Council Members Deny Development Moratorium Is Election-Motivated

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Wednesday, June 5, 2019, 7:00 am
Alice Dreger

Two members of East Lansing’s City Council running for re-election plus one who is not denied last night that a moratorium on downtown development is aimed at avoiding controversial decisions before the November election.

Without a formal vote on the matter, hours before meeting last night, City Council removed the redevelopment moratorium from the Council’s agenda, wiping out the existing official record of the plan by deleting the staff memo on the subject plus the two draft versions of the resolution. (ELi has preserved the materials and made them available here.)

Specifically responding to reporting by ELi, Council members Shanna Draheim and Mark Meadows – both running for re-election – said that the moratorium was never about re-election.

They said it was about the need to work out a form-based code for East Lansing’s downtown before new projects are considered.

With Ruth Beier absent, the four members of Council present indicated they would discuss the moratorium at their meeting next Tuesday, and then vote it through, shortly thereafter.

The plan remains to have, until at least September, a moratorium prohibiting processing of site plans and building permits for new buildings in the Downtown Development Authority District, shown below.

As ELi reported, it seems unlikely that a new form-based code will be passed by September. But Council members indicated last night that they believe they will at least have received some public comment on the form-based code by that point.

Draheim insisted that she believes East Lansing should always send a signal that it is “open for business.” She said she doesn’t generally favor a building moratorium and that she believes the projects underway downtown “are great and are going to be transformational.”

Below: The Center City District project in East Lansing's downtown.

But, Draheim said, she wants a form-based code that takes into account the master plan passed last year. She said the moratorium would be brief – “very brief.” She indicated the Council just needs “to push ‘pause’” to “have a better sense of where the public is.”

She also reiterated that she never agreed with the three-person majority of Council that pushed through two ordinances, earlier this year, allowing greater building heights in parts of downtown.

Meadows also said “this has nothing to do with an election.”

He said the goal is for City Council to put in place a guideline that will shape East Lansing’s downtown for the next 50 years.

Meadows said it would be “unfair” to developers to accept their applications for new projects when the City doesn’t know what it wants in terms of design for the future.

Council member Aaron Stephens noted he wasn’t running for re-election but said he wants a study of housing in East Lansing to see if student rental housing is being overbuilt.

Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann, who is running for re-election, remained silent on the matter.

East Lansing resident Deborah Ann Stuart wrote to Council this week “to express SUPPORT for Mayor Meadows’ proposal for consideration regarding a moratorium on East Lansing downtown development.”

Stuart said she lives near downtown and wrote, “Of recent years we have equated multi-student living units, high rises and concrete with progress. It is past time for the city of East Lansing to DESIGN its future rather than react to developers latest project for gain.”

She asked for “the future design of East Lansing by PLAN rather than randomization.”

Merritt Sargent also wrote in to City Council say, “A comprehensive housing supply and demand survey should have been [done] prior to the huge projects already approved and implemented. [The] City has ignored all its zoning ordinances regarding size, height, parking, etc. By not underwriting such a survey in advance, the City has acted irresponsibly and succumbed to the wishes of ‘Big Builders’ while ignoring many residents’ concerns for the ‘Quality of Life’ in our East Lansing.”

Sargent also called for holding “accountable” all “current projects” in terms of promises about housing, parking, and retail occupancy.

Local developer and landlord David Krause called on Council to realize “the impact these developments have on the downtown central business district.” He asked Council to “have some work sessions with public input and think about this,” although he said this was being done “late.”

Said Krause, “Nothing is helping small business or making it inviting for people to come into town to shop. To be clear I am not against development but [seek development] with some common sense to it.”

One large project that has been openly discussed that could be delayed by this moratorium is the second Hub building envisioned by the national student-housing developer Core Spaces. It is not clear at this time what impact the moratorium could have on the Royal Vlahakis deal.


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