Center City Developer Not Ready for Public Hearings

Monday, May 8, 2017, 8:42 pm
By: 
Chris Root

Above: An image shown today at Lotsa Pizza by the Center City District developers, showing the proposed Target store along Grand River Avenue.

Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors presented new architectural renderings of the Center City District development at an open house at Lotsa Pizza this afternoon. But the developer will not appear at the East Lansing’s City Council’s hearing to present the project tomorrow evening as had been planned.

It appears that no new site plan or tax increment financing (TIF) plan will be available from the developer for Council’s consideration tomorrow, May 9. There was no new site plan available at Lotsa Pizza, and Mark Bell, speaking on behalf of Harbor Bay, declined to give even the dollar amount of the revised TIF, saying that, too, is still was being worked on.

City Manager George Lahanas, who was at the event, said that the public hearings on the site plan and Special Use Permit and also on the TIF plan are still likely to be held tomorrow evening at City Council. The required public notice has already been given for these public hearings, and the public hearings are still on the Council’s agenda that appears on the City’s website.

We now know that Council certainly will not vote on these matters at this meeting. It cannot vote without the required documentation from the developer.

Lahanas also said that the planned discussion of a key Memorandum of Understanding between the developer and the City about this project has been completely pulled from the agenda.

Speaking as City Manager, Lahanas invited people to still speak at Tuesday’s Council hearing about their interests and concerns about the project, even though the latest versions of the site proposal and TIF plan will not be available. (People also can opt to speak during the Public Comment period at future Council meetings.)

In his presentation at Lotsa Pizza, developer Mark Bell told those present that the project would not come before Council tomorrow, May 9, and would instead come up on either May 23 or June 6. The City Manager’s statement, that the public hearing is still on for tomorrow, is correct, however, based on the published agenda.

On April 26, East Lansing’s Planning Commission voted 4-to-4 on the proposal, a vote which constitutes a formal recommendation to Council against approval. At Lotsa Pizza, Bell described having made some revisions in the site plan in response to the Planning Commission’s critiques of the project.

Bell said they heard concerns from the Commission about the height, massing, and volume of the buildings. The proposal that the Commission reviewed included a 12-story building on Grand River Avenue and an 11-story building behind it, on Albert Avenue, on what currently is the City’s surface parking Lot #1. The revisions shown in drawings by Bell today are apparently intended to maintain the density of the project, in order to keep it economically viable, while reducing the height, mass, and volume.

The following image is a photograph taken of a new rendering shown at Lotsa Pizza today, showing the project from the Albert Avenue side, looking southeast:

The Albert Avenue structure is still designed to have one floor of developer-owned retail space and four levels of City-owned parking, but now is designed to have five instead of six stories of developer-owned rental apartments for people over age 55. (These senior rental apartments would be above the parking garage.) The planned height of that Albert Avenue building has been reduced from 11 to 10 stories, and from 140 to 122 feet.

The number of senior apartments remains the same, but the building on top of the parking ramp has been elongated and flattened. Also, the rental apartments will be set back ten feet more than the parking ramp along Albert Avenue. The following is a photograph of a new rendering shown today, looking at the proposed Albert Avenue structure from the northeast (from the Ann Street Plaza):

A “viewing deck” is now planned at the western edge of the apartment building, so people on the end apartments will have a view of part of the MSU campus.

The planned Grand River Avenue building, with a Target store on the ground level and 11 floors of market-rate apartments, has been slightly reduced in height. The plan now calls for it to be reduced from 140 to 131 feet. The following is a photograph of a rendering of the Grand River Avenue tower, shown at today’s event:

When asked about the revenue the City can expect to obtain from this project, Bell said it could expect an increase in revenue of 150% to 200% compared to the current revenue from Lot 1.

When this reporter pointed out that this was a significantly higher estimate than the 100% increase in revenue to the City originally estimated by the Lansing Economic Area Partnership (LEAP), Bell said the exact percentage is under debate. But he said it could be 100% or 200%, and said it would certainly be a significant increase.

Bell concluded by saying that the project is “limitless” in terms of revenue to the City and that one should consider the intrinsic value of this addition to downtown, besides considering revenue projections.

City Council’s meeting begins at 7 p.m. tomorrow in City Hall, and Council may be reached by email at council@cityofeastlansing.com.