DRW Convexity Looks to Modify Plan for Park-Adjacent Apartment Building

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019, 8:00 am
Brad Minor and Alice Dreger

Above: rendering of the new design

Developers DRW Convexity are hoping that at this Wednesday’s meeting the East Lansing Planning Commission will vote to recommend their revised site plan for the “Park District” project.

If the revision is ultimately approved by the new City Council, what is currently a construction staging zone near Valley Court Park will eventually be a 6-story, instead of a 5-story, building, with fewer studio apartments and more 2- and 3-bedroom units.

The developers say the new designs along with rental restrictions will make it more likely the building will attract families with school-age children, specifically families in which the parent(s) earn less than the average median income for the area.

That’s the residency population the City and homeowners in the Oakwood neighborhood have indicated they want to see here.

DRW Convexity’s previously approved “Park District” project includes plans for new structures on three plots of land owned by the developers:

  • The Abbot, a 13-story building at 100 West Grand River Ave. (on the west side of Abbot Road), now under construction;
  • a 10-story hotel for The Graduate chain at 130 West Grand River Ave. (next to Peoples Church), now under construction;
  • a building with income-restricted apartments at 341 Evergreen Avenue, shown with a circle in the map below.

The City has a requirement that 25 percent of large downtown housing projects like the Park District project include housing other than "market-rate apartments" that generally are designed for and rented by undergraduate students.

In accordance with requirements, in 2018 DRW Convexity received approval for a plan that contained a sufficient number of income-restricted apartments in 341 Evergreen Avenue to meet the 25 percent diverse housing specifications for the entire, (three-building), "Park District" project.

If the new City Council ultimately approves the revision from DRW Convexity, the site at 341 Evergreen Avenue will instead see a 6-story building that mixes four floors of income-restricted apartments with one floor of market-rate rental apartments. This rendering shows the building as if one is looking north on Evergreen Avenue (just north of Peoples Church).

The market-rate rentals would be on the top floor. The ground floor would have the lobby entrance and indoor private parking, as under the previous plan. The number of parking spaces in the structure has been upped from 26 to 34. The site plan also calls for roughly 40 parking spots for bicycles.

City Planning staff has already approved a change for The Abbot apartment building at the main corner, reducing the total apartments by 22 units and increasing the “bed count” by 14. (Staff can approve a relatively small change like this.)

If the site plan revision for 341 Evergreen Avenue is approved, the total number of apartments between the two buildings would rise from the originally approved 290 to 295, including the addition of two more income-restricted apartments at that location.

Above: Architect Mike Breclaw and Convexity's Chris Oakley present the revision to the DDA on October 24. (Photo by Raymond Holt).

The number of studio apartments in the revised plan for 341 Evergreen Ave. is reduced by nine, and the number of two-bedroom units increased by 22 under the proposed revision. The new plan also adds five 3-bedroom units with master bedroom suites that include their en suite bathrooms.

The revision came to the Planning Commission for a public hearing on October 23. There, David Pierson, attorney for DRW Convexity, told the Commission that the redesign of 341 Evergreen Avenue makes it more “family friendly.”

“The new plan would call for more bedrooms in the units and make the units larger,” Pierson told the Planning Commission. “We need to spread out the building and increase the height to accommodate that.”

The modified plan adds an extra floor and reduces the setbacks of the building, making it wider and taller.

DRW Convexity representatives have said that while they are not using MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) financial incentives for the project, they are following what MSHDA recommends in terms of building high-quality income-restricted housing, to attract tenants.

According to Pierson, MSHDA prefers income-restricted apartments to be in buildings that also include market-rate apartments to avoid stigmatizing lower income residents.

Pierson said that compared to other similar units being built in the area, 341 Evergreen Avenue would offer significantly lower rents on 2- and 3-bedroom units.

Prospective tenants wanting to rent the income-restricted apartments would have to submit tax documents showing they are not another person’s dependent, and proving that they have enough income to afford the rents, which are capped at 80 percent of the area median income. (Most undergraduate students are listed as dependents on their parents’ tax forms, and would not be eligible to rent the income-qualified apartments.)

According to Pierson, the current income limits are: $41,680 for one person; $47,600 total for two persons; $53,520 total for three; $59,440 total for four; and $64,240 total for five.

Pierson said the new site plans also allow for a better-looking building to be constructed than the one previously approved for 341 Evergreen Avenue. (There is no revision planned for the way The Abbot or the Graduate Hotel will look.) He told the Planning Commission that the building would be an appropriate transition from the commercial area downtown to the residential Oakwood Neighborhood.

The images below show the former design for 341 Evergreen Avenue first, and the revised design second.

Addressing the new look for 341 Evergreen Avenue, Mike Breclaw, the project architect from Chicago’s Fitzgerald Associates, told the Commission, “We tried to be contemporary but also give it a neighborhood feel [with] brick on the bottom four floors and a softer material on the top two.”

At present, DRW Convexity is currently using the property as a construction staging site for The Abbot and The Graduate Hotel. The developers say they hope to start construction at 341 Evergreen Avenue by May and complete the project by spring 2021.

Below: The site as seen from the east in a photo by Raymond Holt.

The Park District redevelopment utilizes business tax credits from the State of Michigan and also Tax Increment Financing (TIF) on the two larger buildings along Grand River Ave. (Read more about that here.)

Recently, DRW Convexity indicated an interest in proposing a project for the other side of Evergreen Avenue, for the properties owned by the DDA, given that the DDA ended their exclusive agreement on those properties with developer Paul Vlahakis and his partners from Royal Apartments.

The debt-ridden DDA-owned properties on the east side of Evergreen Ave. will be the subject of a special DDA work session this Thursday.

Want to weigh in? The Planning Commission's meeting starts at 7 p.m. Wednesday and public comment can be offered near the beginning of the meeting. See the agenda here. You can also write to Planning Commission by sending a message to staff member David Haywood.

Disclosure: Alice Dreger owns a home in the Oakwood neighborhood just north of this project and is one of the neighborhood's leaders.

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