Street Talk: Bills, bills and more bills

Sign of the times.
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The Michigan House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation geared toward helping businesses in West Michigan and statewide survive the COVID-19 crisis.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, said he and his team “applaud” the legislation, which the chamber advocated for along with other groups across the state.

“The chamber has spent the last several months pursuing every potential avenue to help West Michigan businesses survive the public health crisis and the economic shutdown,” Baker said. “The chamber is thrilled to see two top items from our ‘Smart Restart Agenda’ nearing the finish line, and we urge the Senate to quickly send the legislation to the governor to be signed into law.”

House Bills 5761 and 5810 allow for an extension of the summer 2020 property tax without the threat of interest or fees and create a mechanism to support cash-flow for local units of government.

“Summer property taxes can be the single largest bill for a business every year, and concerns over ability to pay were among the greatest concerns for businesses who have gone with little to no revenue for an entire quarter,” said Joshua Lunger, senior director of government affairs for the chamber. “This legislation provides a short-term lifeline for these severely impacted businesses such as theaters, restaurants, sporting and event venues, and more. We want these employers to be a part of our recovery and, at no fault of their own, they need more time to get their feet back under them and begin earning revenue.”

Lew Chamberlin, founder and chairman of the West Michigan Whitecaps, echoed Lunger’s statement.

“With the prospect of no baseball this summer, the West Michigan Whitecaps knows that we will be facing a significant deficit, and we are doing everything we can to ensure we are able to serve the community when baseball returns,” he said. “I know that there are many small businesses facing similar challenges, and we are pleased this legislation will help our business community navigate a difficult recovery from the coronavirus.”

House Bill 5781 passed in the Michigan House of Representatives June 17. The chamber said the legislation is “critical to supporting the restaurants who contribute greatly to the vibrancy and fabric of our communities” and it will create opportunities for them to safely serve customers outdoors. The bill lets local governments designate the social districts and provide greater flexibility to these small businesses.

“Restaurants have been hit hard by the virus, and we are working to overcome a lot of uncertainty,” said Chris Heileman, CEO of Uccello’s Hospitality Group, which owns several Grand Rapids-area restaurants. “The social districts are amazing tools for us to safely serve guests and reactivate our community.”

The Business Journal on June 12 reported on the city of Grand Rapids’ work to implement social zones, which draws on the statewide social districts legislation.

“For weeks, the chamber has worked closely with the city of Grand Rapids and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. to advance this legislation,” Lunger said. “We greatly appreciate the innovative work they are doing to support the business community as we reopen.”

Rapid response

The Rapid will hold multiple input meetings in early July to gather public feedback on three proposed changes to service: elimination of the Silver Line downtown Grand Rapids fare-free zone; reinstatement of regular fares on Route 19 (Michigan Crosstown); and the system-wide elimination of paper ticket transfers and change cards.

The fare changes on the Silver Line and Route 19 are intended to standardize fare payment and collection on all fixed-route service throughout The Rapid’s system. The elimination of paper ticket transfers and change cards is part of the continued transition to The Rapid’s e-fare system, The Wave.

Meetings will take place on Wednesday, July 1, and Wednesday, July 8, at the Rapid Central Station Community Room. Each day will provide morning and evening input opportunities, from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Any members of the public that plan to attend the in-person meetings will be asked to wear a mask or face covering if they are medically able to minimize the risks of exposure and spread of COVID-19. In addition, a maximum capacity of 20 people will be allowed in the Rapid Central Station Community Room at one time, and physical distancing will be required.

Other options are available for anyone that would prefer to provide feedback without attending a meeting, including a dedicated public comment email address, comment@ridetherapid.org, a dedicated voicemail box, (616) 774-1235, and a mailing address: Communications Department, 300 Ellsworth Ave. SW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503.

The public comment period is open until July 10. All three changes are proposed to take effect Aug. 1

Food fair

In an effort to support Kentwood businesses and jumpstart the local economy, the Kentwood City Commission earlier this month passed a resolution reducing regulations and expediting the site plan review process for temporary outdoor retail, food, beverage and personal service uses.

Effective through Nov. 1, the resolution suspends time limits on temporary sign display and waives business license fees. Retailers, restaurants and personal-service businesses, such as training facilities, wanting to add expanded outdoor spaces for customers now have the opportunity to apply through a streamlined administrative review process.

“It goes without saying — COVID-19 and shelter-in-place requirements over the past three months have had tremendous impacts on our local businesses,” said Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley. “As we look to restart the local economy, the city of Kentwood remains committed to being a help and not a hindrance for our business community, and has implemented a number of measures to assist.

“The resolution passed is intended to ease and expedite businesses’ abilities to serve customers in a manner that’s consistent with evolving public health recommendations.”

The review and approval of site plans for general retail sales, food, beverage and personal-service establishments seeking to utilize outdoor areas, such as exterior building aprons or parking areas, will be conducted through the Planning Department. Interested businesses are asked to complete the online application at kentwood.us/businessrestart for consideration.

Under the temporary sign moratorium, one temporary sign of up to 32 square feet is allowed per business. Other restrictions applicable to temporary signs, such as sign placement and similar matters, remain in effect.

For the licensing year, city fees will be waived for businesses with the exception of the following: transient, waste hauler, door-to-door and snowplowing licenses, or hazardous material fees.

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