NATIONWIDE RESPONSE… Watervliet Middle School teachers Jason and Amy Oetjens pictured here were picked from thousands of emails sent to the actress Kristen Bell. Kristen Bell chooses a teacher to feature from emails sent to her each Friday on her Instagram page. Jason and Amy Oetjens were the first teacher couple and the first from Michigan, Kristen’s home state, to be featured on her page. They were asked to create a wish list for their classrooms, students, and school. The Oetjens were overwhelmed by the response of people from all over the country that donated to their classrooms and students. From their wish list they were able to get supplies for their classrooms, students and start a hygiene closet at the Watervliet Middle School.
Watervliet considers ordinance amendment for restricting size of accessory buildings;
Homeowner questions motive of Commission in light of so many City properties in disrepair
By Annette Christie
The Watervliet City Commission took their first stab at an ordinance amendment that would restrict the size and dimensions of accessory structures at their Tuesday, April 23 meeting. First brought up at a meeting earlier this month, the discussion began after a resident built an accessory building (pole barn) that seemed too large for the neighborhood according to some.
At the April 2 business meeting of the City Commission, Mayor Dave Brinker said that he would like to see additional restrictions on the types of accessory structures that are allowed within the city limits. Among the changes being considered was a limitation on the height of 14’ and a maximum size of 1,000 sq. ft. The structures are limited in use to storage used by the home owners and may not be used for any type of business, service or industry. Brinker worked with Zoning Administrator Bob Lohr on some suggested changes to the ordinance.
The ordinance amendment presented stated: “Any separate building or attached portion of the principal building which is intended for and used to store the private passenger vehicle(s) of the family or families resident on the premises, and in which no business, service or industry connected directly or indirectly with the automotive vehicle or structure is carried on. No accessory structure serving a single-family residence within any Residence District will exceed 1,200 square feet in area or possess an overall height of 16 feet. Accessory structures serving multiple family buildings having two or more garage areas connected within one block or structure shall limit the size of the vehicle parking to an area of no more than 14 feet by 22 feet.”
Once it was opened up for comment, city resident Rick Rasmussen told the City Commission that after he found out what the potential change was that was going to be presented, he started to look at different sizes of accessory buildings in and around the area. He said he thought that the restrictions of accessory buildings should be no bigger than 900 sq. ft. and no higher than 14 feet high.
John LaRatta asked of the City Commission who are they to say what people can do with their property. While he commented that his garage may have ticked some people off, he suggested that the City Commission should be more concerned about all the dilapidated houses, foreclosed homes, and structures with blue tarps over them versus telling people that are actually making improvements on their homes and property, what to do with their property. He noted that he has made a lot of improvements to his home since 2016 and he doesn’t just do a patch job here or there, he wants it to look nice. “My garage is not an eye sore, it is not hurting anything,” LaRatta said.
Brinker commented in response that the city does have to have some sort of structure. “You are trying to do things better, you don’t want to have someone with junk cars next door, there is a reason why we do these things. We have to come up with what’s allowed or not,” Brinker said.
City resident Robert Pelton said that he would like to see the ordinance amendment state that the exterior finish of the accessory building matches the exterior finish of the home. He stated that this helps to keep it looking like a home versus an industrial building and then it blends with the principal residence.
Brinker noted that the City Commission has heard citizen discussion and that he would like to hear a motion on the table before the City Commission began discussing it.
Commissioner Jennifer Helms made the motion to accept the ordinance amendment as amended, not to exceed 1,000 sq. ft and not to exceed 14 feet in height. Commissioner Luke Strunk supported the motion.
Commissioner Bill Whitney said of LaRatta, “I think he made a fine point, we shouldn’t be telling people what to do with their property if it is done in fine taste. I think 1,200 sq. ft. is small.”
Commissioner Michael Bumstead said he felt that a 1,200 sq. ft. maximum was close to adequate, or it could be a little more. “I walked by the area, I totally agree that as long as it looks great, I don’t see a problem with it. If I had the room and the money I would do it,” Bumstead said.
Strunk commented that Watervliet is a city and that they should want to keep their subdivisions in that kind of feel. “You move into the city for the community. Don’t want to block view for your neighbors because they wanted to live in a community also,” Strunk said.
When the motion on the table was voted on, it failed by a 3-2 no vote. Brinker, Bumstead, and Whitney voted no.
Brinker said they will continue to tweak the ordinance amendment to get it where it can be passed.
The business of recreational marijuana
City Attorney Jessica Fette was on the agenda to bring the City Commission up to speed on the recreational marijuana legislation that was passed by Michigan voters.
Fette said that one of the differences between medical marijuana and recreational marijuana was that with recreational marijuana, municipalities have to opt out with the passage of an ordinance stating so, or businesses involved in recreational marijuana can assume that you are opting in.
Since the passage of the legislation last November, the State of Michigan has until December to get all the regulations in place. The new governor is pushing to have it done sooner.
While the City Commission didn’t seem to be leaning either way, Fette wanted to make sure they understand that if they for sure do not want recreational marijuana businesses in the city then they should opt out. She said the option was always there to opt in, if down the road they chose to do that. If they were to opt in however, Fette said that they would want to have an ordinance in place that has all the where, what, and how many questions answered. “I would encourage you to start talking now about which direction you want to go,” Fette said.
She made it clear that there are certain restrictions and rules outlined in the legislation that covers a person’s individual use of recreational marijuana in their home and these things are not within the City leaders reach to change or control. They can however, control the business aspect of it in their community.
Commissioner Helms inquired as to what would occur if they chose to opt in. Fette said the process would likely begin with her creating a draft ordinance. That would then be reviewed by city officials and tweaks can be made along the way until they have reached a document that is found to be favorable. She said an application process would also be established with this.
The city manager touched again on the number of vacancies on the city’s Planning Commission and DDA. With the large number, Dotson said he felt that this allows the city a great opportunity to re-tool and look at what they would like their Planning Commission to look like in the future.
While an application previously existed, Dotson had a revised document prepared for the commission to review; a document that Dotson said would allow them to gather more information about the interested parties that they could use as a recruiting tool. “This will help us find the right people in the right position to make the right decision,” Dotson said.
The city will begin advertising in several places for the vacancies. Interested parties may pick up an application at City Hall or they may apply on line.
Dotson touched on this process a little bit at the first meeting in the month of April. He said he wanted to do more quarterly advertising. With this they can maintain a viable applicant pool to keep the positions filled.
Coloma and Watervliet Easter Egg Hunts brings a crowd, royalty and the Easter Bunny to the fun
EGG HUNT… Four- to six-year-olds run to collect eggs at the Coloma FOP Easter egg hunt in Coloma on a cold, but sunny, Saturday. Four fields allowed over 100 children up to 12 years to compete safely. This was a “tuck-n-go” event with no Easter baskets – children just tuck found eggs in their shirts and keep on going. Area Kings and Queens were on hand to pass out prizes, and the Easter Bunny also came to play. The egg hunt and “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny” was a joint effort of Coloma FOP and Coloma Lions Club. (TCR photo by Teresa Smithers)
EASTER BUNNY HIGH FIVE… The Easter Bunny, played by Lisa Streu of the Coloma LEO Club, interacts with children at Saturday’s “Breakfast with the Easter Bunny” sponsored by the Coloma FOP and Lions Club. (TCR photo by Teresa Smithers)
“EGG”CITED… Mia Eisenman, 2, excitedly eyes another egg at the Easter egg hunt in Watervliet. Her parents are Mark and Ashley Eisenman. Her grandfather, Don Fulton, is a member of the Watervliet Lions Club. The club sponsors the annual event. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)
TWO HANDED… Felicity Adams, 3, of Watervliet gets two more eggs at the Lion’s Club Easter Egg Hunt in Hays Park Saturday morning, to fit into her Easter basket. She is the daughter of Kevin and Kim Adams. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)
SEE IT… Addison Wells, 3, of Watervliet shows off one of the Easter eggs she collected during the Watervliet Lions annual event held Saturday at Hays Park. Her parents are Randy and Kayla Wells. (TCR photo by Annette Christie)
EGGS AND CROWNS… Watervliet Royalty was on hand for the annual Watervliet Lion’s Club Easter Egg Hunt at Hays Park on a beautiful Saturday morning. Pictured are (from the left) Natalie Wesaw Miss Congeniality, Hannah Yerington Miss Watervliet 2019, Charlotte Weber Little Miss Firecracker, Emma Yazel 1st Runner-up, and Emma Kraklau 2nd Runner-up.