What Happens If Valley Court Park Leaves the Historic District?

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Thursday, May 9, 2019, 7:15 pm
Alice Dreger

Our report this morning, Council Votes 4-1 to Shrink Historic District in Preparation for Redevelopment, has some readers asking what this means for Valley Court Park and for the farmers’ market held in that park.

If Council does officially vote to take Valley Court Park out of the Oakwood Historic District, it will still be a City-owned park. The City has no plans either to sell any part of the park or to stop holding the farmers’ market there.

So why is a 4-1 majority of City Council interested in taking the park out of the Historic District?

If the park remains within the district, if the City wants to make significant changes to the structures of the park, the City has to seek the permission of the East Lansing Historic District Commission. That includes removing, adding, and changing the exterior of structures.

One structure at issue is the substation, which was moved to its current location when the West Village condos were constructed. The building needs a lot of costly repairs if it is to be usable indoors for anything other than storage for things that can get wet.

Another structure currently at issue is the Valley Court Community Center. Some City Council members are talking about replacing that building (shown below) with something else, for example, senior housing.

The Historic District Commission has approved a number of redevelopment plans around East Lansing that are within historic districts. They approved, for example, the recent changes made to the Bailey School. The Commission also approved the demolition of two older houses for the construction of the West Village condos, shown below.

But this City Council (with the exception of Shanna Draheim) prefers to be able to approve changes to Valley Court Park without having to work through the Historic District Commission.

The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) commented on East Lansing’s study of the Oakwood boundaries to object to part of what City Council is planning to do, namely to remove from the district the West Village condos.

Those condos are adjacent to Valley Court Park to the south, west, and north.

SHPO wrote to the City of East Lansing in January about the plan to remove the condos:

“This is a red flag that something is amiss. SHPO does not agree with the study committee’s recommendation to remove the modern apartment complex at 332-392 West Grand River from the district. The massing and scale of this development is in keeping with the historic resources [meaning buildings] in the district. If these properties are removed then there will be no review by the historic district commission of any changes or new construction undertaken at the complex or its site. This could negatively impact the historic resources in the 300 and 400 block of Hillcrest as well as the setting and feeling of the historic Valley Court park.”

The image below shows the back of the West Village townhouses as seen from the park.

SHPO did not speak to the issue of removing the park itself. That's because the boundary study committee never suggested removing the park. That idea came from City staff and Council.

Could City Council sell or lease part or all of Valley Court Park?

The East Lansing City Charter indicates that the sale of park land requires approval by a simple majority of registered East Lansing voters who vote on a ballot proposal to sell. So if Council wanted to sell part or all of Valley Court Park – which none of the Council members are talking about doing – it would require, at a minimum, permission of a majority of the City’s voters.

In the Center City District deal, the then-seated City Council (Mark Meadows, Erik Altmann, Ruth Beier, Shanna Draheim, and Susan Woods) voted to give developers Harbor Bay Real Estate and Ballein Management a 49-year lease of public property, namely Parking Lot #1 downtown. That avoided having to get permission of the voters, because it wasn’t a sale.

But none of the current Council has suggested leasing any of Valley Court Park to a developer.

In fact, when developers Royal Vlahakis presented a proposal that called for putting their storm water holding tank on Valley Court Park land (underground), the City told them to revise that to put it on their own land.

This Council is looking at the possibility of long-term leasing City-owned Lot 15 to Royal Vlahakis. Council has voted 4-1 to remove Lot 15 from the Oakwood Historic District, which avoids having to go through the Historic District Commission for anything done in the future with that lot, including a long-term lease to developers.

Lot 15 is a property on the hill on Evergreen Avenue with stairs going up to the parking lot on Abbot Road. It is not a park.

As we explained in the report this morning, the 4-1 vote is not the final vote on the matter of changing the Oakwood Historic Boundaries. If you want to weigh in, you still can by attending City Council’s meeting on Tuesday to speak at public comment or by writing to Council at council@cityofeastlansing.com.

You can also:

  • see a map of the existing historic district here.
  • see our earlier reports on the Oakwood Historic District boundary discussions here, here, and here;
  • see the boundary study committee's report here;
  • see the State Historic Preservation Officer's criticisms of the report here.

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