TAWAS CITY – Tawas City Manager Annge Horning says there has been an influx in zoning applications, from those wanting to invest in their properties or pursue redevelopment.
Among other business during the Oct. 7 city council meeting, she said this is a great sign of the times. “However, it’s very time-consuming for staff.”
Aside from the applications, staff also have their hands full with such projects as rewriting the zoning ordinance and working toward Redevelopment Ready Communities certification.
Horning said she met with Mayor Ken Cook and Mayor Pro Tem Brian McMurray to discuss the increase in zoning and planning activity over the last couple of years, and options to reassign some of the related work load.
She explained that one route is to contract with Northeast Michigan Council of Governments (NEMCOG) to conduct site plan reviews for the city’s planning commission and zoning board of appeals (ZBA).
“The current out-of-region rate that is mentioned in the contract is $100 per hour, and most of the reviews take two to three hours,” she stated.
“For comparison purposes, in 2016 I received a quote from Carlisle Wortman Associates, Inc. and they charge $500 for a site plan review and an additional $300 if a special use is included with the application,” Horning continued. “Our schedule of planning and zoning fees already has language in place that allows us to recover the cost from the applicants.”
The current cost of a full site plan for a new development or addition is $180, plus any legal fees, professional fees, publications or mailings which the city incurs.
“If I have to have our attorney review something, they’re paying that attorney bill,” Horning said of the applicants. “So they would just pay this bill, in addition to their application fee to the city.”
She said that contracting for these services is something she would like to try, to see if it helps save some work for not only her, but also the office staff.
Councilman Mike Russo asked if these services would be utilized in every case, to which Horning said she believes anything involving a full site plan review or a special use request should go to NEMCOG.
But if a new business were to go into Brugger’s Plaza, for example, where only the use has to be approved, the parking is already established and so on, she said this is something that can easily be done in-house.
Horning – who also serves as the city’s zoning administrator – said she would ultimately like to hire an assistant zoning administrator to work on a part-time basis and start taking over some of these items.
“Even working on the zoning ordinance right now is a challenge, finding the time to do that,” she commented.
The contract between the two parties reads that NEMCOG will supply professional planning services upon request of the Tawas City Council, planning commission, ZBA or city manager. Requests for planning services must be transmitted to NEMCOG by the city manager.
A motion to enter into the planning services contract with NEMCOG was passed by officials in a 6-0 vote. Councilman Jon Studley was not in attendance.
In separate action, officials agreed to seek sealed bids for the sale of the footbridge located at the end of Ninth Avenue.
As reported, Horning asked the council back in August to start thinking of what should be done with the bridge – which spans Dead Creek and is situated near the former Tawas Area Middle School – as it is in bad shape and has been blocked off by the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Since then, she said that quotes were received from various contractors and the estimates total $14,500, which includes moving and resetting the bridge, sandblasting, mobilizing, primer, paint and lumber.
“The expense for the time, equipment, and benefits for our DPW employees to replace all the wood on the structure is estimated to be around $4,000,” Horning stated.
“I would like direction from the Council on how to proceed. We still have not received any complaints from anyone about the bridge being closed, but I did receive an inquiry from someone who is interested in putting a bid in on it if the City is planning to sell it,” she noted.
Horning said the repair estimates are assuming that the rivets of the structure are secure. There could be a bigger problem, such as an entire rebuild being needed, but this won’t be known until the bridge is taken apart.
Russo said that, generally speaking, it comes down to need versus potential expenditure. “If the desire to keep it isn’t necessarily there, why take on the added cost?”
“I completely agree,” said councilwoman Jackie Masich.
Russo said he was trying to think of where else the footbridge could be used potentially, if it were moved, but no other locations came to mind.
Horning pointed out that it wouldn’t be long enough to cross Tawas River, unless more work was done. “So it would have to be across Dead Creek somewhere but, again, is there a need anywhere?”
“I don’t know that there is,” said Russo.
The council agreed to have the bridge taken out, for the city to advertise it for sale and to request sealed bids. This would include removal of the structure by the purchaser, and the footbridge will be sold as is.
In other business, Horning reminded the council that it was during their Sept. 3 meeting when Russo – of Russo Engineering – presented recommendations for the wooden deck structures in Gateway Park and the kayak launch, to raise the decks 21 inches and place them above the water level.
“The Council decided to postpone any action pending a decision from our insurance carrier in reference to the damage to our structures along Lake Huron that was caused by high wind and wave action,” Horning stated.
“I just received confirmation from our insurance carrier this week that there will be no coverage for the damage. I would like the Council to authorize Russo Engineering to proceed with specifications for the work that needs to be done so we can bid the project at the beginning of 2020 with construction beginning as soon as the weather allows in the spring,” she went on.
Russo gave a quote of $3,900 to put together the specifications, and the council moved to have the company continue with the process. Russo abstained from the vote, due to financial conflict of interest.
In separate matters, officials also addressed the following:
• Voted to extend the fire protection agreement with Sherman Township for another three years, as the current agreement will expire Dec. 31, 2019.
“They pay us an equivalent of one mill of their taxable value, and that is what their fire millage is so, what they bring in, they turn around and give to us,” Horning explained.
• Were advised that the permits for the Tawas City Shoreline Park pier project have been submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The city is awaiting approval from these entities in order to move forward with bidding the project.
• Attended a tour and funding presentation at the Tawas Utilities Authority (TUA) plant in East Tawas, prior to the meeting, along with members of F&V Operations and the East Tawas City Council.
The TUA has some significant projects, in excess of $3 million, identified in its capital improvement plan. “The TUA Board has been completing some projects as funds allow, but would like to group several projects together and pursue funding opportunities through the State Revolving Fund,” Horning has explained.