NEW BUFFALO — Audrey Tuszynski, secretary and co-event chair of the New Buffalo Business Association, speaking during the public comment portion of the Monday, April 20, New Buffalo City Council meeting (conducted remotely via the Zoom app), said the NBBA is changing and evolving its events schedule for the summer of 2020.
“Our Events Committee members are developing alternative plans for summer events focusing on the safety of our vendors and patrons while still trying to provide occasions for celebrations in our community,” she said. “With in-person events canceling all around us it’s time for our events to evolve.”
She said “virtual events with a new set of strategies and executions” are being considered.
“We’ll continue to assess how we can hold virtual or no-contact events for the surrounding communities without compromising their safety for the remainder of our social-distancing seasons.”
Tuszynski said the NBBA looks forward to working with the city, and to continue providing celebrations for residents and visitors to attend while following COVID-19 guidelines, adding that any changes will be made public in advance.
New Buffalo Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV then talked about the NBBA’s application for approval of its summer events, listing some of the changes already caused by the coronavirus pandemic by reading the following:
“The Spring Sidewalk Sales (on the weekend before Memorial Day) is cancelled. Farmer’s Market, they’re looking at a July 1st start date — virtual market … curbside and/or delivery of goods, location to be decided. July 3rd Independence Celebration, the LaPorte Symphony Orchestra are cancelled. Ship and Shore Festival August 7th through 9th to be determined by Open Air Events following other local concerts and gatherings. Potential boat parade and possibly moving our fireworks to that time and date since we’re canceling the July 3rd fireworks. All sidewalk sales are to be determined per the Governor’s orders, just as everything else is with our events. The Harvest and Wine Festival October 10th to be determined again per Governor’s orders.”
The NBBA special events application (with the understanding the organization will update city officials of any changes) was approved 4-0.
A letter released by the NBBA following the meeting included the following: "The Farmer's Market will evolve into a virtual platform organized by the NBBA, continuing to create relationships between farmers and the community. The July 3rd celebrations including the LaPorte Symphony Orchestra will
also be cancelled and moving fireworks to the Ship & Shore Festival pending social gathering restrictions."
In light of information that the former hardware store building at 435 South Whittaker St. has recently generated interest from at least four parties, the City Council took action on April 20 to put the site back on the market.
It was noted by City Manager David Richards that the City will retain $68,128 plus a pole barn and a vacant material building lot if there is a sale, with the remainder of any proceeds going to the County Treasurer.
He said both a pole barn and an empty material lot located behind the former hardware store building have some utility for the city and staff, and recommended they be retained for future projects. Richards also recommended making any sale conditional on developing the front portion of the former hardware store for retail purposes within one year (with the rear portion of the structure possibly a mixed-use area).
Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV said it has never been the city’s intention to sell buildings or land in the back area of the property, adding that the possibility of eventually establishing some sort of affordable housing in that area has been discussed.
He also said the city does not want to sell the building in front to a “speculator” who will sit on it for years or “flip it” to another buyer after purchase.
It was decided by a 4-0 vote to advertise the sale of the former hardware building (in “as-is” condition) with a deed restriction that it will revert back to the city (at the sale price) if nothing has been done in a year, with the property to be advertised for 60 days before all bids (including a stated reason of what the property will be used for) need to be in.
Council member Mark Kroll said he was glad that the remainder of the property won’t be sold.
“We do have some plans in the future with that affordable housing,” he said.
Peg Kohring, representing the Harbor Country Work Force Task Force and speaking earlier during the public comment portion of the meeting, said the organization is interested in providing housing for teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public servants and asked for the council’s consideration of utilizing the hardware property and/or city-owned property along the railroad tracks for workforce housing.
“I realize that life has changed a lot in the last couple months … and would appreciate your consideration,” she said.
O’Donnell said city officials are in the process of looking into the possibility of establishing affordable housing on city property.
“When we get City Hall re-opened a little more maybe you could stop down and we could show you what we have … we have some architectural renderings of how that would look,” he said. “Basically it just comes down to funding. We wold be donating the property to help get the cost down.”
The City Council on April 20 also agreed to a Boat Launch Storm Water Easement Agreement with Harbor Point to alleviate flooding in the launch area.
Richards said the boat launch area has flooded routinely as a result of high water and storms. He said a storm drain that goes from the south corner of the boat launch parking lot across the Harbor Point property has failed, adding that a plan involving the installation of a grinder pump at the discharge point has been engineered to allow the storm water to drain, but an easement is required to set terms of operation.
Estimated cost of the project is $3,500 for the grinder pump and $7,800 for blocks and installation.
In another April 20 matter, the City Council OK’d three-percent 2019 and 2020 wage increases for the city manager by a 4-0 vote.
O’Donnell said the city manager entered into a contract with the City on May 1, 2017, with the annual compensation agreed to as $90,000 base salary and a monthly stipend of
$850 (to go toward health insurance, a substantial savings for the city according to O’Donnell).
While the city manager has had two successful performance evaluations, O’Donnell said no pay increase was forthcoming and the 2019 increase was passed over while all other city employees were given 3 percent increases.
The retroactive 2019 increase ($2,700) brings Richards’ salary for that year to $92,700.
The 2020 pay hike ($2,781) makes the annual total $95,481.
In other April 20 business, the New Buffalo City Council:
• Discussed the temporary U.S. 12 Road Diet (reducing lanes from 4 to 3 in certain areas starting this spring) which New Buffalo Township has approved.
O’Donnell noted that the New Buffalo City Council did not deny or approve a trial road diet earlier this year.
During the council’s Feb. 18 meeting, members Mark Robertson and Bob Spirito voted for a resolution against having the Michigan Department of Transportation transform sections of the highway in the city limits to three lanes (two for traffic and one for turning) on a trial basis, while Mayor Lou O’Donnell IV and Mark Kroll voted no. A subsequent resolution to “try it out” failed by the same 2-2 margin.
Robertson on April 20 said he is all for the addition of a bike path, but not for a lane reduction.
O’Donnell said the City and Township will both have a voice in what the permanent road alignment is when U.S. 12 construction work takes place in 2021.
• Approved a Little Free Library Box agreement with the Friends of the New Buffalo Library to locate a library box (positioned on a pole) at the northeast intersection of North Whittaker and East Merchant streets.
The New Buffalo DDA has supported the move, and Richards said there is no fee associated with the agreement because the Friends of the Library has nonprofit status.
• Tabled action on proposed security improvements to the Police Department and City Hall to seek more details (the vote was 3-1 with Bob Spirito dissenting).
Also tabled (by a 4-0 vote) was action on a proposal to replace the City Hall IT server (again pending the receipt of additional information).