Above: Rendering of the DRW/Convexity building plan approved for blighted corner (left), and signs in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood.
Parking has been a recurring theme at East Lansing City Council Meetings in the last few months. It was on the agenda again on May 9, with Council deciding at that meeting to reduce parking requirements for new developments and deciding to leave Chesterfield Hills’ parking system as-is for now.
Reducing parking requirement for new developments:
At Council’s May 9 meeting, an amendment to Ordinance 1400, the ordinance dictating parking requirements for residential and mixed use property developments in the City of East Lansing, passed unanimously and with apparent enthusiasm. The amendment reduces the number of required parking spaces for residential developments by 50% and for mixed-use commercial developments by 25%.
The staff report on the issue cited an example of how this change would impact a mixed-use building with 6,000 square feet of office space, 4 one-bedroom units, 5 two-bedroom units and 10 three-bedroom units. The ordinance change reduces the required number of parking spaces for such a development from 57 spaces to 39 spaces. Further reductions in parking would be possible with approval in certain circumstances, such as when a development is close to public transportation.
“This is an important step and it’s been a long time coming,” commented Councilmember Erik Altmann. Altmann credited the planned reduction in parking requirements under amended Ordinance 1400 as a leading factor in the approval of the Park District project site plan for the blighted corner of Grand River and Abbot. “That made a lot of pieces of that project fit into place,” he said, adding, “It sort of modernizes our view of parking and it gives us some important flexibility that could facilitate developments which would not otherwise have been possible. I think this is great.”
“Ditto,” said Mayor Mark Meadows, calling the change a recognition of changing driving habits. Meadows said, “Fifteen years ago we had zero taxies in the City of East Lansing and now we have ninety. Uber and Lyft are operating consistently, a younger generation isn’t necessarily getting a driving-while-impaired [citation] because they aren’t doing any driving.”
Chesterfield Hills permit parking:
In contrast to the easy sailing of the amendment to Ordinance 1400 at the May 9 meeting, there was a good deal of confusing back and forth on the Chesterfield Hills parking issue at that meeting. The Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood has been the locus of a contentious debate over residential parking permits over the last fifteen months, with vocal supporters on both sides of the issue.
Under the residential permit parking (RPP) system, in designated areas, parked cars require special permits obtained from the City by residents of those areas.
Early this year, in a split vote the Council voted to expand permit parking in Chesterfield Hills following the recommendations of the Chesterfield Hills Parking Committee (a resident group) and other neighborhood residents who had petitioned for the change. This Council also passed changes to Ordinance 1370, now allowing residents of individual streets to petition for a change in the parking regulations on their streets.
At the March 2 meeting of Council, two such petitions were introduced. At that meeting, Council requested additional input from the Transportation Commission, and did not rule on the issue.
At past public hearings on this issue, passions have run high. But it was immediately apparent on May 9 at Council that both the residents and Councilmembers are tired of talking about this parking issue.
Heather Marlow from Cresenwood Road opened her comments with a laugh, saying, “This is the fourth meeting that I’ve been to about residential parking permits,” before going on to repeat her points in opposition. Primarily she expressed concern that no evidence had been offered to fulfil the part of the ordinance dictating that no “adverse effects” will be felt by other residents in the area.
That language, which is broadly open to interpretation, seems to be the lynchpin that is delaying a definitive ruling on this issue. It isn’t clear how Council is supposed to determine who decides what might count as “adverse effects” great enough to matter, or how Council determines which adverse effects are more important than others.
Meadows introduced the idea of implementing a two-hour parking restriction throughout the entire Chesterfield Hills neighborhood, with an option for residents to park longer with a residential permit. Many of the residents who spoke agreed that this would be an appropriate solution, particularly if there is not parking on both sides of the street.
But Ken David, who chaired the Chesterfield Hills Parking Committee when the RPP ordinance originally passed, said that he felt that would not address the primary concern of too many parked cars causing drivers to not have good visibility when exiting their driveways.
“All joking aside, we’ve heard a lot about this over time,” said Councilmember Shanna Draheim, the only Councilmember who lives in the affected area. “I’m going to propose that we take a more comprehensive look at this in the coming months,” she said. “I really like the idea of thinking of a one-side-of-the-street, two-hour parking, comprehensive solution for the whole neighborhood.”
Speaking specifically regarding the two petitions that have bounced between the Council and the Transportation Commission and were back before Council on May 9, Draheim said, “We changed this ordinance to allow for portions of this neighborhood to say that they no longer wish to have it. They’ve met all the requirements and I think for now we should honor that and move ahead.”
But ultimately the motion to approve the two petitions failed, so no changes were made to the current system at the May 9 meeting. Council did assure those present that they would be revisiting the issue with the aim of finding a neighborhood-wide solution.