Council to Consider Large New Apartment Complex

Tuesday, March 15, 2016, 12:34 am
By: 
Michael Teager

Above: Artist’s rendering of the proposed project as seen looking east from Spartan Avenue

If two votes go as expected, tonight East Lansing’s City Council will set a pair of public hearings for April 12 to consider a site plan and tax increment financing (TIF) plan for a major new apartment complex near Hagadorn Road. If built as planned, the project, a six-story mixed-used development to be named White Oak Place, will sit on the corner of East Grand River and Spartan Avenues, just west of Brookfield Plaza.

The proposal was originally approved by Council at the July 7, 2015 meeting, however, that was before a TIF consideration (which has since undergone multiple iterations) and before a series of suggested changes to the site plan. As a consequence, a revised site plan is coming to Council, along with a TIF plan calling for over $6 million in taxes generated from the project to be used to reimburse the developer for expenses.

The proposed development would replace the three properties currently at the northeast corner of Grand River and Spartan Avenues – including the old Tasty Treat building and a former gas station – and be built around a 265-year-old white oak tree. The goal is to preserve the tree during and after construction. Consequently, the portion of the proposed building just east of the tree would be limited to four stories, ostensibly to allow sunlight to reach the tree. (See above.)

The first floor would include commercial retail and parking, with the second through sixth floors being residential. The proposed retail space would face Grand River Avenue. Parking entrances and exits, including access to underground parking, would be located on Spartan Avenue, with an exit onto Grand River Avenue.

This image shows an artist’s rendering of the project looking northeast toward the corner of Spartan Avenue and Grand River Avenue:

The commercial brick building at Brookfield Plaza just to the east of the project is not accurately depicted in scale in this drawing.

The developer, Next Generation Investment Properties, LLC, has been represented in Council communications by Joe Goodsir of Community Resource Management Company (CRMC), which operates a number of student rentals in town. According to the Next Generation’s application, the residential units will be marketed to "a mix of graduate students and young professionals."

Some citizens are concerned, however, that four-bedroom units indicate marketing to more undergraduates. Ralph Monsma wrote in his letter to the Planning Commission, “recent changes to include many four bedroom apartments indicates a clear tilt toward student occupancy.” The minutes of the Planning Commission’s December 9 meeting indicate that at least some commissioners considered this project to be largely geared towards undergraduate students, considering the “higher density closer to [MSU’s] campus.”

City Planning staff has provided Council with a list of 17 suggested conditions to apply to the plan before approving it. Many of the conditions related to code conformity for items like sewer and lighting, with an additional suggestion for a reduction in the required number of parking spaces.

Given the development's site plan, there would ultimately be 213 beds in the project, split between a mix of one-, two-, three-, and four-bedroom units. According to city code, the minimum required number of residential parking spaces for a project of this size would be 185, plus additional spaces for the first floor's commercial establishment(s). The developer's application outlines an additional 12 moped/motorcycle spaces and 108 bicycle spaces.

However, City staff has recommended, and the Planning Commission has approved, a proposed 25% reduction of required parking spaces, totaling 139 spaces provided on-site (both residential and commercial) with no off-site designated parking spots.

One of the reasons for the scarcity of space for parking even with the underground parking component is the property's centuries-old white oak tree. As written in the application, "the building and parking are configured to retain the largest of [the site's natural features], a large tree." This photo shows the tree this past summer, looking southeast from Spartan Avenue towards Brookfield Plaza (brick building in the background):

Discussion of this same property helped precipitate the consideration of a protected tree ordinance, which has since been referred back to multiple commissions for additional feedback and may be officially tabled at this week’s Council meeting. Concerns have been raised as to whether the tree can survive the construction even with the precautions already planned.

Though the staff recommends the parking reduction, it's possible that the perception of inadequate parking may cause an issue for approval of the project. The City staff’s memo states, "[The property's] close proximity to the University [and] CATA bus route [makes] it less likely that marketing the units will be dependent on having on-site parking; however, staff is not convinced that this location can absorb the entire 46 parking space reduction without a negative impact on this section of the neighborhood and the Brookfield Plaza."

Separate from staff concerns, Robert Phipps, owner of next-door Brookfield Plaza, cited several issues to Council in his June 27 letter. Phipps wrote, “I do not think this project has enough parking for its residents, delivery vehicles, and/or guests… [Not] addressing these concerns will make our use of Brookfield much more difficult.”

The Planning Commission also discussed potential parking issues that could arise for tenants’ guests, given the already limited space. Management of tenant parking during move-in/move-out days has also arisen as an issue throughout the development’s discussion.

The white oak’s preservation has also been cited as a reason for the Brownfield TIF request, as before Council last July. The TIF request has also gone through multiple iterations (see ELi’s previous coverage here and here). It currently stands at $6,082,364.

At the meeting of the East Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the current TIF plan was approved by a vote of 7 to 3. Voting against were City Manager George Lahanas, Mayor Mark Meadows, and BRA member Jim Croom. The vote on the TIF plan now moves to City Council, likely on April 12.

 

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