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Board waits on e-commerce exchange zone decision

Alex Doty • Jan 9, 2018 at 2:00 PM

The Grand Haven Township Board is waiting on information from legal staff before moving forward with a vote on a planned e-commerce exchange zone at the Township Hall.

Board members say they want input from the township’s attorney on what kind of liability — if any — they would open themselves up to if they created the exchange zone.

“I’d feel safer (making a decision) if we got some other opinion on that,” Township Treasurer Bill Kieft said.

The e-commerce exchange zone concept was proposed during a Township Board work session in late 2017. It’d be a spot where area residents could meet to do business, such as selling or purchasing used goods and materials from classified ads and websites.

Township Manager Bill Cargo said that the spot wouldn’t be advertised as “safe,” and instead would be signed as “monitored.”

“We’re not saying we’re going to have police presence all of the time,” he said. “... I don’t have any problem delaying this to answer this more clearly.”

The plan was originally proposed by Township Trustee Cal Meeusen, who spoke about similar sites near Lansing and near Detroit.

“I did receive a fair amount of comments about it and they were all positive,” Meeusen said of his initial proposal.

In addition to goods and services, the location could also be used as a child exchange site for blended families.

“I’ve received more comments about that than the idea about buying or selling something,” Meeusen said.

Concerns about the exchange zone’s impact on local business were also brought up Monday night.

“I applaud you for always evaluating new things that are happening and staying current with new trends,” said Grand Haven Main Street Executive Director Diane Sheridan. 

Sheridan noted, however, that she is concerned that the e-commerce exchange zone might offer a platform for businesses that aren’t paying taxes and are “flying under the radar” to negatively impact local, small “brick-and-mortar” businesses. 

“I want to make sure all businesses have a level playing field,” she said.

Trustee Howard Behm — whose wife, Sharon, is chairwoman of Grand Haven Main Street and owner of Borr’s shoe store in downtown Grand Haven — also voiced his criticism of the plan.

“I do agree with the child and family thing. It’s great to have that setting for people,” he said. “(But) I do strongly oppose the rest of it.”

Like Sheridan, Behm said he is concerned with how the site might negatively impact local small businesses, and added that he is opposed to the township using money that comes in from taxpaying local businesses to install the site, which could benefit businesses that might not pay local taxes.

“I am afraid of what it would grow into,” Behm said.

According to Cargo, the total cost of setting up the new exchange zone is expected to be less than $2,200. The original estimate was $5,000.

Two new high-definition video cameras would cover the portion of the parking lot between the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office entrance into Township Hall and the public entrance into the fire station. The cameras would cost about $1,920, and the township would also spend several hundred dollars for two signs that would be posted on the light pole between the two entrances.

Officials say the area was chosen because it’s often frequented by law enforcement and Sheriff’s Office vehicles are stored there, and it’s an area that can be readily monitored with security cameras.

If approved, the Township Hall lobby would also be used as an exchange zone during normal business hours.

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