NEW BUFFALO — The New Buffalo City Council on April 19 tabled taking action on a proposal to sell city land to the New Buffalo Area Schools its Building Trades Program.

The proposal is to sell a parcel that could accommodate three lots along Jefferson Street at Norton Street that has historically been used by City Department of Public Works as a material storage area for $15,000 to create “workforce affordable” housing within the school district and the city limits. Proceeds would be used to clean up and improve the looks of an existing yard still owned by the city.

Mayor John Humphrey said the property on Norton Street is currently being used as a storage yard for gravel, sand and similar materials.

He said if the Building Trades Program (which serves students from districts throughout Berrien County) is to continue it needs lots to develop future home projects.

“I think ethically as the city we’re responsible to contribute. I think it’s for the benefit of the kids that live and work here,” he said.

Council member Mark Robertson questioned selling three lots for $15,000 when similar ones are selling for $30,000 each in that part of town.

Humphrey said the discount is meant to keep the price affordable.

Councilman Lou O’Donnell IV said he thinks it’s likely the finished homes will be sold at market price and may end up being non-homestead. He also said the city is currently using the property and questioned the wisdom of selling it.

Ultimately the proposal was tabled by a 4-1 vote (with Humphrey casting “a hard no”).

City Manager Darwin Watson was asked to see if an appraisal of the property is required ahead of a sale before the next meeting.

In another New Buffalo Area Schools-related matter, the council approved (as part of the consent agenda) a special event application request for New Buffalo High School graduation to take place from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 6, at the football field (start time according to the district’s website is 8 p.m.). Rain date is June 7.

Also on April 19, the City Council voted 5-0 to have Northrop Assessing re-assess all commercial properties in town (at an approximate cost of $21,300) and report the resulting numbers to the county to be used in their tax rolls.

Some severe inconsistencies in the assessed values of commercial property in the city were mentioned.

Humphrey said there are “numerous properties that are selling for eight to 10 times the current assessed commercial value.”

The reassessments will not cause an immediate large tax increase for property owners because of state rules, but will ensure that a proper dollar value would be used when there is a change in ownership of a commercial parcel. New commercial construction also will be assessed.

O’Donnell asked why the city’s assessments haven’t kept up with property values, and later said it seems like a lot of work to re-assess everything now and get benefits only when individual properties sell. He later asked how to avoid having to do this again.

New Buffalo Assessor Shalice Northrop said a complete re-assessment is needed because the city can be de-certified for spot zoning or “chasing the sale.”

Northrop said sales of commercial properties in the city were down over the 2018-19 and 2019-20 periods and the county equalization department decreased values of those properties based on sales studies.

But she said a sales study for 2021 indicated the need for a 52-percent increase, so an appraisal study followed and that only allowed for a 2 percent increase.

Northrop said she plans to work closely with the county during the re-assessment process, which is expected to be completed by Feb. 1, 2022 ahead of the March Board of Review .

In another April 19 matter, the council unanimously approved contracts with two mobile concessionaires at the beach for 2021 – Lakeside Dog LLC (a hot dog cart) and Kona Ice.

City Manager Darwin Watson said Lakeside Dogs wishes to build a relationship with the city to someday expand its operations.

Anticipated annual revenues for the city are $2,250 (Lakeside Dogs on a one-year contract payable up-front) and $2,250 (Kona Ice on a one-year contract to be paid up-front).

City Manager Darwin Watson said Lakeside Dogs wishes to build a relationship with the city to someday expand its operations.

Police Chief Rich Killips, who recently served as interim city manger, said Kona Ice has proposed to operate with reduced hours this year (weekends and holidays) because they have been having a tough time getting employees.

In a written report to the Mayor and City Council, Parks Director Kristen D’Amico said the Parks Department has begun getting the beach ready for the season, adding that it looks like the entire boardwalk will be installed this season “as the water level has gone down considerably and we have gotten much of our beach back.” She also wrote the pay kiosks at the beach and boat ramp parking lots are up and running with new rates are installed.

“We have a new feature this year, boaters can now pay daily and season launch fees on the kiosk at the boat ramp. I am hoping this will help with some of the congestion both at the office and at the ramp.”

D’Amico reported that the boat ramp has been seeing a record number of users and its parking area is set to get patched on April 20 with seal coating and striping slated to be done April 27 and 28.

“We will be creating new parking spaces for the kayak parking and a through lane near the ramps in hopes that this will help with some of the confusion from last season.”

The city’s Municipal Marina was set to open April 19.

“Currently the bathrooms are still under construction, but normally we don’t see boaters until Memorial Day weekend. Hopefully things will be completed by then, if not I will get temporary bathrooms.”

She added that the marina now has its own Facebook page and Google listing.

Late in the meeting Humphrey said “a federal judge found in favor of the City of New Buffalo” in the federal lawsuit he said the city has been involved with regarding the legality of the moratorium on short-term rentals.

“Our attorneys say we’ve got the most optimal result possible there,” he added.

Humphrey also mentioned “a resident’s taking claim against the city for allowing the operation of short-term rentals in R-1.”

“Until we resolve this situation amicably for everyone involved, get some equity for everyone in the homes, we’re going to be facing this from both sides.”

In other April 19 New Buffalo City Council business:

• Police Lt. Jason Grimmet reported via a written report to the council that Courtney Severn has been hired as a full-time police officer effective May 3 and Officer Russell Tillery has been promoted to Sergeant.

• The council agreed not to join the New Buffalo Shoreline Alliance’s planned lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers related to shoreline erosion south of the city harbor due to the possible negative impact on federal grants it could potentially apply for (or may already be in the running for).

• The council voted 5-0 to support a liquor license reclassification request from Pizza Hut of Southwest Michigan and David Workman that would change a beer-wine only license to a Class C full license for the former New Buffalo Pizza Hut building at 700 East Buffalo St. Humphrey said requesting the City Council’s support for the liquor license change “kind of slipped through the cracks” as far as being done by Pizza Hut of Southwest Michigan and fell to Workman “to conclude the sale as it was negotiated between the two of them.”

• Council members agreed to have Stark Solid Concrete repair and replace portions of the concrete sidewalks and wooden deck on the lake side of the city’s Municipal Marina where settling and deterioration have created potentially hazardous conditions. The approximate total cost is $13,165 and the goal is to have the project completed by Memorial Day.

• The City Council voted to move forward with a project to improve sections of streets that are in the worst state of repair as noted by city staff and Abonmarche consultants. The project would involve “hot spots” on segments of Indiana, Michigan and Griffith streets at an approximate total cost of $26,000.

• Council members approved (as part of the consent agenda) a special event application request for the Le Tour de Shore charity ride using the Lion Park shelter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 19. The two-day event benefits the Maywood Fine Arts Association. Day 1 of the ride goes from Chicago to Indiana Dunes, with Day 2 traveling from the Indiana Dunes to New Buffalo.

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