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City Council approves recommendations from Planning Commission

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The New Buffalo City Council’s meeting on October 18 was short but tense at times, with much of the audience divided.

At a meeting last week, Councilmember Donna Messinger accused a city employee of making threats against her. City officials have not commented on the allegations, citing advice from city attorneys, but Messinger has indicated the comments were recorded and she had heard a copy of the tape she felt had been edited. Mayor Lou O’Donnell said on the advice of both attorney Sara Bell, who is investigating the recording, and attorney Mitt Drew, who spoke to the Council during the earlier meeting, no action would be taken and councilmembers would make no comment until an investigation has been concluded.

When the floor was opened to public comment, resident Susan Gotfried accused City Manager Rob Anderson of using the investigation to hide the recording.

During the meeting, the council recognized former mayor Pete Weber with a plaque for his work.

Based on recommendations from the Planning Commission the Council voted on two agenda items. The first, for a motion to vacate a portion of a platted street at 1603 E. Detroit Street. City Manager Rob Anderson explained to the Council that the land in question was “a very strange configuration” as the surrounding pieces of the platted land had been vacated years earlier but one portion had not been. He noted there was no recent appraisal of the land, but that was only required in cases where the city used public funds to obtain the vacated property. In this case, Anderson said, there was no indication that had happened. The council voted to approve the recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve the vacating of the street.

Again following the Commission’s recommendation, the Council voted to deny a plan for townhouses on North Barton Street. Anderson explained that the staff report found the developers were looking to build solely residential buildings in the mixed-use area. He added that if residents feel residential buildings are a better fit for the location, it may be best to change zoning.

The Council approved a DDA revenue sharing agreement presented by Anderson. The Downtown Development Authority is formed by volunteers from the community while Anderson said in other municipalities DDAs have paid staff. The agreement will put money into a TIF fund to be used for administrative costs associated with the DDA’s work.

The Council passed resolutions to approve the Galien River Sanitary District Refunding Contract and to support the National Park Service’s efforts to create a Lake Michigan Water Trail.

Prior to approving the evening’s agenda, the Council removed three items because minutes from previous meetings were not available in time for Tuesday’s meeting. Messinger asked why the minutes were not prepared in time and Mary Robertson said that the staff had been inundated with FOIA inquiries and other time-sensitive requests and had not been able to complete the minutes.

Councilmember Bob Spirito reported the Local Revenue Sharing Board had made its distributions earlier in the day and awarded $274,620.49 to the city. Anderson reported during the LRSB meeting there was discussion of the city’s decision not to apply for specific actual costs. Anderson also said without funding from the LRSB and The Pokagon Fund, the planned downtown project would be “very, very stripped down.”

Kevin Huber was sworn in as a member of the Local Officers Compensation Commission with a term ending May 2019.

O’Donnell noted if Huber is elected in November he will need to resign from the LOCC.

The Council all encouraged residents to vote in the November election.