Bailey Balconies Go Back to Council

Wednesday, June 22, 2016, 8:32 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: the property at issue under construction

The question of whether a new Bailey-neighborhood rental apartment complex can have balconies has been sent back to City Council, as the developer has explained to ELi why the balconies didn’t go to Council for approval in the first place.

ELi reported on Monday that Darcy Schmitt, City Planning staff, gave landlord/developer DTN permission to add the balconies to the new apartment complex without checking back with City Council. The last City Council had approved the project without balconies in May 2014. Balconies are often a concern among neighbors because of the potential for noise and other problems.

This Tuesday, without discussion, the current Council approved a new, undated application from DTN to install Juliet balconies at the project, with the understanding that DTN will come back and request approval from Council for conventional balconies later.

As shown in the photo above, DTN has already constructed framing for conventional balconies. I asked DTN’s Colin Cronin by email today why the project application for the “Garten Haus” complex didn’t originally include balconies when it came before the last City Council in May 2014.

Cronin explained the reason, beginning with noting that the project is now called “Beech Townhomes.” (The complex is at the corner of Beech and Gunson Streets.)

He said, “Balconies were a tight fit from the get-go, and partially an oversight.” When Studio Intrigue, the architect, and KEBS, the engineer, were doing the original site plan, “one of the toughest problems to overcome was the ground coverage ratio, and between the buildings, parking lot, etc.”

Cronin said the project was on the verge of having too much ground coverage to comply with zoning. He notes that East Lansing “has a bit of a strange code with ground coverage and balconies” in that “even balconies that don’t touch the ground and have grass or landscape underneath them count the entire square footage of the balcony as ‘ground coverage.’”

According to Cronin, “as the units were going vertical and we were walking the construction, we were not thrilled with how the living rooms ‘felt’ with only windows, so we went back to work exploring the ground coverage and if/how we could make balconies fit and [at] what size.”

The company then asked the City’s Planning Department to allow balconies, and Darcy Schmitt gave permission. Based on the fact that the issue has now come back to Council, the City has apparently decided Schmitt did not have the authority to make such a decision.

When the issue came to light this past weekend, DTN was called in by the City. According to Cronin, “they called us late Monday morning to come in for a meeting Monday afternoon to discuss the balcony permit”. He says it was an “interesting conversation and they were really apologetic and making sure we knew it wasn’t anything we did that was a problem, but an issue on their end, so they were asking for our understanding and help.”

As noted above, City Council this week gave permission for Juliet balconies (essentially a decorative railing across the glass doors, with no actual balcony space). DTN will apply for conventional balconies at a later date.

I asked Cronin if what some say is true—that non-student renters are more likely to be attracted if a landlord offers a balcony.

Replied Cronin, “yes, we have had a good deal of feedback about non-student renters desiring balconies (along with other amenities).”

He says that “Even as part of our 300 Grand River project meetings [near the original Biggby Coffee] with some the West Village II condo owners [next door], a few of them specifically mentioned the reason they bought a condo...was because of the balconies, and they wouldn’t have bought there if they didn’t have them.”

He concludes, “So yes, it's our belief that non student groups desire balconies and outdoor space, but I'm sure the conflict comes in the fact that student like balconies also.”

Cronin says that “Both Beech Townhomes and 300 Grand were designed with the intent of attracting any market, so as [East Lansing] changes over the years, it can be just as attractive to students, non-students, or even flipped into condos and sold (if the market supports it).”

He says that, “At one point early on, we had a new dean of one of the MSU programs (I forget which) who [pre-]rented a Beech Townhouse for his family, but they unfortunately canceled a few weeks back.”

He says that at the Beech Townhouses, “the garages, finishes, location, unit design, is intended for a broad market, and not a pure ‘student’ design.”

ELi will continue to track this story.

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