Planning Commission Airs Opposition to More (Even Bigger) Hub Towers

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Friday, December 13, 2019, 8:30 am
By: 
Chris Gray

Above: Rendering of the existing Hub tower to the left and proposed towers to the right, looking southeast.

The East Lansing Planning Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday not to recommend the approval of a site plan for two 14-story towers on Bogue Street, designed to be taller sequels to the 10-story Hub student-rental tower at the corner of Bogue and Grand River Avenue.

The key sticking points were the height of the buildings — which at 152 feet would exceed limits in the zoning code — the population density the buildings would add, and the difficult back alleyway access for parkers in the building and for fire trucks.

Above: the project rendered looking northeast.

The Planning Commission’s negative recommendation will now be forwarded along with the application to the East Lansing City Council, where several members have lately been cool to the idea of more big new student housing complexes, particularly in towers that are higher than the code has allowed.

The project proposal is expected to be reviewed well before the City has a housing study it plans to commission.

The new Hub proposal, from national student-apartment developer Core Spaces, would raze several buildings along Bogue that now house students and replace them with 720 new units for about 1,725 individuals. The new buildings would also include a total of 400 car parking spaces and 880 bicycle parking spaces.

If constructed as designed, the two towers would flank the Farmhouse fraternity, whose members refused to sell to the developers.

“The elephant in the room is the height, which goes beyond anything allowed in zoning,” said chairman Daniel Bollman at Wednesday night’s meeting.

Bollman said the Planning Commission has been working on the form-based zoning code this summer, including looking at changes for the “East Village” area, which lies east of Bogue and south of Grand River Avenue. But the height for the 14-story towers proposed would exceed both the drafted newer code and the old code. (Council has not yet taken up these code changes.)

Below: The project area rendered as if looking from Grand River Avenue west.

The site plan called for the back alley, which is now 15.5 feet at the narrowest, to be as narrow as 18 feet. But the code calls for 20-foot-wide alleys, enough space for two trucks to pass.

For Planning Commissioners such as Jack Cahill and Chris Wolf, this was particularly a concern because of the high density of the development, which would have hundreds of people relying on the alleys for parking in the building’s garage and, more critically, for fire truck access.

David Pierson, a Lansing attorney working with Core Spaces, argued that alley widths would still be improved over current access, with new alley access off Bogue Street. He said developers were limited in constructing a usable and sufficiently wide alley onto Cedar Street to the east.

“Currently, a fire truck can only come up from Waters Edge,” he said, referring to the side street at the south end of the property.

The Planning Commission lauded some of the changes that engineers and architects have made to the proposal since it first appeared before the Commission in September. They appreciated the architects eliminating cheaper-looking materials from the facade while maintaining a look that reflected the classic architecture of the university, including through the use of buttresses and brick.

The Commission also generally accepted the desire for four-bedroom apartments, a departure from the code which only allows for three-bedroom units.

Commissioners also generally accepted the wish to put residential units on the ground floor, and to keep the ground floor height to 10 feet, rather than the 17 feet called for in the code — and used in the existing Hub development.

Several commissioners spoke positively of aspects of the project before the group decided to vote against recommending it as a whole.

“I really like the look of these buildings. I think they fit in well with campus,” said Commissioner Joseph Sullivan. “I think Mr. Pierson made a great argument for the fourth bedrooms.”

Pierson noted that students can pay significantly less to rent in a four-bedroom apartment compared to units with fewer bedrooms. He also said it was easier for four roommates to get along than three, as two roommates will often side against the third in an argument.

In a letter to the Commission, Pierson also noted the high tax value of the new apartment buildings, as the existing Hub (shown below) is expected to bring in $800,000 per year in local taxes, with no use of tax increment financing (TIF).

The new Hub buildings, if built as proposed, could bring in much more, again without TIF. Right now, the existing 2-to-3-story buildings to be torn down generate about $80,000 in property tax revenue.

Vice Chair Kathleen Boyle indicated she was unimpressed with Core Spaces’s The Hub and the idea of more towers.

“People don’t like The Hub,” Boyle said. “They don’t like the mass, they don’t like the building, they don’t like the size.”

She added, “I would not recommend this without getting further feedback from the Council.”

Before voting against recommending the site plan, Commissioner Dana Watson referred an unusual letter from the University Student Commission, whose seven-member board unanimously opposed the new towers on Bogue Street.

The Student Commission complained about the lack of parking, high cost of the apartment units and poor management of the move-in process for the first Hub building. The letter also said that the loss of “existing fraternities will displace those students and disrupt fraternity culture.”

The Student Commission also said “tall buildings remove the agricultural aesthetic around campus.”

 

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