Big Student Housing Developer Proposes 10-Story Complex

Friday, October 27, 2017, 8:05 am
By: 
Jessy Gregg

While the Center City District and Park District redevelopment plans for downtown East Lansing remained mired in uncertainty, this week the Planning Commission turned its attention to the east, considering a proposal for a new 10-story, mixed use, market-rate development in the area known as the East Village, bordering MSU’s campus. The project is proposed by a national student housing developer. Unlike many big development proposals in East Lansing, it seeks no tax increment financing (TIF).

Core Campus Lansing—a branch of the national development corporation Core Spaces, which specializes in student driven housing developments—presented their proposal for “The Hub” on Wednesday night.

Core Spaces has student housing developments in eleven cities nationwide, with more under construction (including in Ann Arbor), all near college campuses. At Planning Commission this week, Andrew Wiedner, Chief Investment Officer for Core Spaces, stressed that each of their properties is a unique design tailored to its site.

The proposal for East Lansing calls for a 10-story tall, 124-foot-high complex with six retail bays on the ground floor and 347 apartments above. The new development would occupy just over one acre of land at the southeast corner of Bogue Street and Grand River Avenue. The site is where a 7-11 store and Georgio’s Pizza now stand, between Bogue and Cedar Streets in the specially zoned “East Village.” Georgio's and 7-11 will have spaces in the new complex.

In compliance with the zoning requirements set out for this area in 2006, the proposal includes dramatically-increased sidewalk space meant to encourage walkers and bikers.

But proximity to campus, wide sidewalks and bike racks were not enough to allay some people’s concerns over the relatively small number of parking spaces planned for this number of residents and shops. Individuals who own commercial properties near the proposed development spoke against the plans, citing lack of parking as their primary concern.

Richard Foster, who owns the Element building across Grand River Avenue from the proposed Hub site, says that he has eighteen parking places for 36 apartments at the Element. He says he has had to turn away tenants because of lack of parking, although his building is currently fully occupied. He said that his tenants who are unable to park their cars on site rent spaces from the 7-11 and Georgio’s across the street, which, he says, rent out twelve spaces apiece to area residents.

Nancy Marr of Prime Housing Group expressed concern regarding parking and the size of the building relative to its surroundings. A major East Lansing landlord, Prime Housing Group owns seven commercial buildings in the East Village, and Marr sat on the East Village Master Planning team when the zoning changes were first proposed in 2006. She expressed concern that the first site to be redeveloped under the new rules would be two stories higher than the planned maximum height of eight stories.

“It’s huge,” she told the Planning Commission. “Very beautiful, but huge.”

Representatives from Core Spaces planning team used statistics from the corporation’s existing developments in other cities to justify the relatively small number of parking spots planned for the project. With a maximum of 585 beds (more than the number of bedrooms, since some of the studio apartments are designed to accommodate two people) and 131 residential parking spaces, the Hub development’s resident-to-parking-spot ratio is .22. Core Space’s Madison (Wisconsin) building has a parking ratio of .18.

In May 2017, East Lansing’s City Council passed an ordinance reducing the parking requirement in B2 and B3 building districts by 50%. The East Village zoning is similar to B2 and B3 (having mixed use buildings with retail on the bottom and apartments above), but the East Village is its own zone, and therefore not subject to the reduced parking requirement.

Under current requirements in East Lansing, a building with the Hub’s level of occupancy would need 518 parking spaces. That would be reduced to 265 if the automatic reduction was applicable. The plan as presented this week calls for 131 residential spaces and 27 spaces for the six retail spaces.

Kimley Horn, the engineering firm contracted by Core Spaces, provided a parking study to the City which they say justifies the developer’s assertion that their low quantity of parking spaces is workable. Core Spaces provided an additional memo outlining their philosophy and commitment to walkable communities and providing parking statistics from their other developments.

The Hub development proposal must be reviewed by the Traffic Commission before it comes back to Planning Commission. (See the traffic study for the project.) Planning Commission will ultimately decide whether to recommend the project for approval by City Council, and then, regardless of Planning Commission’s recommendation, City Council will take up the proposal.

The absence of request for tax increment financing simplifies the process of governmental review of the proposal, and means that if the project is built, all taxing jurisdictions will immediately see new revenue from the project.