UPDATED WITH IMAGES: Corner Project Now “On Hold” as Plans Don’t Match Approval
Note: This story was originally published on January 9 and was republished on January 11 after ELi obtained the images submitted for building permits through the Freedom of Information Act. Scroll down to see the images obtained.
Just when you thought the "Park District" development was going to happen, construction for the vacant corner downtown is “on hold” according to East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas.
Lahanas says this is because the plans submitted by the developers for the building permits don’t match what City Council approved.
Nothing issued by City staff or the developers over the last few weeks gave any hint of this twist in the long tale of the Park District. The City’s weekly “construction update” from last Friday made it sound like things were full-steam-ahead on the DRW/Convexity project, set to finally put something on the long-blighted northwest corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue.
But Tuesday night at City Council, Council Member Ruth Beier asked Lahanas to explain what was going on at the empty lot at 100 West Grand River Avenue.
Lahanas replied that his staff received the building plans “a couple of weeks ago” and “observed that the elevations” – meaning the two-dimensional drawings of the building’s faces – “did not exactly match” what Council had approved.
Beier told ELi after the meeting, “I found out about it from staff, who pointed out that the plans [the developers] submitted were not the same plans they had had approved.”
Beier said she expected a “big glass wall” on the building, and that’s not what’s in the plans submitted for the building permits.
Immediately after the discussion of the matter at Council, ELi filed a request to see the images via the Freedom of Information Act. We were permitted access to the images on Friday morning. Here is what they show:
Below shows the building to be constructed at 100 W. Grand River Avenue (known in plans as "Building A"), shown from the air looking southwest (as if you were above Sharp Park), with the intersection of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue at the left in the image. This is the rendering from the plans that were approved in August 2018:
And this is the rendering from the plans submitted for a building permit on December 10, 2018:
Next, you see the same basic angle of view (looking southwest) but rendered from street level, as if you were in Sharp Park. First comes the rendering from the approved set of plans, and next the rendering from the plans submitted for a building permit:
Next, shows the same building shown looking at it towards the northeast. Grand River Avenue is in the foreground breaking towards the right, and the planned hotel is shown to the left. (Evergreen Avenue occupies the space between the hotel on the left and Building A on the right.) This shows the rendering from the plans that were approved in August 2018 on the left, and rendering from the plans submitted for a building permit in December 2018 on the right.
Finally, this is a rendering from the submitted plans for the building permit showing the building looking northwest, as if you were at the MSU Union looking diagonally across the intersection of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road. (There is no equivalent of this in the set of plans submitted for approval.)
Beier says she’s not sure what happened in this case.
“I’m wondering why they [the developers] would do that,” she told ELi just after Tuesday evening's meeting. “We did bargain in good faith to make the building more attractive. Maybe they didn’t realize that our ordinance prevents them from changing it after the fact. But it does.”
At the meeting, Lahanas assured Council that staff would not let the developers proceed with plans that don’t match Council’s approval.
“At this point,” he told Council, “our view is you have to build what Council approved.” He went on, “at this point I would say things are on hold while we resolve this important issue.”
Mayor Mark Meadows told ELi after the meeting, “We went from the glass front [design] to just regular windows all up and down, so it looked like a regular building. We were trying to get something nicer there. I haven’t seen the plans. I figure staff will give it the thumbs up when appropriate.”
Beier said it had been “vital for my ‘yes’ vote that it not just be a box.” She said she was against the project “until they had that beautiful glass front.” She said that one reason she ran for Council was what happened at St. Anne Lofts – the building with the large cross downtown, on Albert Avenue. There, Council had approved four stories, but the developer built five.
At the meeting Tuesday night, Beier reiterated that the law in East Lansing requires developers to build what was approved. Lahanas agreed, saying that if the developers want to change the plans, they will have to come back for Council’s approval.
East Lansing’s Planning Director Tim Dempsey told ELi after the meeting that staff had informed the developers of the problems “and they are working on revisions.”
He said that the issue was not the building’s footprint, but “some of the façade articulation around the parking garage . . . some of the glass has been changed to different materials.”
The thirteen-story building was approved to have two floors of internal private parking on the second and third levels, with screening to make it effectively invisible from the street.
The project depends on about $10 million in state-level tax credits that require the project be completed by May 2021. The developers have frequently said they have little wiggle room in the timeline because of those credits, so this delay could be significant beyond simply pushing the start date farther off.
Asked by ELi for comment, the developers’ representative, attorney David Pierson, indicated he could not comment without speaking to his clients first.