Vacant Howard Johnson hotel could become Marriott-style hotel
The abandoned hotel building at 1100 Trowbridge Road in East Lansing sits at the gateway to the city of East Lansing from US-127 and I-496, and less than a quarter-mile west of the entrance to MSU’s campus at Trowbridge and Harrison roads.
At the Feb. 22 East Lansing Planning Commission meeting, Boji Group, a Lansing real estate development group, presented their plan to raze the building and construct a new hotel, a four-story SpringHill Suites by Marriott, as well as a four-tenant commercial building, including one store with a drive-through on the 3.43 acre property.
The public hearing about the plan lasted nearly two hours, with planning commissioners and representatives of the neighboring Arbor Forest Apartments expressing reservations and concerns about the planned development.
“Certainly, in a perfect world, we could go back and clean the slate and start over,” said Susan Chalgian, an officer on the Trowbridge Business Association and part-owner of a law office near the planned development. “But what is there needs to be addressed, or it is something that is highly desirable to be addressed. … People want to see the blight changed to something vibrant, but … I think the discussion around the table is very valid.”
Boji Group went to the planning commission seeking two Special Use Permits: one to exceed the two-story limit on buildings like their hotel, and another to put a drive-through on the commercial buildings, with the idea that a drive-through coffee shop would be one of the tenants. Both permits were challenged at the meeting.
Planning commissioner John Cahill said the drive-through would cause major traffic congestion, as the drive-through is situated on the opposite side of the parking lot from the only entrance to the lot. Boji Group chief operating officer Terri Fitzpatrick said the group plans to redesign the parking lot’s layout after listening to this feedback at the meeting.
Attorney George Brookover, who represents Arbor Forest Apartments, spoke for 15 minutes at the meeting, detailing his client’s complaints about the development. Afterward, he said Arbor Forest would prefer several changes to the existing plan, and expressed his concern that the 3.43 acre site is too small to accommodate all of the planned development.
“My client really hasn’t had a total chance to look at everything,” Brookover said. “But among other things, lower height in the hotel, greater setback on the west side of the project and substantial screening in terms of deciduous trees and planting trees and green space on the border between the two properties.”
In response to Brookover’s complaints, Fitzpatrick said Boji Group will not be considering these changes, and when pressed by the planning commissioners, she said the project would not be feasible unless it is at least four stories high. Fitzpatrick said Boji Group will continue to communicate with community members about their desires for the project, and that they are considering changing the color of the building from white to brown to satisfy some concerns.
“There’s a very, very strong feel for neighborhood there,” Fitzpatrick said. “They want to maintain that strong culture of community within their neighborhood. So that’s come across very strongly.”
Chalgian said, as a part of the Trowbridge Business Association, she is “excited” at the potential of a hotel that would replace the blighted building and bring customers to the Trowbridge corridor. However she, like Brookover, expressed her concern that the site is too small for the proposed development.
“Are we stuffing too much into a very short area? If you’ve ever thought about that short distance from the time you’re getting off the ramp, it’s hard to even think about where do you turn, let alone what is there,” Chalgian said.
Planning commission chair Laura Goddeeris said the proposal could go up for vote as early as the commission’s next meeting on March 8, but that depends on whether Boji Group is ready to submit the proposal for a vote on that date.
“Part of the public hearing intention is to identify areas of concern that both the commission members might have, as well as members of the public,” Goddeeris said. “And applicants (are) here to listen to all of that and choose what they want to accommodate in what they bring back. So I don’t know for sure what the timetable will be here; some of these issues take longer to work out.”