Ordinance Change Could Mean More Hotels and Motels

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018, 7:41 am
Jessy Gregg

Above: The Courtyard Marriott on the west side of Route 127, just south of Lake Lansing Road.

East Lansing’s Planning Commission has voted 5-1 in favor of recommending to City Council the passage of an ordinance which would amend East Lansing’s zoning code to allow hotels and motels to be built and operated on properties zoned “B4 Restricted Office District.” If Council approves the change, this could mean more hotels and motels in various parts of the City, including the area between Coolidge Road and Route 127.

The matter goes to City Council for a public hearing tonight, March 20, at a meeting set to start at 7 p.m.

At the February 14 meeting of the Planning Commission, where the 5-1 vote took place, David Haywood explained that the amendment was being considered because City Planning staff had been approached by a landowner of a B4 district property who was interested in adding a hotel there. Haywood is Planning and Zoning Administrator for the City of East Lansing.

Commissioners were not given information regarding which site had triggered the proposed change, known as Ordinance 1419, but a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by ELi related to another matter suggests the property likely to be of interest for a hotel is at 3225 West Road.

B4 zoning limits building height to two stories on parcels smaller than eight acres, although three stories are permitted with a Special Use Permit, something City Council can grant. Parcels of eight acres or larger are permitted to have buildings of up to five stories.

At the February 14 meeting, Planning Commission Vice Chair Kathy Boyle speculated that, given that modern hotel designs usually have a minimum of four stories, developers would choose not to use the smaller parcels for hotel development. Her fellow commissioners seemed to agree since discussion focused primarily around the corridor north of Lake Lansing Road, between Route 127 and Coolidge Road, where the highest concentration of large B4 parcels is located. (See B4 zoning map.)

Commissioner Chris Wolf explained that, in his interpretation of the zoning code, allowing hotels in B4 districts would create an inconsistency between the B4 district and the B1 General Office District. Currently, B1 allows every use that is allowed in B4 plus many more types of uses, so if hotels and motels are to be considered appropriate for B4, they should also be designated as appropriate in B1, in his view. After casting his vote in favor, Wolf requested that City Council consider adding this as an acceptable use in the B1 district as well, to correct this inconsistency.

Commissioners John Cahill and Andrew Quinn both spoke in favor of the proposed amendment, pointing out that businesses along the Route 127 corridor need hotels in that area.

“You already have a hub sort of industry with literally eight banks and three new hotels in the area, so it seems to be something that is attracting a variety of people,” Quinn pointed out.

Cahill said that, in his opinion, “I think it fits in very naturally with what has developed and what is likely to develop in the near future.”

Several Commissioners pointed out that B4 zoning districts are specified to be “compatible with adjacent uses, particularly low density residential neighborhoods,” which led to a discussion of how hotels are used in business areas.

Cahill said that he felt a hotel in an office district would attract a specific clientele. “It’s not a hotel that people are going to [use] on vacation,” he said, adding, “I assume in this area it’s a business hotel. People are there to do business. They’ll stay in the building, they’ll eat their dinner in the hotel.”

Wolf said that he was persuaded to vote “yes” because of the factors limiting height on smaller B4 parcels. “The B4 properties that I’m worried about being inappropriate for this would not qualify for any more than a two-story hotel by their size, or three [stories] with a Special Use Permit,” he explained. “I hope that I can trust the Special Use Permit process to keep them out of the properties that are really problematic. Other than that, I see that hotel uses in this general part of the City would be a benefit.”

Planning Commission Chair Daniel Bollman was the only nay vote, citing his preference to see hotels in retail areas where visitors would have access to restaurants and shopping. He pointed out the vacant property on the corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbot Road as an appropriate area for a hotel development. That area is known as the “Park District,” and the developers there have considered a hotel for that location.

FOIA results show that another downtown location may be under consideration for a hotel. City development staff meeting notes from last year show that "White Oak Place," the name for a redevelopment site at the northeast corner of Grand River and Spartan Avenues, has been under consideration for a "hotel concept." In May 2016, a student apartment project proposal was approved for that site by Council, but under terms the developer considered unfavorable. That area appears to be currently zoned B2.


Update: Council voted to approve the ordinance change.

Alice Dreger contributed reporting to this article.

You may also want to read:  Project Decision Delayed Due to Lack of Quorum at Planning Commission


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