Planning Commission recommends Park District project, pushes back Center City District
The East Lansing Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend approval of the site plan and special use permit for the long-anticipated Park District project, bringing it one step closer to completion while deciding to defer consideration of the newer Center City District project until their next meeting.
The Planning Commission ultimately voted 6-2 to defer recommendation of the Center City project, as after nearly five hours in session, several commissioners felt they could not fairly evaluate the project.
“The public will want to hear from all of us about why we do or do not support this, and I just don’t feel, at 12:30 the day after our meeting started, that I’m in my best frame of mind to offer my most complete thoughts,” Planning Commission Chair Laura Goddeeris said.
The deferment will apparently see the Park District project move ahead of Center City District in the development pipeline, after a redesign allowed Center City to quickly move ahead while the long-running Park District project went back to the drawing board.
City Council has public hearings scheduled for Center City District’s brownfield reimbursement plan at their April 18 meeting and Park District’s brownfield plan at their April 25 meeting. The April 25 hearing will now likely see council vote on the entire Park District package. The deferment will likely push back Center City District’s hearing, as their site plan will not pass through the Planning Commission until the Commission’s April 26 meeting at the earliest.
The Park District site plan, presented by attorney David Pierson, contained some slightly changed features from the project’s last iteration. The main “Building A,” replacing the blighted properties at 100 W. Grand River Ave., is now 13 floors, with the second and third floors containing 218 spaces of screened parking. The building will include a 150-room Graduate Hotel, a chain that specializes in college towns, as well as 197 apartment units of various sizes.
“(The Graduate is) not something that there’s anything close to it in this market, and I think if you look at the website you would agree, it’s a remarkable product to bring here,” attorney for developer Convexity Properties David Pierson said.
“Building C” on Evergreen Ave. still contains five stories of owner-occupied housing. A group of rental housing units along Evergreen Avenue owned by the Downtown Development Authority will be turned into surface parking lots. The DDA previously attempted to incorporate these units into the project before in the form of a parking garage, as the city owes more than $5 million on the properties and has been looking to recoup the costs.
“I appreciate your flexibility through all this and your patience with us as we’ve taken, I think, the time that we felt necessary to review changes,” Goddeeris said to Pierson and other officials.
The Center City District project came with no major revisions, with the exception of the earlier announcement that a Target store would be occupying the Grand River Avenue building's retail space.
“This is a very, very strategic, urban, pedestrian-focused concept that is doing extremely well in other communities,” Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors CEO Mark Bell said. Harbor Bay is the developer for the Center City District project. “It is that destination retail, it is the anchor that is the heartbeat of the development."
The project met with skepticism from public commentators, many of whom had concerns about how fast the project was moving and the welfare of surrounding businesses during the two-year construction period.
“Are you signing a death warrant for a whole bunch of businesses when you sign this construction period?” East Lansing Info Publisher and President Alice Dreger said. “It’s hard for me to imagine how the businesses on Albert are going to survive if the street is closed for a year or more, possibly two years, it’s hard for me to understand how the businesses on Grand River Avenue are going to survive this, the ones that are not already being knocked down.”