Disagreements Flare Over Environmental and Management Issues at The Hub

Thursday, December 5, 2019, 7:15 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

As it appears likely to revive its proposal to build more student apartment towers along Bogue Street, national developer Core Spaces is battling on two fronts over its recently-opened East Lansing project, The Hub.

A state-level agency wants more proof that the building was constructed in keeping with regulations that protect occupants of The Hub from prior environmental contamination on the site.

And East Lansing’s Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens is demanding answers about whether Core Spaces has adequately compensated residents who suffered from a botched move-in scene and apartments that did not meet their expectations. He also wants to know if problems have been fixed.

State agency wants to make sure there’s no remaining impact from “historical contamination”

Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes & Energy (EGLE, formerly known as the DEQ) is tussling with Core Spaces over the question of whether the environmental remediation installed at the site has been shown to be adequate.

The site previously housed a gas station, and that meant the need for removal of contaminated soil and the installation of vapor barriers as part of the “due care” plan for the site redevelopment.

Core Spaces has said in a statement that “Inspection and testing during and after installation show that the venting system is working properly. Testing was conducted to verify the exhaust is working. The emissions being exhausted from the system have been tested, confirming that emission levels are safe. Installation and inspection records and logs are maintained and made available to EGLE for verification.”

But on November 5, “EGLE requested additional documents to confirm the measures taken by Core Spaces to mitigate soil gas vapors.” That information was provided to EGLE on November 15, according to Core Spaces. That puts the ball is in EGLE’s court.

Representatives of Core Spaces say there is no reason to believe there is any health or safety risk at this time from “the historical contamination” of the site. They say they’ve followed the law using highly regarded expert contractors, and EGLE is simply requiring more documentation.

Public officials tell ELi that, as they wait for public agency review of more testing than what has already been done, there is no reason to think that residents of and visitors to The Hub are currently at health risk from the prior contamination.

Lynn Sutfin, Public Information Officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told ELi by email yesterday that her agency “continues to work with EGLE and the local health department. We have not received testing data to make any public health recommendations. However, we do not anticipate health risks to current residents at this time.”

The City of East Lansing issued a press release on the matter this week, explaining in followup that it did so in the spirit of transparency.

At this time, the City does not really have a role to play in the matter other than to “ensure that the situation is handled appropriately and provide any support where needed,” according to Mikell Frey, communications expert for the City.

Frey says the press release went out on Tuesday afternoon “to make the public aware of the issue.” She explained that the violation notice from ELGE in early November “was related to public health,” so “a notification/statement was deemed appropriate.”

You can see correspondence related to the issue here.

Information sought about management’s responses to problems experienced by tenants

East Lansing Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens announced from his Council chair on Tuesday that he’s unhappy with Core Spaces in terms of responses to his requests for information about management issues at The Hub.

Stephens noted that at the November 19 meeting of Council he had outlined questions he wanted answered by Core Spaces, including about how many residents had been given discounted rent for problems, vouchers or reimbursement for the costly inconvenience of late move-in, and so on.

Stephens did in fact outline such questions on November 19, but he did not ask Core Spaces to attend that meeting, did not convey his questions to Core Spaces, and apparently also did not ask staff to do so, as he said at the meeting he would.

Stephens shared correspondence with ELi showing that Core Spaces administrators tried to reach him repeatedly after the November 19 meeting and Stephens did not respond for about two weeks. He did finally meet with them this week.

At the September 3 meeting of Council, shortly after the nightmarish move-in situation caused by construction inspection delays at The Hub, Stephens had invited upset residents of The Hub to come speak out against Core Spaces. Several did.

He did not invite Core Spaces to attend that meeting, but King and others did anyway. Speaking for Core, King said they would work on fixing the problems with apartments, reimbursements, and communication.

At Council this week, Stephens denounced King for “grand misrepresentation” with regard to a poll King recently suggested showed residents have been happy with the building after move-in.

Above: Rodney King at the Sept. 3, 2019, meeting.

“To ask for numbers and to get that back” Stephens said “was a misrepresentation of the truth.”

Late yesterday afternoon, Stephens told ELi, “I should have clarified further with them after the [November 19] meeting what I wanted. It was my assumption that when they reached out to me after the meeting where I expressed my desire for follow up, they had received that message.”

He continued, “Either way we sat down before the city council meeting [on December 3] and they will be providing the information requested.”

He says that his criticisms of King on Tuesday night were in response to asking for specific information and being shown a poll and possibly-incentivized online reviews “to indicate that they have an exceedingly good reputation with their residents. The fact that the State News [‘best place to live’] designation was before their move-in and the reviews are questionable does not indicate that to me.”

One family’s experience suggests a lot of problems at The Hub

A mother of an MSU undergraduate who lives at The Hub told ELi yesterday that her daughter’s experience has not been good.

The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says there was “Lots of issues with [the[ quality of construction. The move-in was done before all work was complete and the rooms were cleaned. We had to wipe every single surface down, vacuum every floor and cupboard and even wipe down walls.”

She says that the “Elevators break all the time and they blame residents saying they have too many people in the elevators. They never accept responsibility.” Her daughter’s windows leak cold air, her washing machine “leaked for an entire month before they finally fixed it,” the apartment “will periodically smell like sewer and maintenance basically pours bleach down the drain by the water heater.”

According to the mother, “Hallways were a mess for months and only got cleaned up in the last month. At one point there was vomit on the hallway floor for a few days before maintenance cleaned it up.”

She says her family has not received any monetary rebates or compensation for the problems, and that management has tried to pressure her daughter into renewing the lease. The family does not plan to renew.

Core Spaces is “proud of our building” and plans to keep addressing concerns

Andrew Wiedner, Chief Acquisitions Officer of Core Spaces, told ELi by email yesterday that the company is working to get Stephens’ questions answered and to improve communications.

“While the move-in and transition did not go as we had planned, we are extremely proud of our building and our staff for the reputation and satisfaction rates we have earned from our residents,” he said. “Perhaps most telling is that the property is 70% pre-leased for the following school year and our renewal rate is already more than 30%.”

 

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