12-05-2019 Watervliet City Commission/ZBA sets parking requirements for religious organizations; For

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Watervliet City Commission/ZBA sets parking requirements for religious organizations

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet City Commission, which, by charter, also serves as the Zoning Board of Appeals met to determine the parking requirements for religious organizations as it is not currently determined by ordinance. Prompted by a land use request to put a church in a current empty building on Main Street, a look at the ordinance determined that it lacked specifications for parking space requirements for such a use.

A meeting was held on December 3, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. for the sole purpose of determining those specifications that will then be forwarded on to the Planning Commission.

Pastor Justin VanFerrari with the Freshwater Community Church told the Commission that Freshwater Community Church does plan to someday create a community center to fit the community’s needs in addition to making their church home here. In his research he stated there are about 30 buildings in the downtown area that in total have approximately 375 downtown public parking spaces available. VanFerrari said that that figure does not include the city hall, fire department, library, or other church parking lots. He noted that in the vision for the downtown area, the City sees over 600 parking spots in their future. They hope to be a part of a boosted downtown area where a need for extra parking spots, because of all the activity, is a good thing, a good problem to have.

Bob Lohr, the contracted Zoning Administrator for the City of Watervliet made it clear that the schedule for parking requirements lists a lot of things, however fraternal or religious institutions are left off. Without knowing when the ordinances were put into effect, it is unknown why the governing body at that time neglected to address it. It specifically lists parking requirements for retail stores, banks, automobile service stations, bowling alleys, restaurants, furniture and appliance stores, and theaters to name just a few.

Commissioner Deah Muth asked if the building in discussion used to be a movie theater, how did they make it work then. Lohr guessed that they either didn’t adhere to the ordinance, or maybe it wasn’t even around then. The requirement for a movie theater is one parking space provided for each four seats; in addition one parking spot had to be provided for each employee.

Several of the Commissioners seemed to lean towards community service uses such as an auditorium. That requirement states that one parking space shall be provided for each three auditorium seats. Adequate space shall also be provided for buses used in connection with the activities of the institution, and all loading and unloading of passengers shall take place upon the premises.

Commissioner Jennifer Helms expressed that her concern was not Sunday but days when the community was up and running. VanFerrari stated that the maximum capacity for the facility was 300 people. They currently have about 100 adults and kids that attend service on Sunday.

The church started in Coloma in 2010. Over the past nine years they have been meeting in the Coloma Middle School building. They are seeking to move into the property at 115 N. Main St. The building has both large and small spaces that will allow for multi-purpose usage. At past public meetings, VanFerrari said that they anticipate about $170,000 in renovations that will be done in phases. Up first would be a new roof, an update to the exterior of the building and then focusing on the smaller side before the larger side. They had hoped to get the roof done before winter sets in.

The Planning Commission has been considering their special land use permit which would allow for the church; however the parking issue was passed on to the Zoning Board of Appeals for consideration.

As the ZBA, the City Commission declared that fraternal and religious institutions must have one parking spot for every three seats in their facility. They will pass that on to the Planning Commission who will then make a recommendation back to the City Commission. Ultimately, the City Commission will either approve or turn down the special land use permit.

Engineering Projects Update

Several employees with Wightman & Associates were on hand at the December 3 Watervliet City Commission meeting to provide a City-wide Asset Management Plan update. The Commission approved the proposal from Wightman & Associates in March to develop the City’s Asset Management Plan, conduct an infiltration analysis, and work toward a USDA Rural Development loan application.

Alan Smaka told the Commission that the South Watervliet Drain project was currently in the hands of the Berrien County Drain Commissioner. It is expected that the project will be bid out in the spring. The estimated $2.5 million project will be funded by the property owners, Watervliet City, Watervliet Township, the Berrien County Road Department, and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A lengthy discussion was held about the Sanitary System Infiltration and Inflow project. Studies completed thus far show that the City is paying about $90,000 for clean water that is being treated due to inflow and infiltration; however, sewer videos reveal that the actual infiltration that is coming from pipes and manholes is minimal. This puts a lot more pressure on the need to get the in-home audits conducted. City Manager Tyler Dotson confirmed the need to get this portion of the study done, however current workload of the Public Works Department is making it difficult to get this accomplished.

Dotson recommended to the City Commission that they outsource this service. At the same time, they could gather the data needed to assist the City in tackling the lead and copper elimination that is being led at the state level. Dotson said with a completed home audit they can look for sump pumps connected to the sanitary system, roof drains that are connected to the system, and fresh water getting into cracked lines.

With that, they know that they will have to help the residents with creative solutions for other ways to handle the water. They will have to make changes to the ordinances accordingly so this type of action is not allowable. While Dotson recognizes that there will be costs up front to do this, he confirms that they will save in the end. Smaka confirmed that the costs for the outsourced services could be reimbursed by the USDA loan when the City goes after it. The City hopes to complete the USDA application for infrastructure improvements this spring.

As Dotson continues to look at grant funding sources for city-wide improvements, the team at Wightman assisted him with applying for an EPA Grant. The grant, in the amount of $170,000 can be used for identification of ground hazardous or petroleum substances. Having this type of information available will help when the City is trying to attract developers. It requires no matching funds. They should know in the spring if they are awarded the grant or not.

2020 meeting schedule

After some back and forth on the meeting schedule for the City Commission, that body approved their 2020 schedule which shall remain as is currently.

The City Commission had historically met on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month with one being a meeting and one being a workshop. It was determined that Commissioner Bill Whitney, who also serves on the Watervliet Fire Department, had conflicts with that schedule due to his fire department trainings and/or meetings. With that in mind, the City Commission changed their schedule to the first and third Tuesdays.

This continued to cause an issue as the Watervliet Joint Fire Board meetings were held on the third Tuesday and so the second meeting of the month for the City Commission, if needed, was bounced around to try and find a date that would accommodate the majority.

At last month’s meeting Mayor Dave Brinker brought up the subject and suggested that it should go back to the historical calendar, however he since changed his mind. Brinker said at the Tuesday, December 3 meeting that he had had discussions with Whitney and he found a schedule that he thought would work. He recommended that they leave the meeting schedule with the first Tuesday, and the third Tuesday would be reserved if needed. This will eliminate the jumping around of the second meeting. Brinker announced that he was going to try and get the Fire Board to change their meeting to the 3rd Wednesday as he felt that would help to eliminate any future conflicts.

The City Commission also approved the 2020 city employee holiday calendar that will eliminate Veterans Day as a holiday and add the Friday before Labor Day as the replacement. This move will give city employees a four day weekend. Dotson said that changes would be made to the water bill due dates if needed to accommodate the change.

Parks and Recreation plan Public Hearing

As the City Commission is in the process of updating their Parks & Recreation 5-Year Plan with Abonmarche, it is necessary to hold a public hearing for the purpose of soliciting public input on the draft plan. The draft plan is expected to be available on December 6.

The plan must be available for 30 days prior to the public hearing, which can be held during a regular meeting.

With that, the City Commission will hold the public hearing on their 5-Year Parks & Recreation Plan at their Tuesday, January 7, 2020 meeting at 6:00 p.m.

City Assessor Contract renewed

The City of Watervliet currently contracts with Dave Roenicke for assessing services. The current contract expired at the end of October. Dotson and Roenicke had agreed to a continuation of the current contract, following a recent successful audit with the State of Michigan and based on his satisfactory service. Dotson recommended the renewal of the contract.

Roenicke will be paid $14,100 annually for the first year of the contract, followed by $14,400 and $14,700 respectively. For that he shall provide no less than 104 regular hours and 250 property re-assessment hours. His office hours are every other Friday from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. His schedule will be modified to provide more intense assistance during peak periods.

Former Hartford Mayor Ted Johnson passes at 83

By Jon Bisnett On Friday, Nov. 29, the City of Hartford lost its longest seated mayor as Ted Johnson quietly passed away at his home, leaving behind a legacy of public service that speaks to the nature of the husband, father, community leader and the man. Mayor Ted Johnson 1936-2019

This reporter first met a guy known to me as “Mr. Johnson” with a coach’s whistle around his neck some 50 years ago when a barely 30-year-old Ted Johnson coached the 4th grade Watervliet Oilers youth basketball team. He wasn’t any Tom Izzo, nor I a Michael Jordan, but riding herd over a bunch of unruly grade-schoolers to turn them into a team strikes me now as an early example of the pattern of volunteerism and community service that would define Ted’s future years. Moving to Hartford in 1971, it wasn’t long before Ted found a seat on the local Fire Board, leading to Planning Commission, City Commission and first elected to the office of Mayor in 1980. Johnson served through 1985 and then sought the seat again in 1996, serving until 2017. During his time in the first chair of the city, Johnson presided