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Monday, October 11,2010

With or without a PLA?

City Council scheduled to vote tonight on offering tax breaks to two Gillespie projects amid union controversy over one of them

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Oct. 11 — The Lansing City Council is scheduled to vote tonight on tax incentives for the Marshall Street Armory redevelopment in the east side neighborhood. The question remains whether the resolution will include a project labor agreement, or PLA, that bargains for union contracts on the site’s construction.

Pat Gillespie’s contract with the city to repurpose the armory for office space for five regional nonprofit organizations does not include a PLA, which drew scorn from local builders unions last week.

Gillespie is seeking an extension to a brownfield tax incentive plan that the Council approved in June. Because estimated project costs increased by about $1 million, Gillespie is seeking a two-year extension, from 18 to 20 years, and thus the Council must approve a new plan.

That resolution is before the Development and Planning Committee, which will hold a special meeting before tonight’s regular City Council meeting to discuss amending the resolution with a PLA attached. Details on a resolution were not available.

At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney, who sits on Development and Planning, has suggested that Gillespie’s project include a PLA. Quinney is the health and safety director for the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Critics of the PLA say requiring a 100 percent unionized labor force to remodel the armory would exclude local construction workers who are non-union. They also fear a PLA on this project could set a precedent for major redevelopments in the future.

“If this PLA (amendment) passes, these local (non-union) workers would be blackballed based on union status,” said Chris Fisher, executive director of Associated Builders and Contractors, a statewide trade association based in Lansing. Fisher said a PLA permitting only unionized workers is an “extremist” position.

“This goes beyond the armory, frankly,” Fisher said in reference to Gillespie’s Marketplace project and potential improvements to the Knapp’s building downtown. “This could affect all future development if PLAs are in force and discriminate against non-union workers.”

Zane Walker of the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council, who was included in talks last week between Gillespie and the Development and Planning Committee, did not return calls for comment.

Ingham Co. Treasurer Eric Schertzing, who is also chairman of the Ingham County Land Bank, agrees with Fisher that PLAs run the risk of discouraging future development in the city. The land bank develops foreclosed properties.

“To mandate conditions is really just a challenge,” he said. “Development in an urban area is already more difficult than surrounding green spaces. Any barrier, either directly economic or (that causes) time and fatigue, is going to discourage the marketplace.”

Schertzing said unions’ trying to get a piece of the pie is a “natural angst,” but said it is important that whoever gets the jobs should be well paid.

Another of Gillespie’s proposed redevelopments, the mixed-use Market Place project near the City Market, also has a brownfield tax incentive plan scheduled for a vote tonight. This brownfield plan would span 24 years and reimburse Gillespie over that time for paying upfront costs to clean the site.

Jet Engineering, a high-tech manufacturing company in south Lansing, is also seeking tax breaks for a planned $5.5 million expansion at its site near the intersection of Jolly and Aurelius roads. The incentives would span 12 years and would be on costs for acquiring new property, additional building costs and new equipment. The Council is scheduled to vote on this incentive plan after Gillespie’s.

It could end up being a long night for the Council, which is scheduled to vote on 17 other resolutions and one rezoning ordinance at tonight’s meeting:


  • Five resolutions pay tribute to local residents, including setting Oct. 11, 2010, as Tim Sample Day in Lansing. Sample, of Holt, was a Lansing Police detention officer who died last summer.

  • A request by Creekside Asset Management to scale down the East Village Condominiums project on Saginaw Street between Pennsylvania Avenue and Marshall Street, reducing the amount of units from 177 to 125. The reduction lowers the units per acre from 7.5 to 5.2. The Planning Board unanimously recommended approving the resolution under conditions that the developer agrees to avoid repetition in the exterior design of the homes and that front porches are prominent on each structure;

  • Scheduling a public hearing for Nov. 8 to consider using the building at 2706 W. Jolly Road for a church;

  • Two resolutions that schedule public hearings for Oct. 18 and Oct. 25 on offering brownfield tax incentives for redeveloping the Knapp’s building downtown;

  • Two resolutions that revoke tax abatements for local property owners. The first revokes an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act (OPRA) certificate for the property at 3323 N. East St. The certificate was granted in November 2008 under the condition that the owner rehabilitates the property within two years. However, owners of 3323 N. East St. LLC did not pay property taxes for 2009 and had until April to do so. The second revokes a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone certificate for 1315 Turner St. in Old Town because the owner failed to pay any of the neighborhood enterprise zone tax for the 2009 tax year;

  • Four resolutions out of the General Services Committee that would give nonprofit status to Southside Community Kitchen, $500 for the Averill Woods Neighborhood Association’s Annual Fall Jamboree, transfer a Class C liquor license for 1145-1147 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town from M.I.K. to Mad Bags and deny a claim by a local resident to have $1,693.14 in nuisance fees taken off her property tax assessment;

  • An amendment to Abundant Faith Grace Church’s special land use permit for the old Farmer Jack supermarket on South Cedar Street that the Council approved Sept. 27. The original resolution neglected to include the seven conditions that the city and church agreed upon in granting the permit. The church agreed not to object to any liquor licenses within 500 feet of the church or existing nearby businesses (which includes an adult video store). It also agreed to keep signage within the sign ordinance standards, keep the seating capacity in line with the number of parking spaces, submit a landscaping plan that shields the parking lot from nearby residential units, prevent glare from exterior lighting and to pay for potential traffic signals; and

  • An ordinance to rezone 127 W. Grand River Ave. in Old Town (a former Eyesore of the Week) from residential to commercial.


In other business, two more public hearings separate from the tax breaks for development projects are scheduled for tonight’s meeting. One will be on the city’s sale of a Parks and Recreation Department storage garage to Neogen, while the other will consider the rezoning the property at 110 N. Magnolia Ave. from commercial to residential so the owner can apply for lead paint abatement credits from the city.


Finally, the Council will introduce an ordinance and vote to schedule a public hearing for Nov. 8 in regards to a planned residential development by local builder Dave Muylle in the east side neighborhood.

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