By Jennifer Bowman
September 18, 2013
Battle Creek city commissioners adopted ordinances on Tuesday meant to improve tracking of stolen goods at pawn shops and to regulate donation bins around the city.
They also brought the Heritage Tower project closer to reality by passing a brownfield plan to pave the way for redevelopment funding.
At their regular meeting, commissioners voted 7-1 to adopt an ordinance that requires operators of donation bins to pay $25 for an annual permit. Vice Mayor Elizabeth Fulton cast the dissenting vote and Mayor Susan Baldwin was away at a municipal conference in Detroit.
Bins will now have to be clearly labeled with who operates them, contact information and whether they're owned by a nonprofit organization or a corporation. They will be required to be emptied at least once a month and are prohibited from occupying residential property.
Scroll to the bottom of the article to read the City of Battle Creek donation bins ordinance
Many municipalities have taken up ordinances to regulate the bins after officials have said they and residents have noticed more bins around town. Battle Creek's regulations mirror an ordinance approved by the Portage City Council earlier this year.
Pennfield Township also recently passed its own strict regulations on donation bins, limiting them to property owned by the bin's owner.
Donation bins have stirred controversy in some areas around the nation, with many well-known charities such as Goodwill publicly expressing opposition to them. Some bins are operated by for-profit organizations that sell the merchandise and opponents say many who place items in them mistakenly think they are donating to a nonprofit agency or charitable cause. Others, however, argue that the bins aid recycling and divert items from landfills.
Fulton said she opposed the ordinance because it allows some bin operators that have been accused of shady business practices to continue to operate and that they inhibit the ability of local organizations including Charitable Union, Goodwill and the Salvation Army — to provide services. She said she favored the regulations implemented by Pennfield more than Battle Creek's newly adopted ordinance.
Also Tuesday, commissioners unanimously adopted an ordinance that switches the city's way of tracking stolen goods at pawn shops to an electronic system.
The city said the ordinance is to address the growing amount of stolen property brought to resale stores as a result of the economic downturn. Currently, merchandise is logged and tracked through a paper system, which business owners have to hand-deliver to the police department — slowing down the tracking and recovery of stolen goods. The changes would switch the city over to an electronic system after state statutes were amended to allow for it.
Pawn shop owners will be required to pay $200 annually for a license while the city will cover the rest for the electronic tracking system. Staff said final cost figures will depend on how many licenses are issued but that it is estimated not to exceed $3,000. Pawnbrokers and second-hand goods dealers are already required to obtain a license through the city.
Scroll to the bottom of the article to read the City of Battle Creek second-hand goods ordinance
Over the past year, the city has discussed the ordinance changes with local business owners to hear their concerns and suggestions, staff said — including the switch to a different company for the electronic system already being used by area businesses.
Heritage Tower project moves forward.
Commissioner Andy Helmboldt may have summed it up for the rest of the city officials when he looked at 616 Development's representatives and said: "Thank you for saving our tower."
Commissioners unanimously approved a brownfield plan for the Heritage Tower redevelopment project. The move allows the city's brownfield redevelopment authority to capture a portion of the new property taxes created by the project and reimburse the developer for eligible costs.
Commissioners also set a public hearing for Oct. 1 to hear input on proposed tax abatements, granted for rehabilitation of obsolete property, for the project. If granted, 616 Development would get nearly $2.9 million in tax breaks over a 12-year period.
Earlier this year, the Grand Rapids-based firm 616 Development bought the partially condemned downtown icon for an undisclosed amount. It said it plans to develop the tower into market-rate apartments, a boutique hotel and commercial and office space. It will demolish the building at 17 W. Michigan Ave. to make way for additional parking spots but may also later develop the property. The project is estimated at about $23 million.
"My husband and I were married at Heritage Tower," Commissioner Sherry Sofia said Tuesday night. "So I've been very sad to watch its decline over the last several years and I'm just incredibly pleased that building will remain — and something that was very important to me on a very special day in my life will remain there."