Mayor Marl, Councillor Girbach Spar Over Hotel Process

 04/04/2017 - 03:47

Frustrations boiled over at Monday’s meeting as Saline City Council considered a motion approving the “character and quality” of the hotel planned for Michigan Avenue. Mayor Brian Marl traded barbs with the council’s longest serving member, Dean Girbach.

When Girbach voiced his displeasure about being asked to approve the character of a building that would be in violation of the city’s ordinance, Marl hissed at him.

“I’m really sick and really tired of you impugning the judgment, integrity and confidence of our staff. I’m really sick of that,” Marl said.

Girbach said he was tired of council being rushed to make decisions with incomplete or missing information.

“I’m tired of seeing this happen because this is a disappointment to our investors, because now they have to hold up, if we’re going to follow the law and follow our ordinances. But if you feel that’s something you want to overlook, because this is something you can put on your resume, or because you want to see it going forth, then it’s up to you to consider it,” Girbach said.

“That’s a cheap shot. It’s just extremely disappointing,” Marl said.

“Well, you just did the same thing, Mr. Mayor,” Girbach replied.

The city’s contract to sell the land to the developers required they provide evidence they weren’t building a run-of-the-mill, cookie cutter hotel. Developers Mark Kuykendall and Jim Haeussler visited City Hall to show council 18 images of the proposed $9 million, 63-room hotel.

As this portion of the meeting began Girbach threw the Mayor a curve ball, offering a motion that council postpone voting on the motion until after members of planning commission considered the developers’ likely request to change the zoning ordinance to allow three-story structures. Councillor Janet Dillon seconded Girbach’s motion to postpone until April 17.

Rather that ask the council to discuss the motion, Marl asked Kuykendall to make his presentation. Girbach objected.

“I believe it would be inappropriate,” Girbach said. “This issue has to be discussed by planning commission or the ZBA before council provides any input.”

Marl said if council didn’t want to hear what Kuykendall had to say it would be acceptable but rude. Marl attempted to separate the issues.

“What we’re voting on this evening is the design and façade not the height of the facility,” Marl said. “That (the height) will have to be debated by the planning commission. Nobody has ever denied that. That will be an item for planning commission to consider at their next meeting.”

Girbach said that by acting before the planning commission acts, council was usurping its authority.

“We’re basically giving the idea that we’re blessing this design before they address the ordinance issues,” Girbach said.

Marl maintained that what council was doing had nothing to do with the ordinance matters that were coming before the planning commission.

“I suppose you could make that argument, but I categorically disagree. What we’re approving tonight is the façade, the look and character of the facility,” Marl said. “Nobody is denying that a change in ordinance or a variance would have to be approved to get the third floor.”

Marl asked councillors if they wanted to hear Kuykendall’s presentation.

“Since Mr. Kuykendall has taken the time to be here, I would like to hear what he has to say, out of courtesy,” Councillor Jack Ceo said.

Marl asked council if there were any objections to Kuykendall speaking. Only Girbach objected and Marl gave the floor to Kuykendall.

At a recent council meeting, the developers announced their intention to build a “Best Western Premier” hotel – even better than the “Best Western Plus” they originally planned. Kuykendall spoke of his plans for a stone, brick and stucco building. There will also be a covered patio and outdoor patio with lawn furniture and a pit. The pool building will feature a deck too.

“It will be a very attractive building,” Kuykendall said.

Throughout out the discussion, council members asked questions of Kuykendall.

Councillor Heidi McClelland asked if sidewalks will extend out to a main sidewalk on Michigan Avenue. Kuykendall said they would.

Councillor Janet Dillon asked what would happen if a third floor wasn’t permitted.

“It would amount to a very small or very long hotel,” Kuykendall said. “It’s 63 rooms now, so we’d be taking about one third of the rooms away.”

“Is that a viable option for you?” Dillon asked.

“Not sure. We haven’t put the pencil to the paper yet,” Kuykendall said. “If we have to make major revisions to our business plan to try to make something work here in Saline, we’re try to do that. But a 45-room hotel would not be what we need here in Saline. With the banquet space we’re providing, it wouldn’t be what I would want to do.”

Builder Jim Haeussler was a little blunter.

“It’s not feasible. Plain and simple. We wasted a whole lot of time and a whole lot of money,” Haeussler said. “It’s council’s decision.”

The developers told council they’d not heard any concerns about the height of the building until Monday’s meeting.

“As a taxpayer and citizen, I would have appreciated knowing because our plans have not changed. It’s very disappointed in that, that all of the sudden you come here tonight and hear that, but that’s your purview,” Haeussler said. “We were here to talk about what we presented last time, and nobody said a word.”

Councillor Christen Mitchell asked questions about the color scheme and other aesthetic issues.

Haeussler said the questions were more detailed than what they’d expected.

“I refer back to the contract that took almost three months, and that was for us to provide the basic perspective of this building,” Haeussler said. “We understand the planning commission will have many questions as we move on. But not at this point. We’re abiding by the contract the city signed and we’re trying to get closure on that before we go spend a whole bunch more money trying to answer some of those questions, which is the normal process.”

Marl turned to the council for discussion when Girbach called the question twice.

Clerk Terri Royal asked for clarification on the question when the fireworks began.

“Mr. Girbach wants to eliminate debate and discussion on the motion on the floor,” Marl answered.

Girbach said city council wasn’t violating the contract for taking its time to do its homework. He also questioned the information council received from City Manager Todd Campbell.

Marl defended the staff.

“You know what? Respectfully, I’m really sick and really tired of you impugning the judgment, integrity and confidence of our staff. I’m really sick of that,” Marl said.

Marl continued to lecture Girbach, saying he was welcome to disagree on policy matters.

“But to habitually impugn their integrity and their judgement and their competency, that crosses a line,” Marl said.

“And I’d like to state for the public record, Mr. Mayor, that I can raise those issues,” Girbach replied.

Girbach said he was tired of issues rushed to council without proper information from city staff.

Marl asked what those issues were. Girbach said council did not receive the proper information about the wastewater treatment plant. Then he turned to the hotel.

“We’ve seen everything on this plan but the three-story building. But not a member of our council or staff identified this (as a violation of the ordinance). I identified this at the last city council meeting because I thought there was concern,” Girbach said. “And now I’m being told I’m disrespectful?”

Marl said it was disrespectful to impugn the integrity and judgment of staff.

Girbach pointed to the expensive fixes of the roofs at the DPW, the Rec Center and problems at the wastewater treatment plant, and said council is not getting the information it needs to make good decisions.

“I’m impugning one individual and it’s been consistent for the last five years. I’m tired of seeing this happen because this is a disappointment to our investors, because now they have to hold up, if we’re going to follow the law and follow our ordinances,” Girbach said, before returning the jab at Marl. “But if you feel that’s something you want to overlook, because this is something you can put on your resume, or because you want to see it going forth, then it’s up to you to consider it.”

“That’s a cheap shot. It’s just extremely disappointing,” Marl said.

“Well, you just did the same thing, Mr. Mayor,” Girbach replied.

Marl called the question. Girbach’s motion to postpone was supported by Councillors Dillon and Mitchell but it was defeated, 4-3, with Mayor Marl and Councillors Linda TerHaar, Ceo, and McClelland voting no.

Ceo motioned to approve the general character and design of the building. Marl seconded the motion.

“I don’t think the motion we’re taking tonight does anything more than generally attest to our approval of the quality of the building being proposed. I don’t think it in any way, shape or form states it must be three stories, or does it usurp the authority of the planning commission,” Ceo said.

McClelland agreed with Ceo but wanted to know if this would come back before city council. Superintendent Gary Roubal said council will have to review elements of the hotel project at least twice.

Councillor TerHaar noted that council brought this confusion and controversy on itself by adding this extra approval step to an already complicated process.

“This is not a normal step in the process. We added it in because we wanted to have a look, ahead of time, at the look and feel. Nothing about this process subverts or overrules any of our normal processes,” TerHaar said.

Marl agreed.

“As the deedholder of the property, it’s perfectly reasonable to put that type of stipulation on the developer. As was stated early on, we were looking for a quality, boutique hotel, not just the run-of-the-mill hotel you’d find on any exit off the expressway,” Marl said.

Marl reiterated his support for the project.

“Getting a boutique hotel in our community is of vital interest. It’s been something that’s been discussed and advocated for, for quite some time,” Marl said.

Council voted 5-2 to pass Ceo’s motion and approve the general look of the hotel. Councillors Girbach and Dillon voted against the motion.

Earlier in the meeting, Saline Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Olsen spoke in favor of the hotel project. He noted that the developers chose Best Western because the company allows more flexibility and originality in its design. He also said the community was fortunate to have local developers.

“We’re fortunate to have local folks behind this. They’re here to support our community and I hope things keep moving forward,” Olsen said.

Bill Smith, a member of the Main Street and Chamber boards, also spoke during public comment/.

“It’s an exciting time to be in Saline. A lot of great things are happening.  I think the hotel will be a great attraction for the city, and bring more business and more residents to Saline,” Smith said. “I have children in the schools. And parents who bring their children in for athletics tournaments they’re going to stay in Saline instead of driving to Ann Arbor. They’re going to spend their money here as well.”

City resident and former city councillor Mary Hess advised council to resist any efforts to rush decisions.

 

Tran Longmoore
Tran Longmoore is owner of The Saline Post. Email him at tran@thesalinepost.com or call him at 734-272-6294

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Comments

salinesal's picture

There is a time when council needs to go slow and be deliberate. That time is when you're spending taxpayer money on city infrastructure projects. Care and wisdom is required. This city council is currently liable for at least 4 million dollars of recently wasted taxpayer money. This is directly due to council's incompetence. Their collective negligence and lack of proper oversight of city projects has cost the citizens of Saline millions of dollars. The time for city council to move fast is when private citizens and business owners are investing and risking their own money in the city! The only consistency of this Saline City Council its lack of regard for money and costs in both the public and private realms. This Council is a disgrace to the community. Last Mondays arguments and infighting only prove it!