with a target of opening this fall, when students arrive back on campus.”

If you want to lobby for the immediate return of the Dairy Store, you could do something like starting a petition to MSU or asking the state government to enact a law withdrawing state funding from public institutions of higher learning that do not provide ice cream to the public this summer. We suppose you could also ask the Governor for an emergency order.

And, to answer one last reader question, yes, grown-ups do go to the Landshark.

Don’t forget, by the way, that there are great local businesses that offer delicious ice cream, gelato, and other treats, and they need your help to stay alive. Find our Spend Locally series here.

Have a question you want us to get answered? Contact us!

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