Council Reviews Options for Dealing with Controversial Developer

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014, 7:42 am
Alice Dreger

Image: Todd Arend, representing PDIG at Council last night

At East Lansing City Council last night, further discussion of the proposal from PDIG to redevelop the corner at Abbot Road and Grand River was deferred until January—but not before many objections to the developer from citizens and a lengthy Council discussion about how and when the City might legally be able to end the project if concerns about the developer’s trustworthiness persist.

PDIG (Park District Investment Group) is proposing a ten-story mixed-use building, known as “Building A,” for the blighted corner. The project would include land PDIG says it owns as well as two pieces of public land, the “little bank building” (now derelict) at 303 Abbot Road, and a portion of a public street, Evergreen Avenue, that includes about 40 feet of prime frontage on Grand River Avenue. The plan is to sell the land needed from 303 Abbot Road to PDIG and to give to PDIG, through legal “abandonment,” the land where Evergreen Avenue meets Grand River Avenue.

Last night, citizens raised many questions about PDIG and its ties to Strathmore Development, the company that failed to bring to fruition “City Center II,” the last plan for this blighted corner. References were made to other failed and stalled Strathmore projects as well as the company’s involvement in many liens, foreclosure actions, and lawsuits.

But City Attorney Tom Yeadon strongly warned Council against taking into account questions about PDIG’s owners, its financial status, and its trustworthiness as Council reviews the proposed site plan and Special Use Permits. Yeadon, staff, and Council did seem to agree that when the City is at the point of entering financial agreements with PDIG—as with a Brownfield Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan and a development agreement that involves transferring land to PDIG—then questions about the company could play a role in essentially killing the project.

Mayor Nathan Triplett addressed public frustration that Council is not currently taking into account the developer’s trustworthiness, saying it would open the City to potential litigation. “I know this inconvenient truth irks some members of the community,” said Triplett.

As public criticism of doing public business with PDIG has increased over the last week, yesterday the lawyer for PDIG sent the City a letter (pdf here) saying PDIG will provide “detailed ownership and financial information” when “a protocol regarding the release of this sensitive information can be finalized.” No explanation of such a protocol was provided.

The attorney’s letter said that the “primary owner” of PDIG “is Crouch Investment Group, LLC, which currently owns 81.8572%” of PDIG. The letter did not explain who owns Crouch Investment Group, LLC, but did say it is “controlled by Charles Crouch,” who has a long history of business partnership with Scott Chappelle, principal of Strathmore Development.

The letter also said that other owners of PDIG include an investment fund group and other unnamed parties. Last week Council was told by City Planning Director Tim Dempsey that minor children are involved and that their privacy requires confidentiality.

During public comment, concerns about the site design were raised by David Ledebuhr as a member of Peoples Church. Ledebuhr clarified that he does not represent the church but said some members of the church have been alarmed to learn recently that the building is due to be ten stories and not eight, and that there are concerns that the parking situation for Peoples Church will get worse under this plan. Last week at Council, City Planning staff’s Darcy Schmitt told Council that the People’s Church’s board is “comfortable with the parking configuration at this time.”

Councilmember Susan Woods asked the representative of PDIG present, Todd Arend of Bergmann Associations, whether he had previously worked with Strathmore or Charlie Crouch. Arend said he had, but pressed by Woods for some detail about how those turned out, Arend said the projects had not yet been completed. He said he had never met Charlie Crouch. In response to a question from Woods, City Planning Director Tim Dempsey said he wasn’t sure where Crouch is located.

Council asked the city attorney and Planning staff to prepare additional information before Council reconsiders the site plan in January. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris asked for a staff report that does not include material about the now-defunct DTN project for another part of the Park District area. (DTN's project was to have absorbed some of the parking for PDIG's building.) Councilmember Ruth Beier asked staff last night to clarify what Peoples Church thinks of the plan. Council also asked for clarification about whether they could reject the request to go to ten stories—two stories above what zoning allows at that location—if they feel the top two floors do not constitute a “public benefit.”


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