As Costco Plan Moves Forward, Details Emerge

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016, 5:52 am
Ian Hoopingarner and Alice Dreger

Above: architect’s rendering of the planned new Costco store.

With a development proposal for an East Lansing Costco store moving forward, details are emerging with regard to plans for truck delivery restrictions, wetland filling and wetland preservation, pedestrian and bicycle management, and more.

Last week, the East Lansing Planning Commission formally and unanimously recommended to City Council a site plan from Costco for the construction of a new 157,000-square-foot store at 5800 Park Lake Road, along Saginaw Highway. The plans call for a conventional warehouse-style Costco retail store along with a gas station and provide for additional potential commercial space along Park Lake Road where additional smaller retail stores may later be added.

The basic plan for the area is shown on this map:

Costco’s plans call for the building on wetlands that lie at significantly lower elevation than Saginaw Highway. Under the site plan recommended by the Planning Commission on October 26, the areas of the wetland that Costco will not be filling in for construction will be rezoned and be set aside as a permanent Conservation Easement, creating a permanent natural area.

Filling in two acres of wetlands for the construction of the store and parking lot requires, as ELi has reported, a special environmental permit which has not yet been obtained by the developer. The wetlands have to be filled in with a large quantity of soil because of how much lower the site is compared to Saginaw Highway.

Another challenge of the elevations that was raised by East Lansing Planning Commissioners Chris Wolf and Paul Stokstad concerned pedestrian access to the store. The “topography does not permit” a sidewalk leading from Saginaw Highway to the front entrance of the store, Costco representative Ted Johnson told the Commission at its meeting on October 26. The great majority of Costco customers shop by car, Johnson noted, which is why the plans call for more car-parking spaces than the maximum ordinarily allowed by code.

The same reason is behind Johnson’s disinterest in providing bike-rack parking for fifty bicycles as the building code says is necessary; customers do not bike to Costco, Johnson told the Commission.  He said there would be indoor bike storage for employees and that he has never seen bike racks in use at any Costco. Johnson told the Commission the racks simply take up space, collect litter, and cause “maintenance headaches.”

City Planner Darcy Schmitt advised the Commission that the City is not able to waive the bike parking requirement in the code. In response, Commission Vice Chair Laura Goddeeris asked whether a loophole in the requirement could be found by counting indoor employee bike storage—essentially backroom parking that would in theory be available for employees’ bikes. Planning Director Dempsey stated that the language of the current code requirement—that the storage be “sufficient to accommodate” fifty bikes—is vague enough to permit that. So there will not be fifty bike parking spots offered to customers.

Johnson told the Commission that he has constructed eighty warehouses for Costco and that he’s never seen a bicycle parked at Costco. He said that if customers actually using the store requested racks, the company would put them in, just as Costco has, at some locations, increased the number of disability-access parking spots in response to customer requests.

Various members of East Lansing’s Transportation Commission have indicated dissatisfaction with how pedestrians and bicyclists are treated under the area redevelopment plan. In particular, bicycle advocates on and off the Transportation Commission have expressed hopes that reconstruction of roads in the area would attend to the need of pedestrians and bicyclists as well as motorists.

The area is shown in this Google map:

Plans that have been bandied about by regional planners have included an eventual bike path to get from the River Trail on MSU’s campus all the way to Lake Lansing, and this plan has been expected to include a bike path along Park Lake Road. Bicycle advocates say that if the Ingham County Road Department, which is responsible for Park Lake Road, simply narrowed the car lanes on Park Lake Road by a few feet, bike lanes could be constructed on either side of that road. Bicycle advocates say this would also serve to “calm” car traffic on Park Lake Road.

Responding to questions from ELi, Ingham County Road Department Manager Bill Conklin says that, as Park Lake Road is rebuilt from Grand River Avenue to Saginaw Highway, the County is creating paved shoulders for non-motorized uses. According to Conklin, from Grand River Avenue to Haslett Road, where the road is 27-feet wide, "a lane will be marked to delineate a 10-foot clear width lane [for motor vehicles in each direction] with remainder to serve as paved shoulder for non-motorized use."

From Haslett Road north, the County is widening Park Lake Road "to have 3 lanes, having a through lane in each direction and a center left-turn lane, with 4-foot wide paved shoulders for non-motorized use on both sides." The County will be doing this north from Haslett Road to the south side of the Costco development, and "is requesting Costco to match this configuration" from there to Saginaw Highway. The County is also asking Costco to re-align Merritt Road with Costco's driveway. (Read more about that.)

Conklin says that "Share the Road" bicycle-awareness signs will also be posted on Park Lake Road between Grand River Avenue to Saginaw Highway.

In its recommendation to Council, East Lansing’s Planning Commission also suggested that a condition of final approval of the Costco project include limiting truck deliveries to the store so that they only occur between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. Costco is comfortable with that requirement.

Costco plans to work with Meridian Township, which shares an annexation agreement on the property with the City of East Lansing, to create landscaping barriers between the store property and the houses that neighbor it. Ultimately the project requires approval of the site plan by both East Lansing and Meridian Township.

The site plan and the rezoning ordinances recommended by East Lansing’s Planning Commission will now go to East Lansing’s City Council for deliberation. Meridian Township will also need to approve the site plan.

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