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Master plan open houses invite feedback on E.L'.s future

February 14, 2018
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court.
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court. —
Photo by Carly Geraci | The State News

Less than a month remains in East Lansing's master plan review process, but before it's finished, city officials are seeking feedback from residents at a series of master plan open houses.

A city's master plan is essentially a layout of the city's goals for nearly every aspect of day-to-day life. Parks, transportation, facilities, housing, redevelopment; if it relates to urban planning, it's likely to be found in the master plan.

Michigan law requires East Lansing to have a master plan, which projects land use 20 years into the future and must be reviewed every five years.

This version of the master plan, which has been under construction since 2013, is named "The Bigger Picture Plan," a play on East Lansing's Big Picture Comprehensive Plan that laid out a physical and social framework for the city's future back in 2006.

The most recent open house was held on Monday at the East Lansing Islamic Center. Seeking feedback in an open house format allows the master plan to become a collaborative effort, and residents have responded, David Haywood, the city's planning and zoning administrator, said. 

"The benefit is that you have a wider window of time for people to come in that's more convenient to their schedule," Haywood said. "If we had just a point presentation at a specific time, we might lose a lot of people, and I think people tend to provide more meaningful input if they can do it with a smaller group of people or individually." 

Although bad weather might have been the reason the first two open houses didn't draw as many people as the city hoped, Haywood said he was optimistic about residents' involvement — even when residents voiced criticism.

"We've gotten some support about what we're doing, particularly in the neighborhoods that we aren't proposing a lot of change in," Haywood said. "But we have been getting some really pointed feedback about changes to certain areas that will impact people, and we really appreciate that.

"That's what this is for, an opportunity to come in and say, 'hey, maybe you didn't get this quite right,' and then that will go back to the Planning Commission." 

Justin Booth, a Bailey neighborhood resident who has lived in East Lansing for the last 17 years, said he came out to Monday's open house to see how the master plan will impact his neighborhood.

"They're laying out a plan, a strategy to look to the future, and giving us the opportunity to write on the maps to give feedback," Booth said. "It seems like a well-thought out process." 

Booth said he had a few concerns about the city's plans for his neighborhood. Large sections of the future land use in the Bailey neighborhood are under a Residential 3 or Residential 4 category, which both allow for buildings with a maximum height of 50 feet.

Booth wasn't upset about the plan, just cautious; he said if the city made the proposed changes "in a thoughtful way" it could be a benefit to the neighborhood.

"I live in single-family housing in Bailey, so how higher density around that neighborhood impacts where I live, that's something that's of concern to me," Booth said. "But it's not unexpected. ... With some of the older student housing, a lot of that space needs to be redeveloped." 

Director of planning, building and development Tim Dempsey said while zoning and development goals are necessary aspects of any master plan, the city wanted to focus on elements of East Lansing's future that went beyond just a changing skyline or improved transportation.

"We have a new category in the thematic area: human dignity and civic participation," Dempsey said. "I think it's a recognition that planning is as much about people as it is about places." 

Although the city won't be holding any of the open houses on campus, Dempsey highlighted the proximity of the Islamic Center and the Hannah Community Center to MSU in their efforts to encourage student turnout.

City councilmember and political science senior Aaron Stephens, who was on hand at Monday's open house, praised the efforts of city employees for putting together the events.

"It should be noted the incredible amount of work from our staff and members of the commissions, just putting this together, getting the input," Stephens said. "The actual importance that was put on getting community input is something that I think should be very well highlighted." 

The five years of effort that has gone into this update of the master plan is set to wrap up shortly, as only one open house remains. It is scheduled for Feb. 26 from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hannah Community Center.

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The Planning Commission will hold a work session to analyze resident input, make any necessary changes and hold a public hearing to adopt the plan.

Although City Council technically holds the right to final approval of the master plan, in the past they have not invoked that right, likely making the Planning Commission's decision to adopt the final step in the process.

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