Council Concerned about Plan for Bailey Park

Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 1:50 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: The Bailey Community Center as seen from the west.

City Council’s meeting this week did not see the smooth sailing that had been hoped by all for the Capital Area Housing Partnership’s (CAHP’s) plan for redevelopment of the Bailey Community Center.

While Council previously voted to support the general approach, Council now must vote to approve a specific site plan for the property. The current site plan presented to Council by the City Planning staff this Tuesday night raised numerous concerns for Councilmembers, particularly in terms of the plan’s implications for the Bailey Park immediately north of the Community Center.

As we’ve previously reported, CAHP’s proposal calls for major renovation of the old Bailey school building as well as replacement of the much newer eastside wing with a new three-story structure. The project would house “low-impact” office space, possibly a daycare, and 25 rental housing units aimed at seniors aged 55 and up. Twenty of the rental units would be restricted to seniors on limited incomes.

Councilmembers let City staff know that they were not happy with the current site plan’s design, which calls for taking a chunk of the park to add parking north of the renovated facility. Councilmembers also expressed concerns about using the park as a construction staging area, potentially losing usable playground equipment temporarily or permanently, and endangering and/or outright losing multiple old trees.

According to a memo from City staff dated September 8, “The proposed site plan includes removal of five maple trees ranging in caliper [i.e., trunk diameter] from 8” to 36”, and four crabapple trees. In addition, alterations are proposed to the north-west entry drive that will require construction within the root zone of a 46” caliper silver maple.”

When Councilmember Kathy Boyle asked if that large silver maple was going to end up with its roots under a parking lot, City Planning staff Tim Dempsey and Darcy Schmitt nodded and also appeared concerned.

City Manager George Lahanas said that it was the City’s intention to “renew” the park as the building is being renovated, to provide new playground equipment and perhaps a more attractive fence. (It is currently chain-link.) He said he wasn’t sure how these would be paid for, and said that the 1995 bond that covered parks was nearing the end of its life and there might be a new bond to pay for improvements to the Bailey Park.

According to a September 8 memo from Tim McCaffrey, Director of Parks and Recreation, “If funds cannot be secured from other means to mitigate the impacts [from the CAHP renovation] to Bailey Park, it will be necessary to budget between $110,000 and $150,000 in FY2017 or FY18 to address the Park needs.” (More details here.)

But Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris objected strongly to pushing Bailey ahead in the queue of parks waiting for new equipment, particularly when there is a question about whether the playground equipment at Bailey really is at the end of its life. Several Councilmembers asked why the majority of the equipment could not continue to be used, as it seems to be, they said, in relatively good condition.

Boyle said she did not think it made sense to spend money on a more attractive fence when the current one is serviceable for families with young children and soccer players. Councilmember Ruth Beier said that for her the “bottom line” is that “we don’t have money to improve this park.” She said that if the City did, it could have kept the building open, kept running the daycare there, and would not need to be entertaining this plan from CAHP. She said she wanted to see the least amount of money possible spent by the City on this project because the City is overwhelmed with financial obligations.

Mayor Nathan Triplett said that new equipment for Bailey could be part of a future discussion of potential new bonds for the City’s parks and that the needs of this park would have to be weighed against those of other neighborhood parks. He said that the deficit associated with the Bailey Community Center “ate up the whole of the Parks and Recreation fund balance,” such that he could not imagine there was money in the City’s budget to improve the park at this time.

CAHP is seeking Council approval of the site plan in time to make an October 1 grant application for federal subsidies of the project. Beier said she didn’t want to “knock this project off the rails” but that she was disturbed by the current plan as presented.

Boyle said she needed more clarification on how the boundary between the park and the CAHP-run building would work. She said she wanted more and better information before she was asked to make a decision—something Council is scheduled to do next Tuesday. Many Councilmembers expressed the desire to see the boundary between the park and the CAHP project pushed back to where it had been, and not moved into the park to accommodate new north side parking for the building.

City staff repeatedly said that CAHP needs extra parking for the planned project. They referred to the possibility of having visitors to the building use the City’s “parking structures” some blocks away, but all acknowledged that senior residents would need on-site parking, as would daycare parents and presumably visitors to the “low-impact” offices planned for the site. Council indicated that parking should be restricted to the east, south, and west sides of the building. Goddeeris suggested there might be on-street parking added to accommodate the building occupants’ needs.

CAHP Executive Director Mikki Droste, who was at the meeting, told Council she was concerned that off-site parking would jeopardize their government funding applications.

Council also discussed what CAHP is going to have to do to satisfy the City’s “percent for art” ordinance that requires that developers either provide significant public art or give the City money towards public art. (Read more about that ordinance and the 3-1 vote on it.) Triplett suggested that CAHP might get a sort of waiver because of the work they would be doing to honor the historic architecture of the Bailey school building. This issue, he suggested, could be worked out later by simply adding a condition in the site plan approval, that CAHP follow the ordinance’s requirement in a way acceptable to the City.

At the meeting, Council also discussed the plan to levy a “service charge in lieu of taxes” to generate the equivalent of property taxes on the planned leasable space and five market-rate apartments. Staff estimates this will be set around $30,000 per year in total for “the appropriate taxing jurisdictions,” and that the City would retain about $9,000 of that per year. (See the draft ordinance on this issue.)

Council also is planning to pass a resolution in support of CAHP’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit grant application. City staff Amy Schlusler said doing so will likely help CAHP’s chances with the grant application. (See staff memo.) Staff is awaiting the City Attorney’s review of the draft resolution.

City Council will take up the CAHP plan again at its meeting next week. Because of the October 1 deadline that CAHP is trying to meet for federal funding applications, the matter is likely to continue to move quickly in terms of decision-making. The East Lansing Historic District Commission is set to hold a public hearing on the CAHP application for Bailey this Thursday, September 10, at 7 pm; read more.

The Bailey Community Center was set to be closed to all use at the beginning of this month, following a contentious 3-2 vote by Council this past January. Glen Dempsey, of Building and Code Administration, determined that the building is unsafe in terms of fire hazards. City Manager George Lahanas confirmed for me after the Council meeting this Tuesday that City staff continue to work daily in the building. He said they are clearing it out.

 

Below: the current south side of the Bailey Community Center and the CAHP plan for renovation, also shown from the south side.

 

 

Reminder: You can communicate with Council in person at its weekly meetings or write to Council directly at council@cityofeastlansing.com. You can speak or write on any issue involving the City, not only what is on the published agenda.

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