BRIDGMAN — Several hints of coming developments in Bridgman came to light during the Monday, Aug. 5, City Council meeting.
Topics covered ranged from the future of industrial tax abatements and a new arts welcoming center to a greater emphasis on the parks department and the fate of marijuana businesses in the city.
The first item on the agenda was a public hearing on the commercial rehabilitation tax abatement for B&L Information Systems, 4707 Rambo Rd., to facilitate its proposed $1.4 million upgrade and expansion project that will enable the creation of 15 new positions.
Owner Phillip Laney gave a brief history of the company, founded by his father in 1976, which produces advanced software systems for the metal casting industry. The company grew and expanded through three Lake Street location to its current facility where it has 37 employees, mostly in high-tech positions.
Laney was introduced by Cathy Tilley, business development manager for Cornerstone Alliance. The exemption lasts for 10 years and freezes the taxes collected at 2019 rates on the property until 2029.
Council Member Jan Trapani cast the only negative vote from the full council after questioning the need and wisdom of granting such tax abatements. She said Bridgman is a relatively small city that is starting to see some growth but is struggling to keep up with the costs of its aging infrastructure. She also said that due to Bridgman’s tight housing market, the city will likely not collect any additional property taxes as a result of the new jobs creation.
During discussion before the vote, other council members agreed that infrastructure funding is important but feel businesses, particularly long-term ones like B&L, also are an important part of the Bridgman community. Also cited was the need to be competitive with other communities in Michigan and other states.
City Manager Juan Ganum said most cities offer incentives for new and prospective businesses. He noted, however, that Bridgman typically grants the maximum benefit over the full 10-year period. He agreed with Trapani’s assessment that it is a challenge to keep up with infrastructure funding. At the end of the meeting, Trapani asked that future requests for abatements be studied to see if there can be a compromise so it becomes a winning situation for both sides.
Next on the agenda was a presentation by Bridgman Schools ninth grader Dylan Miller who presented his eighth-grade project that looked at a business building project needed in Bridgman. Art teacher Julie Bender introduced Miller who presented his plans for an art-focused visitors center with viewing rooms, seating and work space. He proposed the cost might be supplemented by a small entrance fee.
“You and I are on the same wave length,” Trapani told Miller, explaining she thinks such a center is needed but would like to see it expanded to include music, performing arts and maybe multi-media and movies.
A future with a greater emphasis on recreational programming and park management was realized when Ganum received approval to create an additional park management position for both a director and assistant director position, resulting in an additional $27,300 to the parks budget for a $6,700 deficit. He said the budget was conservative in its revenue projects and he feels confident increased revenues will more than make up the added cost.
Ganum said the proposal came to him after a panel interviewed two candidates from a field of 10, with each having complementary qualifications, one strong in recreational programming and the other in property management. He said the two-positions organization will allow for better coverage during the high season of April through October, facilitate the in-house management of the expanded year-round season for renting the Beach House and open time for grant writing to fund additional programs and equipment.
Although not on the agenda, the issue of the city’s position on allowing medical and recreational marijuana businesses arose when Mayor Vince Rose said the matter had come up at a joint meeting with Lake Township the previous Monday and he feels the city needs “to get the ball rolling” and make a decision.
He introduced Dr. Matthew Small, a family physician from Sister Lakes, and Debra Davino Patzer, Buchanan zoning administrator who oversaw that city’s three-year development of its ordinances which now allowing both uses. He also thanked the members of the Bridgman Planning Commission, which has been studying the issue, who attended.
City Attorney Sara Senica explained the city opted out of allowing commercial businesses until a there was further study. She recommended that the matter be addressed at a future meeting that is announced in advance so both sides can be heard. However, the discussion continued for another 30 minutes and included both guests, council members and the audience. Earlier in the meeting, Jim Janes, a Bridgman resident and fireman, read a prepared statement in which he said he spoke only for himself. He cited his extensive training on drug and alcohol enforcement and said he was totally against allowing marijuana businesses in the city.
At the end of the discussion, most agreed further discussion and the recommendation from the Planning Commission is needed. Chair Steve Parsons said the commission is participating in a webinar on the subject conducted by Michigan State University that will run through October.
In other business during the meeting, Senica reported the proposed ordinances on roadway solicitation by charitable organizations and the use of fireworks will have their first reading at the next meeting on Aug. 19. She said both followed state law, but allowed for local civil enforcement which is less time consuming and costly for all.
A committee to review and edit the 96 pages of revised employee handbook, the first since 2001, was named to include Council Members Stacy Stine, Trapani and Rick Fuller.
Rick Fuller said he was very pleased with the quick work done to stripe and improve signage at the three city crosswalks on Lake Street. He said he actually saw cars stopping for pedestrians. Fuller said he visited Toth Park and saw some improvements, particularly elimination of the graffiti, but said work still needs to be done. He also said he did not realize Brett Boyd and Classic Catering, not out-of-town businesses as he had thought, were the ones that erected the tents during events at Weko Beach and were in the process of repairs. He asked Ganum to be sure Boyd got the proper credit for his sponsorship of the free concerts.
Trapani asked that Ganum take more active role in pursuing the question of merging fire departments with Lake Township and Baroda City and Township, a matter that was raised at the joint meeting the previous Monday.
City Engineer Mary Nykamp reported that the cement aprons at the firehouse will be completed soon. She also said she will be following up to determine the cause of the drain leakage on Pine Street detected during the city’s recent smoke tests.
Lake Township Ambulance service was thanked by Council Member Linda Gedeon‐Kuhn, for their recent assistance with her friend. The service’s help was also noted in helping to contain damage from a recent fire at Bridgman High School.
Council Member Sarah Buist asked Ganum to again look into moving the sandbox from its current location in the parking lot on Lake Street.
Resident Jim Catania thanked the city for installing of blinking four-way stop signs at Lake and Church Streets, saying was a very wise $5,000 investment.
The board also approved a “housekeeping” amendment to the city’s agreement with Medic 1 subject to clarification that the current name of the Lakeland Medical Center be listed correctly.