“Shaping the Avenue” Aims to Plan East Lansing’s Future

Friday, September 15, 2017, 8:05 am
Alice Dreger

Above: From a graphic on the City’s announcement of the upcoming event.

City planners are seeking public feedback on the almost-final 2017 East Lansing Comprehensive Plan, which, the City says, “represents the vision, values and goals for the future of the city.” Community members are being invited to a special “informal and hands-on open house” to be held Monday, September 18, from 4-7 p.m. at the Hannah Community Center.

East Lansing’s new Comprehensive Plan has been a long time coming, and is something likely to affect the experiences of many residents of the City. The Comprehensive Plan essentially lays out what planners want to see in terms of future redevelopment of various areas. So, for example, it suggests which areas that are now mostly residential might become mostly commercial, and which areas that are relatively low-density might become higher density.

Monday's event at Hannah Community Center is part of the regional “Shaping the Avenue” project which is looking to creating zoning, transportation, and streetscaping regulations “that will guide the evolution of how buildings and streets will look” and function along Michigan Avenue and Grand River Avenue, from the Lansing Capitol through East Lansing to Meridian Township.

Shaping the Avenue involves partnership among Lansing, Lansing Township, East Lansing, Meridian Township, and CATA (the Capital Area Transportation Authority). The idea is to employ principles of transit-oriented development, which aims to create neighborhoods that are well thought-out in terms of the integration of public transit.

With transit oriented development, redevelopment of buildings, streets, sidewalks, and crosswalks is managed in a way that makes people feel positive about public transit, including in terms of wanting to use it themselves. So, for example, transit oriented development eases transitions between bicycles and buses and provides roadway space for buses, including for stops, that prevents them from backing up car traffic.

Shaping the Avenue also seeks to employ form-based code, a type of regulation that is aimed at having attractive, aesthetically-considered design. Typically form-based code restricts what styles of buildings can be constructed along a restricted space, specifying building materials, heights, widths, and various design features. (See a useful video of examples at this page.)

Last December, when its Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan was still active, CATA sponsored a “Shaping the Avenue” event in East Lansing. The event was billed as being aimed at “shaping coordinated land development regulations based on a shared vision for a more attractive and prosperous corridor” along Michigan Avenue through Grand River Avenue.

That gathering included a presentation from Joe Kohl of Dover, Kohl & Partners in Coral Gables, Florida, a consultant hired for the project. He explained that form-based code can be used to help an area’s residents, workers, and visitors feel more attracted to and comfortable in a neighborhood that includes a busy corridor. He said that it is important for community members to be involved in the vision of their spaces, so that rules are written to achieve the local shared vision.

Well-organized design, Kohl explained, considers the needs of pedestrians, drivers, bicyclists, transit-users, and others, and also pays attention to the careful integration of residential and commercial spaces. Streetscape and public space design considers such elements as the use of trees and other plantings, public art, and street furniture like benches, lampposts, planters, and tables.

The idea is to end up with spaces that feel welcoming, unified and varied in thoughtful ways, and vibrant. Said one planner at the December event, the space should be “programmed to encourage the use of the corridor as a destination.”

Under the original concept of form-based code, the design guidelines don’t tell private builders what to build in terms of shops, residences, offices, or industrial spaces. Form-based code guides how the outside public spaces should look, function, and feel to all the people who come to them. Traditionally, form-based code allows developers to decide what will be inside the buildings (although they always have to follow safety codes). 

East Lansing planners have been interested in implementing form-based code for parts of East Lansing, in order to bring better, more sustainable design to key areas of the city. But East Lansing planners have talked about adding form-based code on top of ordinary zoning regulation. Developers say this could make building more expensive and difficult, and many already complain that East Lansing presents an extraordinarily difficult system for would-be developers, landlords, and businesses.

According to the City’s announcement of Monday’s East Lansing event, those attending “can provide feedback to building design mock-ups, react to draft standards that aim to reinforce community character and express ways in which planners, designers and transit officials can shape the avenue.”

People interested in attending should note that “requests for interpretation, accommodation for persons with disabilities and assistance with additional needs must be made 48 hours in advance of the meeting date. Please call 517-483-4141.”


You may also be interested in:

The City’s webpage on the Comprehensive Plan

The webpage of the “Shaping the Avenues” project

CATA Suspends Bus Rapid Transit Plans

Why So Much Vacant Retail Space Downtown?

Is the Current City Council Stalling Downtown Redevelopment?

Reduced Parking Requirements for New Developments