New Comprehensive Plan Moves Toward Adoption

Thursday, December 21, 2017, 8:50 am
Jessy Gregg

Above: A clip from the "future land use" map of the proposed plan; see the full map here, and the full plan here.

While East Lansing’s new Comprehensive Plan has been years in the making, it looks like it may move through the final stages of approval quickly in early 2018.

Tim Dempsey, Deputy City Manager and Director of Planning for the City of East Lansing, made a special presentation to City Council this week to briefly review the work that has been done on updating East Lansing’s Comprehensive Plan. Council then voted unanimously to approve the draft and move the plan forward for final review before adoption by the Planning Commission.

Under the Michigan Zoning and Enabling Act, cities’ Comprehensive Plans or Master Plans are required to be reviewed every five years. East Lansing’s currently active plan, titled “The Big Picture,” was adopted in 2006 and, Dempsey told Council, City staff and Planning Commission started to work on the new plan, titled The Bigger Picture, in 2013.

In his memo to Council in advance of the presentation, Dempsey named a number of trends that the new plan tries to take into account, including:

  • growth in the senior population, international population, and “creative class workers”;
  • less revenue-sharing from the State and reduced property tax revenues leading to relatively less funding for the City’s “street system” and public amenities;
  • increased interest in urban housing and large student housing projects, but a lack of affordable downtown rental housing for seniors, young families, and young professionals;
  • more people biking, but still few good ways to cross Grand River Avenue for bikes and pedestrians.

Dempsey said that this proposed new plan is more than an update, and that the end result will be a completely new plan with a new look and layout. He said that it’s driven by a desire to “look forward to updating the zoning code.”

Although there have been many modifications to the zoning code over the years, East Lansing has not done a comprehensive review of their code for over thirteen years, “probably closer to twenty,” according to Dempsey.

The 150-page draft Comprehensive Plan document includes a section outlining the plan’s vision, goals and objectives which are focused around five thematic areas: human dignity, economic sustainability, housing, transportation and infrastructure, and urban form.

Many of the updates to the plan are illustrations of how a move towards “form-based” zoning might impact future development in the city. According to Dempsey’s presentation, form-based would focus on how buildings interact with the public right-of-way, looking at such features as as sidewalks, landscaping, and bicycle amenities. (Read more about form-based code in an earlier report from ELi.)

The Comprehensive Plan is not a binding document but rather a guideline for Planning Commission, City Council, and City staff to use as they address future development in East Lansing. (As noted above, the zoning code is updated separately.) According to Dempsey some of the updates are meant to “accommodate greater density but do it in areas where it’s more of a transition” from owner-occupied housing to other types.

Now that City Council has approved the draft, the next stage will be additional review and input from citizens. Dempsey encouraged citizens to review the draft on the City’s website and to contact the Planning office with suggestions, or to attend one of the public presentations planned to take place during the 63-day review period. Those have not yet been scheduled. 

See the full proposed "future land use" map here and the full proposed plan here.