Big Questions Surround Core Spaces’ Big New Hub Proposal

Friday, September 13, 2019, 7:55 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: At left, the existing Hub, and to the right the proposed new buildings along Bogue Street, as seen from the northwest.

Core Spaces’ proposal for two new “The Hub” buildings along Bogue Street came to Planning Commission this week for a public hearing.

Commissioners and citizens had lots of questions about both the proposal and the newly opened Hub at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Bogue Street.

If built as proposed, the two new 14-story Hub towers would surround the two-story Farmhouse Fraternity and overlook MSU. The new buildings would be 152 feet tall, about 20 feet taller than The Hub just to the north, which means they would also tower over the smaller rental housing to the east and south.

The projects would have two-story townhouse-style apartments fronting on Bogue Street at the ground level of the buildings. The ground level would also include high-ceilinged lobby entrances for the apartments on floors 3-14.

Below: Rendering of the north Hub 2 building, showing the apartment building lobby to the left and direct entrance townhouse style apartments (floors 1-2) to the right.

The new buildings are designed to house 1,773 more students and to provide 400 internal car-parking spaces for those residents. Both buildings would include rooftop pools and grilling stations, planted courtyards several stories up, and gyms.

Core Spaces’ representatives have said they must get approval quickly for two reasons.

The deal Core Spaces has to buy the land will expire if they can’t get City Council approval soon. (They won’t give the details of those purchase agreements.) And, they say, an economic downturn could kill the whole project.

Core previously asked Planning Commission to recommend to Council changes to East Lansing’s special code for the area so that the proposed project would be in compliance.

But Planning Commission opted instead, without much discussion, to recommend only the changes staff had proposed. Those recommendations for changes to the code for the East Village — commonly referred to as the Cedar Village area — do not permit many elements of Core’s project.

Below: Jeff Zelisko of Antunovich Associates, architect for the project.

Core Spaces’ people seem to assume — not unreasonably, based on history — that if Council likes this project, Council will change the code as needed.

That was something to which Nancy Marr objected at the public hearing.

Marr owns Prime Housing Group, which has a number of rental properties in the immediate area of the project. She asked why East Lansing has adopted the habit of simply changing codes based on proposals instead of asking that proposals meet existing codes.

A current challenge is that the City is in the middle of considering a new form-based code, meant to reflect the recently adopted Master Plan, so there is a great deal of confusion about what developers ought to be proposing.

As developers always do, they are all pushing what they want to build now, rather than waiting for a code that could take a long time to be worked out.

What Core wants to build on Bogue Street would require changes that would allow a narrower sidewalk than City staff want to see, more height, and a lower first floor than envisioned in the existing East Village code. Core also wants to build four-bedroom apartments, not currently allowed.

Below: The project rendered from the southwest.

Core has said that one reason it wants to build units with more bedrooms — particularly four-bedroom, two-bath units — is to provide more affordable options for students.

But at Planning Commission, MSU undergraduate Ed Rushton came forward to object to the Core proposal because he said it would replace existing “low-income” housing with more expensive housing.

Rushton (below) said MSU “is a university concerned with lifting up students from all walks of life” and that he believed the City cared about “lesser-privileged students” like him, too. He said the project should not be approved because it would “push out” economically disadvantaged students.

Rushton did not mention that he’s a member of a fraternity whose building would be demolished if Core’s project is approved. Asked about this by ELi, he acknowledged it, and said that the man next to him at the meeting was the fraternity president, “but we want to keep that separate” from Rushton’s remarks.

What else do we know about the new proposal’s design?

The packet of application materials attached to Wednesday’s agenda for the new Hub proposal included a "site context" collage which was also presented in person by Core’s architect, Jeff Zelisko of Antunovich Associates. It showed architectural features around MSU’s campus that, Zelisko said, the team was taking as inspiration for their own design.

Near the center of it was the Union building from the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor. (Unprompted, Core sent ELi a corrected version on Thursday.)

A memo from the City’s engineering staff noted that the submitted material “lacks much of the details that will ultimately be needed” for the review.

There’s also no traffic impact study yet. Core’s attorney David Pierson noted that this was because the study must include vehicle counts that reflect traffic since The Hub opened and since MSU is back in session. Those parameters just became available and the resulting data are now being analyzed.

The agenda packet did contain a much more detailed and request-heavy memo from the Chief of Police than we’ve seen for other projects.

Chief Larry Sparkes has asked for the traffic study, and also for a detailed security plan, including plans for staffing, lighting, and security cameras. He has also asked for higher-than-standard safety rails around the rooftop pool area.

During the meeting on Wednesday, Planning Commissioner Jack Cahill asked about whether the police had been called to The Hub. Staff indicated they had been on move-in weekend.

Above: Jack Cahill (left) and Planning Commission Chair Dan Bollman.

ELi asked ELPD Chief Sparkes to tell us in a nutshell what occurred. “There were two primary issues that ELPD got involved in regarding the HUB. The first issue was traffic control due to the actual move-in,” said Sparkes to ELi, referring to a jam that occurred after the Hub failed to meet its occupancy permit deadline. “The second issue involved a large gathering at the pool which is located on the roof.”

He explained, “At least two items were reportedly thrown from that location including a pizza and beer can. The items landed in close proximity to a police vehicle as it was parked at the scene of an unrelated accident in the nearby alley. Later in the day officers responded to a noise complaint involving the pool.”

The City’s Fire Inspector Ray Stover has asked for fire command rooms to be designed into both new buildings, something that The Landmark in downtown East Lansing has but the existing Hub does not. City staff said the architects had found a place in the lobbies to add those.

A big question for this new proposal involves whether the parking is inadequate.

Pierson told Planning Commission that the plan for parking in the new buildings is about the same as for the existing Hub — about one parking space for every four residents. He said that parking in The Hub is only 95 percent leased, suggesting that was adequate. (About 94 percent of the apartments are leased.)

Below: Commissioners Dana Watson, Kathy Boyle, and Joseph Sullivan at Wednesday's meeting.

But Marr, who owns nearby properties, says it isn’t. She told the Commission that residents of The Hub are parking on her properties and calling her company about leasing spaces. Commissioners asked for more information about parking rates and levels at The Hub, City garages, and at MSU.

The City has suffered from empty parking garages, but Planning staff told the Commission that there are no more spaces for lease in the Charles Street and Division Street garages, because the City needs to keep spaces available for day parkers. All the permit parking in the new Albert ramp is leased to Harbor Bay, developer of Center City.

A local bicyclist advocate wrote to ELi recently with a critical analysis of the bike parking at The Hub, indicating that most of the bike parking is up a steep incline on the second level and isn’t being used because of the challenging grade.

A visit by this reporter yesterday confirmed that mopeds are parked in most of the lot’s spaces designed for bicycles, as shown below.

But it’s worth remembering that the design for The Hub included dedicated in-unit storage for bicycles, so it is possible that’s where most residents are storing bikes.

Yesterday’s visit also indicated that parking in The Hub is challenging, with awkward drives and spaces difficult to get in and out of. This may explain why not all of the spots are leased.

Residents of the new Hub building have reported enough problems that Council held a special discussion on the matter, although parking was not named by residents as one of the problems.

Several local landlords besides Marr came forward to tell Council they are concerned about the new proposal.

Because she owns nearby properties, Marr had specific concerns about construction, which she described as being poorly managed and extremely burdensome with the first Hub. She also raised concerns about noise and traffic.

Landlord/developer David Krause (below) referred to the tumultuous history of Cedar Village in terms of parties and riots, and asked why such huge buildings would be allowed when they are out of scale with surrounding properties.

Krause also asked why out-of-town developers were being accommodated with their proposals — for four-bedroom apartments, for example — in ways local developers, like him, have not been.

Mark Fisk (below), who owns student rental houses, said he was “very concerned” about allowing more development without a comprehensive housing study. He said he’s seeing a lot more “for rent” signs and suggested the impact on neighborhoods could be bad.

Architect and Grove Street resident Tim Mrozowski came to ask what the benefits of this project would be to the City in terms of tax revenues. The Hub is expected to produce about $800,000 in property taxes per year, with about $200,000 of that going to the City. Core Spaces is asking for no tax incentives for the project.

Mrozowski also asked what other benefits would be to those of us who live here year-round, and whether the design could be improved aesthetically.

Landlord/developer Matt Hagan said he was concerned East Lansing is building a housing bubble. He said the City “really needs to slow down, do a study, take a breath,” and see how the new big buildings are impacting house and apartment rentals.

Hagan (above) predicted vacancies and older-rental property degradation if the pace of new construction keeps up.

Staff said that they have been talking with their counterparts in Lansing and Meridian Township to try to pool resources for a regional housing study, but suggested that it could be many months, if not longer, before that study is available.

One thing we do know now is that the booming rental housing market is meaning more options for students. And that means more power to bargain with landlords.

The Hub traffic study is expected to be reviewed by the Transportation Commission on October 7 and the proposal as a whole will come back to Planning Commission on October 9.

 

Photos of people at Wednesday's meeting by Raymond Holt.

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