City Has Leased Land to Developers; Could Do So Again if Ballot Measure Fails

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Thursday, October 2, 2014, 8:36 pm
Alice Dreger

Advocates of a “yes” vote on the November ballot question—a question about whether the City Council should be authorized to sell three parking lots—say that this is necessary for development to proceed in the Park District (Valley Court) area. But it is possible the City Council could decide to long-term lease City-owned land, essentially bypassing direct-voter input on the question. A long-term land-lease was employed with the University Place (downtown Marriott) property almost 30 years ago.

Mayor Nathan Triplett told me in an interview about the ballot question that, “if the proposal is defeated, the community's next opportunity to vote will not be until November 2015 and any project, even one the entire community supports, will be stopped in its tracks.” According to Triplett, “a 'no' vote stops any project from moving forward for at least a year, even a project supported by those behind the so-called ‘Neighborhoods 1st” [PAC]. This vote is a procedural step required by the City Charter, not a referendum on any particular site plan.”

But former East Lansing mayor Mark Meadows, who opposes the ballot measure specifically because it is not tied to a particular site plan, says that he believes a better way to approach the situation could be for the City to long-term lease, rather than sell, city-owned land like the parking lots to developers.

Meadows told me, “I do not support authorizing the sale of the property in the Valley Court area for the same reason I voted ‘no’ on putting the land at the front of the public works garage up for authorization several years ago. Namely, I don't agree with authorizing any city council to sell city land for any purpose that is not associated with a project that has been fully vetted and has achieved at least a consensus of support among the citizens. Otherwise, the citizens are being asked to buy a pig in a poke.”

A development agreement has not been reached on the Park District planning area.

Meadows adds, “once sold, city property is no longer the lever that can produce a project that can actually benefit our citizens.” He says, “I believe the city has the authority to lease rather than sell and I also believe that leasing gives the city the ability to establish conditions in a lease that may provide greater continuing control over a project and, of course, if the project fails to go forward, the city still owns the land and can go back to the drawing board.”

Tim Dempsey, the City’s Director of Planning & Development, confirmed today that the University Place (downtown Marriott) development involved a long-term land-lease to the development. According to Dempsey:

“[T]he lease term commenced March 10, 1986, and is for 40 years ([i.e., until] March 10, 2026). The City is the lessor, University Place Associates is the lessee and terms are $10 per year until the initial 40-year term is up. At that point the rent goes to 12% of the fair market value of the land on an annual basis.” (In response to my questioning, Dempsey indicated that “The DDA [Downtown Development Authority] is not party to this land lease.”)

Meadows made plain in his response to my questions to him that he is not against redeveloping the area, although he is very much against voting to authorize City Council to sell the parking lots in the area: “The failure to appropriately redevelop that property, after nearly fourteen years of trying, is a great disappointment and I just don't see the end in sight. It’s not a question of trust [of City Council] for me--as I said above, I just don't agree with the policy of blindly authorizing a sale.”


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