By Leslie Ballard
Veterans, their spouses and other concerned citizens filled the Allegan City Council meeting room on February 28 to express their opinions on an item that wasn’t on the agenda and has been briefly discussed at several prior study sessions.
“Leave it where it is!” was the consensus of the 14 veterans and their supporters as one after another spoke during public comment against moving the Veterans Memorial at Riverfront Park.
Mayor Delora Andrus assured the audience that no decisions regarding the memorial have been made and that the comments from three veterans at the January 10 meeting had caused the council to think differently.
Andrus shared that the council thought that the activity in and around the splashpad, which is located right next to the memorial, was disrespectful to the memorial. In addition, the city has been looking for ways to eliminate some of the trash on the riverfront and to provide some recycling containers, which, if placed close to the memorial, would also be disrespectful.
Those who spoke saw it differently. Tessa Thomas spoke emotionally about how she “would love to see a child from the splashpad with wet hands touch the memorial and say, ‘Mommy, what’s this’?” so her mother could tell her what the memorial meant.
Another speaker said that the people the memorial was all about provided the freedom for the children to play in the splashpad.
Marvin Luttrell, a veteran whose father and uncles were in the miliary, was “amazed that a dumpster was prioritized over the monument.” Others agreed, several saying that moving the memorial to make room for a dumpster was what was disrespectful.
John West, one of those who helped raise money to establish the memorial spoke of how “we fought hard to get it where it’s at.” The memorial was built 32 years ago. Several of the 12 who spoke mentioned that the setting was perfect as it was in “clear sight” and in an accessible area where a large number of people could see it.
“You don’t understand what it means to people,” said another veteran. Tom Lindsely observed, “it’s not a memorial but a monument to all service personnel, living and dead.”
Two television stations filmed the impassioned and often emotional public comment segment. After the comment section concluded, most of the 30 attendees left the council room. The few that stayed were happy when, at the end of the meeting, the council voted 6-1 to direct city staff to find other locations for the dumpsters. Several were seen silently applauding.
In other business, the Council held a second reading and public hearing about adopting Ordinance 501 Renumbering and Relabeling Existing Sections to Provide a Process for Single-Lot Special Assessments. The ordinance allows the city to recoup monies spent cleaning blighted properties by placing code enforcement fees on individual properties. Two audience members spoke about the ordinance, one questioning whether this ordinance could be used politically against a property owner and another with questions about the ordinance. The Council unanimously approved Ordinance 501.
The Council then held a public hearing to receive comment on the close out of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation Grant for 113 Locust Street. This is the last step in closing out the $137,650 grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to use for the rehabilitating the second floor to two one-bedroom apartments. The council approved the close out unanimously.
City Manager Joel Dye observed that since 2017 there have been 15 new second floor apartments created in Downtown Allegan.
The Council then heard updates from the Planning Commission and Riverfront Design Committee.
During its meeting, the Commission held a general discussion with Lori Castello and Jason Derry on the permitted land uses in the various zoning district. Through this discussion, Lori and Jason noted the changes the Planning Commission wanted to make to which uses are allowed in which districts and agreed to bring an updated Permitted Use table back to the Planning Commission for their review and approval.
The Riverfront Design Committee received an update on the EPA Grant. The city recently received a $360,000 Grant from the EPA to create 100% engineered plans to remove the dam, the powerhouse and mill pond and up to 30% engineering plans to develop a new riverfront park and river channel. Subsequently, they contracted with AECOM at a cost of $360,000 to accomplish the tasks as listed in the grant.
In discussion with representatives from AECOM, the Committee reviewed the conceptual design for the new park. During this review, the Committee discussed several items they would like to see incorporated in the new park design, including, an ice rink, boat docks, a possible concession stand, fishing pier, the removal of the planned waterfalls and fountain.
The Council approved accounts payable in the amount of $581,408.83 and payroll in the amount of $111,450.10 for a total disbursement of $692,858.93.
In addition to combining two lot parcels on 4th and Wayne streets, the Council also approved the Purchase and Road Improvement Agreement between the City of Allegan and Paul J. Bradley, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. This finalizes the sale of a portion of Oakwood Cemetery to be combined with the Blessed Sacrament Cemetery, which voters authorized in March 2020.
The Council discussed three topics during the Study Sessions, the first of which was The Griswold Auditorium Update.
Parker Johnson and Ryan Burza presented an update on the Griswold, which included constructing a new platform and table for sound and light operation at the back of house, installing new lighting, removing unused and outdated cables, adjusting light bars, repairing the existing curtain system and projection screen in the auditorium, painting in the auditorium, dressing rooms, kitchen, lower and main level bathrooms, and repairing plaster throughout the building.
In the Marilla Lounge carpet was removed, the flooring finished and the walls primed. Johnson shared plans to continue to upgrade the Marilla Lounge and talked about events that are taking place and those being planned. A regional asset management group made up of three council members has met regularly to discuss city-owned regional assets including the Griswold Auditorium, and Councilman Roger Bird added that “the group will focus on the Griswold.”
The Council then discussed the Historic District Study Group. After hearing advice of legal counsel, the Council talked about the two options of the Study Group being a subcommittee of the Historic District Committee or the Study Group becoming subsumed by the Historic District Committee, functioning similarly to the study session portion of City Council meetings where items are discussed but no actions taken. Several Council members commented on the importance of the Study Group’s work.
The final discussion dealt with a review of the proposed Oakwood Cemetery rules that the Public Spaces Commission is drafting. Council members were invited to comment on the draft, and the question of enforcing the rules followed.