Outcome of Meridian Lawsuit Could Impact EL School Numbers

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018, 7:30 am
Jessy Gregg

Above: A concept drawing provided by the developer showing a possible development at the higher zoning density. 

A contentious rezoning proposal for the site of the now-closed Walnut Hills Country Club and golf course could have significant impact on the East Lansing schools, since the entire 190-acre parcel is within the District. If the current owner wins the legal right to build nearly 400 single family units on the land, any children living in the development would fall within the catchment area of ELPS's Donley Elementary School.

The golf course and country club property was acquired by Summer Park Realty, a Southfield-based real estate development corporation, in 2016 when the 190-acre parcel went into foreclosure

The Walnut Hills parcel first appeared on Meridian Township’s Planning Commission agenda in October of 2016 when Summer Park Realty submitted a proposal to rezone 156 acres of the land from Rural Residential (RR) to RAA, single-family low density. The other 34 acres in the redevelopment zone are already zoned with the higher density RAA zoning. The difference in zoning would mean the difference between a permitted 190 units under the current zoning, or just under 400 permitted units with the requested change.

Throughout 2017 the zoning request was debated at multiple Meridian Township meetings, drawing a large volume of citizen communication and public comment, almost all of it opposed to the zoning change. A traffic study submitted as part of the zoning request showed the that volume of traffic generated by a large housing development would be almost five times as much as was already generated by the golf course.

At their March 27, 2017, meeting the Township's Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject the request, and ultimately, the Township Board of Trustees denied the zoning request at their May 2, 2017, meeting. Summer Park Realty has sued the township over that decision.

According to Mark Kiestelbach, Meridian Township’s Planning and Development Director, the Township and Summer Park are currently engaged in court-ordered mediation and no additional information will be available until a settlement is reached.

Hillary Henderson, a member of the East Lansing School Board and a realtor, expressed concern over the unknowns surrounding the potential development during a recent School Board meeting. She pointed to it as the reason she couldn’t wholeheartedly support her fellow Board members’ decision to start planning the future use of the Red Cedar Elementary School building.

There was no formal vote on the issue, but all Board members except Henderson stated support for beginning the planning process now so that it would be complete when Red Cedar was available for use in its own right in the fall of the 2021. Between now and then, it will be continuously in use as a host building for the students of other elementary schools as their own buildings are rebuilt.

Henderson specifically cited the possibility that, depending on the future of the former country club land, the Board might make a plan and inform the community based on one set of numbers, and then have to change the original plans due to an influx of students from a housing development.

ELi contacted East Lansing Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko through email to find out if the potential influx of new residents is part of ELPS’s calculations as they proceed with plans to renovate or reconstruct all of the ELPS elementary schools.

Leyko responded “[A]s we don’t have an estimated timeline for the resolution of the Walnut Hills development, we are moving forward with the current Donley design. With our current Schools of Choice population in the district, we have the flexibility to reduce this in future years to accommodate additional resident students. The placement of the new Donley building also allows for future building additions, if needed.”  Leyko said she was not aware of any other large tracts of undeveloped land within the East Lansing School District.



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