Planning Commission Votes Against Royal Vlahakis’ Evergreen Avenue Project

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Thursday, August 29, 2019, 11:55 am
Chris Root

With City Manager George Lahanas in the foreground, developer Paul Vlahakis addresses the Downtown Development Authority at its meeting on August 22. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

By a near-unanimous vote of 7-1, Planning Commission members Wednesday night voted against a motion to recommend to City Council that it approve the Royal Vlahakis “Park Place West” project on Evergreen Avenue.

Commissioner Dale Downes cast the lone positive vote.

The Planning Commission’s action followed a decision last week by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to let the Purchase and Sale Agreement with Royal Properties and Vlahakis Development expire. That agreement provided that the developers would buy the DDA-owned properties on Evergreen Avenue for $5.6 million if all approvals of the project were obtained and a Development Agreement were agreed to. The DDA had already extended the agreement once (in May), and it declined to approve a second amendment — with a deadline of January 2020 — that would have extended the developers’ exclusive right to develop this site.

Planning Commission was informed by Planning and Zoning Administrator David Haywood that “it would be prudent to make a recommendation to Council [on the project] one way or the other.” Haywood prefaced the previous statement this by saying, “the DDA authorized the applicant to pursue a site plan review separate from the PSA. So really the application in front of you for the site plan and SUP is still live in that sense.”

The DDA did not take specific action at its meeting last week to give Royal Vlahakis permission to submit a site plan and Special Use Permit (SUP) on the property owned by the DDA in the absence of the Purchase and Sale Agreement. However, DDA Chair Peter Dewan pointed out that Royal Vlahakis would be able to submit a proposal in response to the Request for Proposals (RFP) that he hopes the DDA will approve at its meeting on September 26.

The Planning Commission already had considered various versions of the Park Place proposal at meetings in January, July, and early August, and discussion at its most recent meeting was brief.

Downes said he supported the project because of the reputation of Paul Vlahakis as a successful local businessman, leading Downes to believe that the project would move forward if it were approved. 

Downes also said he thought the downtown would be “a lot cooler” with a theater complex. The latter was dropped from the project in April, when the developers proposed an urban market on the ground floor of the building instead.

A “Park Place West” rendering from the back of Peoples Church that was submitted in July.

Commissioner John (Jack) Cahill explained that he would vote no because the project is not yet fully designed, so it is not ready for Commission approval. Cahill and Joseph Sullivan expressed disappointment that the theater was no longer part of the project.

Commissioner Chris Wolf agree with Cahill that the site plan was incomplete and added that he did not think the project met the standard for being a significant public benefit to the city, as is required for the Special Use Permit needed for a nine-story building. While Wolf favors the low-income housing planned for 25 percent of the housing units, he questioned the impact of the first-floor urban market and whether it would be successful.

Chairman Dan Bollman said he was opposing the project because its height is not appropriate for this location, according to the Master Plan. That plan calls for buildings to step down in height close to Valley Court Park.

Bollman said he expects that the site plan and SUP will go to the City Council in the next few weeks. It is also expected that the DDA will release an RFP for the Evergreen properties next month. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info