Full speed ahead

Ishpeming City Council supports senior housing development

Lehman, center, discusses the pros and cons of the proposed development with Tonkin, right, as City Manager Mark Slown, left, observes. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The Ishpeming City Council unanimously approved an ordinance allowing Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, for a proposed Community Action Alger-Marquette senior citizen housing development during a special meeting Wednesday.

A resolution of support for the project, which would be located on a 6-acre parcel on the former Bell Hospital site at 185 S. Fourth St., was also unanimously approved by the council.

Both actions elicited applause from most of the meeting’s dozens of attendees.

Council member Mike Tonkin said the Jasperlite Senior Housing development would be good for the community as well as the senior citizens who might benefit from the project.

“I think by creating a facility that our seniors can go to we can upgrade our town again,” Tonkin said.

Marquette County Board Chairman Gerald Corkin, standing at the podium, speaks in support of the proposed Jasperlite Senior Housing Development at an Ishpeming City Council special meeting Wednesday, as, from left, Council members Karl Lehmann and Mike Tonkin and City Clerk Tammie Leece look on. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

“If we can help these people move out of these homes before they become blight ridden — let them sell their home for a decent price to young families coming in and we will regenerate this town a little bit.”

About a dozen residents, business owners and community leaders, spoke during public comment prior to the vote.

CAAM Executive Director Amy Lerlie said the PILT would allow the Jasperlite Senior Housing Limited Dividend Housing Association LLC — a for-profit subsidiary of CAAM — to apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority to fund the $5.3 million project.

Jasperlite will be audited routinely and must be in compliance with MSHDA regulations.

While the majority of the public comment was in support of the development, which will consist of 36 low-income barrier-free housing units for seniors age 55 or above, several people expressed concerns about the ordinance.

Ishpeming resident William Malmsten, a landlord who owns three buildings with 24 rental units, said he was concerned about the council shifting its opinion of the project.

“The only thing that has changed is the support of the Marquette County Board,” Malmsten said. “As far as I know, no one was at the county board meeting to voice an opposing opinion. I wonder how many of the board members even bothered to read the ordinance before supporting it, or how many understood the project and the impact it would have on Ishpeming taxpayers?”

The Marquette County Board unanimously passed a resolution of support for the project March 7.

Malmsten repeated his concerns from a council meeting early in March about a saturated rental market in the city. He also said the PILT agreement would put an undue burden on those who pay property tax in the city.

“The developer has said the development would draw people from all over Marquette County,” Malmsten said. “If so, we would be providing free services to people who have never paid taxes in Ishpeming.”

Malmsten cited a recent Mining Journal article about Lost Creek Senior Living complex in Marquette Township, which is also operated by CAAM.

The township, Malmsten said, is considering rescinding the ordinance and requiring CAAM to pay higher fees.

“You can learn from their mistake,” Malmsten said “If you approve the ordinance as written, you do it at the taxpayers’ expense, for the next 30 years. Once this ordinance passes you give up all control.”

Ishpeming resident Anne Giroux, who spoke as a representative of Marquette County Land Bank Authority and the Marquette County Brownfield Authority, said she was excited about the possibility of the development on the former Bell Hospital site and expected it could possibly increase property values throughout the city.

“When we heard about this project, we were overwhelmed with the thought that someone would actually develop that site,” Giroux said. “Frankly, the impact to that community from this development is far beyond what we can do through the blight elimination or brownfield programs. So we are very, very supportive of it.”

Giroux said home sales in the community could net another positive financial effect from the proposed development.

As community members sell their homes the taxable value of those properties becomes uncapped, resulting in increased tax revenue for the city.

“Seniors who might be candidates to move to this development, most of them have been living in their houses for probably 20 years, 30 years, and even 40 or 50 years some of them,” Giroux said. “When those properties are sold and they move to this development, that is going to uncap their taxable value.”

Ishpeming Department of Public Works Director Jon Kangas said the addition of 30 to 40 new water and sewer accounts would alleviate some of the burden on current ratepayers.

“What we currently have over there is an infrastructure that is intended to support the former hospital, it’s underutilized,” Kangas said. “That’s part of the reason why our rates had to go up is because we have all this infrastructure out there that is supporting empty lots.”

Kangas said CAAM would be responsible for installing the infrastructure for the utilities and hooking up to the city’s systems, and they would not get discounted rates on the services.

“The ordinance only applies to the property taxes,” Kangas said. “The water and sewer rates don’t change, they would pay the same rate as any other customer in the city.”

Council member Stuart Skauge said he was in support of the project but expressed concerns about wages and the quality of the contractors that might be hired for the project.

“I visited up at the Phelps School Project, and I know it is beautiful from the outside,” Skauge said. “We did not have a good contractor for that project, it was someone out of Okemos, fly by night, they can’t even hardly get the guy back here to do warranty work. The roof is still leaking, there are problems in that building because of the contractor, because of the quality of the work.”

Lerlie said she is committed to local contractors and engineers for the Jasperlite project whenever possible.

“I have said this before,” Lerlie said. “I am a local — born and raised Marquette County, and I believe we should buy locally — local contractors and local labor. We are really excited, and again we want to thank the city council for their diligence. They really did their homework; they studied this in detail, and came to the same conclusion. This is really a positive thing for the city of Ishpeming and seniors in western Marquette County.”

Lerlie said the next step in the process is to submit the tax credit application the MSHDA before the April 3 deadline.

“It’s a competitive application, MSHDA will be reviewing those applications statewide, and we’ll have an announcement in early July,” Lerlie said.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.