2017-08-26 / Top News

New Tourism Bureau Building Gets Approval From Council

By Jacob A. Ball

A plan for renovation and expansion of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau visitors center won approval from the City Council Wednesday, August 16, clearing the way for a zoning application and reviews by the Mackinac Island Planning Commission and Historic District Commission.

The Tourism Bureau visitors center is in the heart of the main business district, on Main Street between the Murray Hotel and Carriage Tours ticket office. Expansion will add a second story, more work space, and a restroom.

Council also approved a strengthening of the rules governing temporary permits to use motor vehicles on the Island, approved the purchase of a new desktop computer for the police department, and looked at price quotes for a platform lift. Island businessman and former lobbyist

Dennis Cawthorne told councilmembers he expects state lawmakers to introduce a bill next month empowering the City of Mackinac Island to ban drones.

The renovated tourism bureau offices will provide employees with their own restroom for the first time. There was concern installing water lines for the new restroom would necessitate tearing up a new sidewalk, but Mayor Margaret Doud said there are accessible plumbing stubs to hook the building into the city water and sewer systems.

There also was concern the enlarged visitor center would obstruct views from west-facing rooms at the Murray Hotel next door. To remedy that, plans are for those hotel windows to be extended to the property line and built similarly to bay windows, with south-facing side windows looking out toward the waterfront across Main Street.

Pat Pulte, owner of Murray Hotel, said there are still a few details to work out, but he has “no problem” with the project. Tourism Bureau Chief Executive Tim Hygh said his organization would cover the cost of the changes to the hotel windows and that the hotel and Tourism Bureau have signed a memorandum of understanding.

The rear of the tourism bureau building will be extended 6.5 feet to make room for a staircase to the second story. The extension might require the removal of lilac trees in the adjoining park.

Councilmember Dennis Bradley had objected to the intrusion, saying it amounted to giving away city property. Grand Hotel President Dan Musser III, president of the Mackinac Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, however, the enlarged Tourism Bureau building will be a city asset. Mr. Musser reassured the council the lilacs will be replaced or moved, but not eliminated.

“We really feel the pros outweigh the cons,” Mr. Musser said.

Mr. Bradley said artist’s renderings show no windows or doors in the back of the renovated building, which would be unattractive when viewed from the park. Chief project architect Gene Hopkins said he’d like to have some windows along the stairwell at the rear and will look into that. Mayor Doud and Councilmember Steven Moskwa agreed windows would make the back of the structure more appealing.

Mr. Bradley also said he hopes relocating the service windows from the front to the side of the building will reduce congestion along Main Street. The structure will have a fauxbalcony for aesthetic purposes - to blend with adjacent historical buildings. Mr. Musser has said the bureau wants it to be architecturally respectful.

As the lessee, the city council was required to approve the project before the Planning and Historic District commissions can review it. City attorney Tom Evashevski said, eventually, the lease should be amended to reflect changes to the building plan. For now, the council’s unanimous approval is sufficient to move the process along.

Motor vehicles ordinance changes, approved without much discussion, provide the council with additional authority to grant or deny temporary permits based on the time of year. Applicants between May 2 and October 31 will be required to prove “by clear and convincing evidence… that denial of such a permit will result in hardship.” During the remainder of the year, a lessstringent standard will require applicants to “prove that they would be unreasonably burdened without the permit.”

The ordinance changes also removed conflicting, redundant, and unnecessary provisions. Three code sections were repealed. Mr. Evashevski said requiring a substantially higher level of proof for a temporary permit during the summer tourism season was the most important change.

Councilmember Anneke Myers inquired about adding hours of use to a temporary motor vehicle permit. This could be done administratively, without an amendment to the ordinance, Mr. Evashevski said, or rule-adoption by the city council through a resolution. A motion to adopt the changes was unanimously approved.

The council approved temporary motor vehicle permits for use of a Caterpillar backhoe on two projects: a septic system repair at Sandalwood Cottage in the Stonecliffe neighborhood and to unload cut-stone landscape slabs from a dray for a steep walkway needed at the home of Lou Salvatore. The walkway is required before the Mackinac Island Building Department can issue a temporary occupancy permit.

Councilmember Jason St. Onge supported the decision to approve cut-stone slab unloading, noting it uses the same tractor as the other project and would take less than 30 minutes to complete. Councilmember Mrs. Anneke Myers disagreed and voted against the permit.

“No, it’s August,” she said, adding: “We did this before to another project in July. I voted no then, too.”

The Police Department will buy a Dell desktop computer to replace a broken model. Chief Brett Riccinto said repairing the old computer would cost more than it’s worth. Cost of the unit is $1,052.57, including a new monitor.

City foreman Sid DeHaan presented quotes ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 for an electric powered platform lifting device. The council agreed to send them to the Building and Grounds Committee and Finance Committee for recommendations.

Mr. DeHaan had originally planned to rent a platform-lift, but found it difficult and expensive. Councilmember Bradley said renting a lift could become especially costly if additional days were required as the result of weather delays. He added that, if the city owned a platform-lift, it could be used for a variety of projects. Mr. DeHaan wants it initially for use in repainting of municipal buildings.

Mr. Cawthorne said he hopes to see the Michigan House of Representatives introduce and pass, by year’s end, a bill empowering the city to ban drones. The city council had placed a six-month moratorium on drone use in August 2016, after several incidents. Among them was an accident involving a horse that was struck in the head.

Current state law prevents the city from banning them again. Mr. Cawthorne said he expects a bill to reinstate city control of drone use to be introduced on the first day of the new legislative session, Wednesday, September 6.

Councilmember Andrew McGreevy asked Mr. Cawthorne about attempts to pass statewide legislation permitting short-term home rentals. There is opposition to services such as Airbnb, since the Island has a growing number of traditional rental rooms. Some say tourist rental from homeowners would create unwanted competition.

Mr. Cawthorne said he has not heard much about the proposal lately, but the Michigan Realtors Association has been lobbying for its passage and the Michigan Municipal League staunchly opposes it. The legislation would supersede an Island ban on renting private homes for less than 30 days.

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