ELi Survey Shows Support for Land Sale Ballot Question

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020, 7:00 am
Alice Dreger

A non-scientific survey of ELi readers who say they are registered voters in East Lansing suggests the East Lansing land sale proposal on the March 10 ballot has strong support.

Out of 100 responses, 74 respondents indicated they are casting or are likely to cast “yes” votes, 19 indicated voting “no,” and 7 said they were undecided. While the number of responses is small relative to the voting population, the 55-point difference between support and opposition to this ballot question appears significant.

The ballot proposal asks voters whether City Council should be authorized to sell a piece of downtown land at the northwest corner of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road to the Michigan State Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU) for $810,000 for the purpose of building an office building there. (Read more about the details in our nonpartisan voter guide.)

The people on the “yes” side gave the following reasons in our survey:

  • A major office building will bring an important “use” downtown, with daytime, year-round employees spending money at local businesses, helping to support downtown …
  • … and potentially “luring better restaurants and shops to the area, making it more of a destination” than it is now.
  • Erecting an office building there means we won’t see “more apartments with empty retail space” at that particular location.
  • MSUFCU is considered a strong community partner and “a good corporate citizen.”
  • The City will obtain $810,000 gross in income from the sale, and the City needs the money.
  • MSUFCU has said it is not seeking tax incentives for the project.
  • Right now the property is producing no taxes, and, with redevelopment of this type, it will produce significant amounts.
  • The use will also probably generate otherwise-unrealized income tax for the City of East Lansing.
  • “Density is the key to a vibrant downtown community.”
  • The existing parking lot is “a rather awkward and small surface lot, [and] unloading it seems like the best course.”

Many people on the “no” side felt this is an issue of (dis)trust:

  • “I have zero trust in the E. Lansing City Administration. It would be difficult to imagine their corrupt government and law firm would not benefit.”
  • “I no longer trust EL officials to look out for the best interests of the city, or its residents, or to avoid graft.”
  • “I don’t trust the decision-making on land sales.”

But some of the “no” votes also come from the plan for the site. Some “no” voters don’t want more high-rises, and one said that “there now seems to be [an MSUFCU branch] every 4 blocks.” (This project would have a branch on the first of eight floors.)

Parking was an issue for a number of “no” voters:

  • “The City has already made a mess of downtown. Why add to it? No parking? Really?”
  • “Parking is already limited and with this building it will limit it more.”
  • “I don’t like dirty, dark dangerous parking garages and think the city needs surface parking lots. As a credit union member I see it as a huge waste of money. It won’t be convenient to go there with no surface parking and it’s a high cost way to find more office space.”

Another “no” voter and a “probably no” voter objected to the possibility, indicated by East Lansing’s Director of Planning, that there may be a tax increment financing (TIF) deal on this project.

And why are some people undecided?

  • They want to learn more, including about the parking issue. (We are expected to learn more at the February 18 meeting of City Council.)
  • “Need more info [about] Council members’ intentions.”
  • “Great idea, bad location.”
  • The credit union already has “two huge buildings” on the north side of East Lansing. “Have they grown that much? I’m still trying to learn more about it. But overall, MSUFCU has been such a great community member.”
  • “Definitely an attractive option, but we are still doing a housing study, have only one commercial real estate appraisal [for this deal] to rely on, and [have not considered] other possible uses … . Is there a way, at this point, to allow time for other options or is this all or nothing?”

On that last question of whether other options are possible on Lot 4, note that the ballot question does not require the Council to go through with the deal if a majority of voters approve. It simply authorizes Council to make this move if Council decides that is the best choice.

If Council wants to sell the land to someone else, or for some other use, or for some other amount of money, they’ll have to come back to the voters to get authorization for that.

You can see the raw responses here, learn more from ELi’s nonpartisan voter guide, and sign up for ELi’s mailers to make sure you get the latest news on this developing story. And don’t miss our nonpartisan guide to the rest of your March 10 ballot.


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