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Youngest council candidates weigh in

Alexander Sinn • Jul 26, 2019 at 9:00 AM

A field of City Council candidates could bring youth and new ideas to Grand Haven’s top elected body.

The three youngest candidates shared their views on a range of local issues during Tuesday night’s public forum at the Grand Haven Community Center, which was hosted by the local League of Women Voters.

The Aug. 6 primary will propel four of the five candidates to the November general election, when two will be elected to the council.

Ryan Cummins, 31, is the youngest candidate running for a city office this year. The city planning commissioner, who also sits on the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals, joked twice about his youth during the forum.

“Because of my age, I’m going to be living with those decisions for the next 60-65 years,” he said.

Candidates Jamie Cooper, 37, and Collin Beighley, 40, would be newcomers to city government.

Contenders Eric Brenberger, 47, and incumbent Councilman Mike Fritz, 56, were unable to attend the forum. Fritz is aiming to retain the seat he has held since 2003, while Brenberger previously served as chairman of the city’s Planning Commission.

Development and housing

Cummins said he wants the city to reduce tax rates by increasing its tax base, leveraging vacant properties like brownfield sites and allowing for increased density.

Beighley said he would prioritize certain types of development.

“We need less condos” and the city should “focus more on affordable housing for people that need it,” he said.

Beighley has expressed concern about developments like the Dairy Treat condominium project, which was approved by the Planning Commission for meeting the city’s Zoning Ordinance requirements.

Cooper, who called her networking business a “chamber of commerce for the cannabis industry,” said she was priced out of housing when she lived in Colorado. She echoed the needs outlined by the regional Housing Next initiative, which call for more housing at all price points, especially in the $150,000 to $250,000 range. Cooper said the city should allow studio apartments and will need to continue building upward.

Energy and environment

Cummins and Cooper both said their top priorities include the Board of Light & Power’s transition to purchasing a majority of power off the grid, as the coal-burning Sims plant on Harbor Island is slated for demolition in June 2020.

Cummins said he supports maintaining the local electricity provider, but he does not support building a local gas plant at a high cost, which was determined “cost prohibitive” in the latest analysis. All three candidates said they are in favor of exploring solar energy options.

Beighley, who has held leadership positions on the Grand River Sailing Club, said protecting local waterways is a priority. He called cigarette butts a “huge problem,” and suggested implementing public ashtrays.

Cooper supported an idea suggested by mayoral candidate and Councilman Josh Brugger to ban or require a fee for sales involving plastic bags in the city. She said the city should adopt sorted recycling options to reduce waste, and should provide education on recycling habits.

“It drives me nuts that there’s not a place to put my bottle,” she said. “I would love to see those solutions downtown.”

Cummins noted that the Grand Haven Salmon Festival is zero waste, and other city events should be encouraged to reach that goal.

Marijuana access

The three candidates at Tuesday’s forum support access to medical marijuana in Grand Haven, which was approved by the City Council this year. The Planning Commission is working on an ordinance for allowing the industry.

Cummins said he is not in favor of large grow operations, and the city may consider buffer zones beyond just schools. Beighley said medical marijuana businesses would boost the city’s tax base.

Cooper, who has advocated for both medical and recreational marijuana access in Michigan, said there are more than 5,000 medical patients and caregivers in Ottawa County, many of whom rely on untested products. She said allowing medical facilities allows patients access to safer products.

Fritz voted on council this spring to support the forthcoming medical marijuana ordinance, and has voiced support for allowing recreational marijuana facilities, which were banned by the council last year amid legalization in Michigan.

Parking

The city has for the past decade commissioned studies on its parking inventory. A recent study included the possibility of creating a multi-level parking garage for the downtown area, which was determined to have significant annual costs. City leaders said parking fees would be necessary to generate revenue before such a project is considered.

Cummins said he is currently not in favor of a parking complex, and said the city has adequate parking inventory. He said the city could consider using a mobile app service to help motorists find empty spots in the city.

Beighley said the idea of a parking structure is complicated.

“There is no ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when it comes to a parking structure in this city,” he said. “It could be useful, but it needs to be done at the right location.”

Cooper said she supports paid parking, and the city should improve access and visibility of public transportation.

Municipal airport

The local Chamber of Commerce and city officials have this past year explored rezoning the north-south runway portion of the Grand Haven airport for commercial development. Fritz has been a vocal supporter of the municipal airport, saying at a recent meeting on the subject, “When it’s gone, it’s gone.”

The three candidates at Tuesday’s forum each said they have recently toured the airport and spoken with airport officials.

Cummins said he is not opposed to exploring the state and federal contracts obligating the city to continue operation of the airport, which could prevent converting the land.

Cooper said the city should support the airport as it continues to grow, while Beighley said closing the north-south runway would be a safety concern. He compared its value to that of local marinas, and said it is important for pilot training.

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