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Trowbridge Developer Threatens to Stop Project Unless Tax Incentives Increase

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In a dramatic plea to East Lansing’s City Council Tuesday night, River Caddis Development principal Kevin McGraw asked Council to increase the tax incentives for his project at Trowbridge Plaza. McGraw said that because of unexpected costs, a tax calculation error (for which he alternately blamed only himself and the city assessor as well), and his agreement with City Council to build to only four stories instead of five, his profit margin has dropped to single-digits.

City and Neighborhood Differ Strongly on Bailey Daycare

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The possible closing of the daycare program at Bailey Community Center will be discussed tonight at City Council's work session, and tensions are expected to be high. Many members of the Bailey neighborhood have been strongly opposed to the possible closing, partly out of fear that the move is a step towards the City closing and possibly selling off the Community Center building altogether.

Trowbridge Developer Seeking Additional Tax Incentive from City

Monday, September 22, 2014

The developer rehabbing the Trowbridge Plaza site, formerly the home of Goodrich Shop-Rite, is asking for a substantially larger tax assistance plan than the one to which East Lansing’s City Council previously agreed. His request will come before City Council at their work session tomorrow, Tuesday, September 23. The Red Cedar Community Association, the neighborhood in which the project resides, has "strongly urge[d] a rejection of this request" in a letter to Concil.

Planning Commission to Review 10-Story Proposal from Controversial Developer Wednesday

Sunday, September 21, 2014

When large development projects come before East Lansing's Planning Commission for possible approval, citizens are normally alerted by a public hearing notice. Because the proposed ten-story downtown building being reviewed this Wednesday at 7 pm at Planning Commission has been previously discussed, no such notice is required to be issued and many citizens appear unaware that a major decision may be made this Wednesday on this project. In public discussions around the plan, some citizens strongly favor any possible progress at the long-blighted site, at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue. Others have serious reservations about the proposed plan, including in terms of: the size of the proposed building; the ability of the area to manage the associated increase of car traffic; and the developer, PDIG, a company with a principal owner who has caused concern for the failed last go-around at the site, as well as for problems with projects in other cities.

City Attorney: City Manager Can Use City Publications to Sway Voters

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In a memo to City Council today, City Attorney Thomas M. Yeadon has advised that the City Manager may use taxpayer-funded City publications to try to sway voters on ballot measures and even elections. According to Yeadon during a discussion at City Council this evening, the City Manager may even use his "Manager's Message" column in the City newsletter Dialog to endorse a candidate for governor if he so wishes.

BWL Easements Missing

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL) which supplies electrical power to a large section of East Lansing, appears to be lacking legal easements for its power lines, at least in a number of older neighborhoods including Glencairn and Oakwood. This unexpected discovery has been made by homeowners demanding to see copies of written easements before allowing BWL’s contractors to come onto their properties and cut vegetation.

Deer Encroachment and Damage in East Lansing Neighborhoods

Thursday, August 21, 2014
Ray Vlasin shows the damage caused by deer to a tree in his yard

On June 19th representatives from seven neighborhood associations came together at a meeting hosted by the Harrison Meadows Association. The other six neighborhoods participating were Walnut Heights, The Crossings, Shaw Estates, Whitehills, Abbott Parkside, and Pinecrest. They heard from Cathy DeShambo of East Lansing Public Works who is leading the city’s response to problems caused by growing deer herd size and encroachment into the residential neighborhoods of the city.  These problems include health and safety concerns and widespread property damage.

East Lansing Voters to Decide whether to Allow City to Sell Land for Park District Redevelopment

Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Map highliting the parking lots on the ballot initiative

On August 6, the City Council voted to put a question on the November 4 ballot asking the electorate to authorize the City to sell three parking lots needed for redevelopment of the west end of downtown leading down to Valley Court Park, an area being called “the Park District.”

This authorization will only pass if 60% of the voters vote for it; the City Charter requires that a super-majority of voters approve sale of public properties of this value. 


Building Permit Problems Persist at St. Anne, Two Months after Asch's Resignation

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Results from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request obtained this Thursday indicate major problems with the permitting process for St. Anne Lofts persisting two months after Howard Asch, the head of Code Enforcement (the building department) resigned. The "Bureaucratic Collapse" report from the Lansing State Journal, while very informative, appears to have missed the extent of the problems, and also did not document how the problems are continuing since Asch's departure.

City gives contractor go-ahead on fifth floor, in the absence of a building permit:

The most surprising finding is this: It appears that the City is allowing construction to occur on the 5th floor of St. Anne Lofts even though the City has still never issued a general building permit for the 5th floor penthouse. Pressed about this on Thursday, September 22, Planning Director Tim Dempsey could provide no clear explanation. (It wasn't clear he knew this until I pointed out the absence of the permit.)

How the fifth floor has played out:

Becasue the fifth floor was being constructed without proper approvals, on June 26, 2012, the City issued a Notice of Stop Work Order demanding that construction on the 5th floor cease, except insofar as required to weatherproof the building.

Weeks earlier, on June 6, Asch had issued a verbal order to quit it.

City Clerk Sees Relationships As Key to Democracy

Friday, September 21, 2012

Editor's note: This is the second in a series spottling the histories and philosophies of our City's staff members. Contact us if you have a suggestion about whom we should feature in the series.

As the City Clerk of East Lansing, Marie McKenna has a lot on her plate: managing the mechanics of elections, overseeing the city's records, answering citizens' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and much more. Sometimes she also takes on special assignments, as she has done lately in her work helping to mediate the regional discussion about collaboration among local fire departments. Perhaps it is not too surprising, given all this, that citizens will often see McKenna going in and out of City Hall on the weekends.

But McKenna seems to handle her workload with aplomb, perhaps because she benefits from a staff that, like her, is attuned to the importance of good relationships. I asked McKenna to tell me about her philosophy as City Clerk, and in response she spoke to the group philosophy of her department:

St. Anne Cross Was Shown to Staff on Earliest Plans; City Attorney Maintains Nothing Can Be Done

Friday, September 21, 2012

Yesterday, as part of a Freedom of Information Act inquiry, I was able to look at the drawings submitted to the City of East Lansing for the project known as St. Anne Lofts. I asked Councilmember Vic Loomis to accompany me because of his vastly superior knowledge in commercial planning and development and because he continues to be the only Councilmember expressing serious reservations about the project. The image shown above was taken with my phone camera. It shows the architect's drawing of what the south side of the building would look like. You'll notice it shows the cross. These plans were submitted in late 2011 or early 2012 and formed part of the paperwork the city used to approve the project.

This week at Council, City Attorney Tom Yeadon summarized his memo to Council of a week earlier, rendering his opinion that, even given the sign ordinance, the City has no ability to do anything about the cross, in spite of nearly $3 million in public support going to this approximately $7 million project. Yeadon's latest memo (which was withheld from citizens for nearly a week after Council received it) is available for download by clicking here.

Yeadon previously rendered his opinion that the cross does not violate the First Amendment. (More on that here.) A first amendment scholar has been asked to look into the matter and is set to present his remarks to Council in the near future. Stay tuned to ELi for more.

Readers may also want to note what else that drawing shows: the penthouse, for which no formal application for building approval was made until well after construction on it had started. These plans--showing the cross and the penthouse--were the plans used by the Planning and Code Enforcement departments as they shepherded the project through the approval process.

City Reports Plan for Addressng Sidewalk Construction Weeds

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A week ago, we reported that many East Lansing residents were upset with the weeds that had beset their parkways and lawn borders following sidewalk reconstruction by Sandborn Construction, the company with which the City had contracted. Today East Lansing residents received a letter from the City indicating that "the contractor has submitted a plan of action fo rthe areas that were disturbed".

Citizens Discuss How to Go Forward on City Center II Properties

Friday, September 7, 2012

About a hundred citizens, including business- and home-owners and MSU urban planning students, turned out over the course of two meetings last night and this morning to discuss what to do with the properties in the area formerly known as "City Center II." The City, which hosted the meetings, is now calling the area the "Park District Planning Area." The meetings were held on September 6 at 7 pm, and on September 7 at 9 am, both at the Hannah Community Center.

The meetings were relatively short for this big issue -- just over an hour each. Thursday evening's session included about 75 people, including about 10 staff; Friday morning's had about 40 people, including about 7 staff. The only City Council member in attendance was Kevin Beard, who attended the morning session.

The discussions were highly structured. Although it was not discussed in the large group, in many of the small-group discussions some confusion existed with regard to how the city can really move forward on the properties that the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) owns without knowing what the private developers who own the other properties will do with their land. (See the map here to understand who owns what.)

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