At a special meeting last night, East Lansing’s City Council unanimously approved the proposal for “The Hub,” a 10-story-tall, 347-unit apartment building planned by national developer Core Spaces. Councilmembers named as reasons for voting in favor that the developers are seeking no tax increment financing (TIF) and that the project is aimed at student renters without cars who are likely to walk and bike to where they need to go locally.
The Hub will sit on a 1.3-acre parcel of land currently occupied by Georgio’s Pizza and a 7-11 store on the southwest corner of Bogue Street and Grand River Avenue. Both of those businesses plan to relocate into the first-floor retail section of the new building when it is completed. There is additional retail space designed for the first floor. The apartments will hold up to 585 residents.
In November, East Lansing’s Planning Commission failed to pass a resolution to recommend this development, ending on a 3-3 tie, with much discussion focused on the height of the building. Zoning calls for an 8-story building in this part of the “East Village,” with 10-stories permissible with a supermajority vote of Council (which the project obtained last night).
Some Planning Commission members were also concerned about the very low ratio of parking spaces to beds. The project calls for only 158 parking spots, or about one-quarter of a parking spot for every resident.
At yesterday’s meeting, Tim Potter and Michael Unsworth, local bicycle advocates, spoke in favor of the development, saying that more and more young people are deciding to go without drivers’ licenses. They praised the development for including ample parking for bicycles and for encouraging non-polluting means of transportation.
Unsworth spoke as a representative of the Tri County Bicycle Association and said the group was in favor of the project. An attorney representing Georgio’s Pizza also spoke in favor of the project, saying his client’s support derived in part because of the project’s move away from car-focused renters to bike-focused renters.
Local major landlords Brian Hagan of Hagan Realty and Nancy Marr of Prime Housing Group sent letters to Council asking that The Hub project not be approved, primarily because of concerns over the lack of parking. Both also questioned the wisdom of adding a high-density residential project to an already densely populated area.
Richard Foster, who owns 36-bed apartment building directly across from the project site, spoke in opposition during the public hearing, citing his personal experience with parking issues in the area. An attorney representing major landlord Community Resource Management Company also spoke against, calling the low number of car-parking spots “untenable.”
Local architect Dan Bollman said he also thought the parking plan was seriously inadequate. (Bollman is Chair of the Planning Commission but was speaking for himself in this case.) Bollman said Planning Commission was looking at another proposal for the same area and was holding that project to much higher parking requirements than these developers were asking.
Attorney David Pierson spoke on behalf of Core Spaces, reiterating points he has made elsewhere - that this development has a similar parking ratio to other Core Spaces projects in other Big Ten university towns and that the proximity to campus would mean that students were able to do without cars. Pierson had made this claim to the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) last week at a meeting where the DDA voted unanimously to recommend approval of the project.
“Residents are already there. They don’t need to park to get to class,” he said, regarding critics’ points about the problem of commuter students parking in area businesses’ parking lots.
Pierson also reminded Council that the developers are not planning to seek tax increment financing (TIF) for environmental remediation on site, even though the site does require environmental clean-up. There is about $750,000 in escrow with the state for environmental cleanup related to a gas station that previously stood on the site.
Pierson said clean-up will cost more than that, but that the developer plans to pay the difference. His said his client didn’t want to wait for Brownfield TIF approvals.
The Hub’s design has undergone a few changes as it has made its way through various East Lansing review stages, including seeing the removal of all apartment balconies and an increase in covered bicycle parking. Although the apartment balconies have been eliminated from the plans, there are still plans for outdoor space available for recreation, including a pool and basketball court on the roof, with additional space to barbecue.
Looking at the amenities, Councilmember Erik Altmann asked rhetorically if the residents would ever go to class.
Concerned about noise coming from the rooftop, Mayor Mark Meadows proposed an amendment to the proposed approval specifying that the amenity deck be closed at 10 p.m. This was counter-amended by Councilmember Ruth Beier to allow access up to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Council approved this plan.
With support from her colleagues, Councilmember Shanna Draheim also added an amendment to facilitate the construction of a new crosswalk, with curb cuts and pavement markings, so that bicyclists and pedestrians will be able to safely cross Bogue Street from the south end of the building. (The assumption is that few Hub residents who are going southwest to campus will want to first go north to Grand River Avenue to cross Bogue at that light.) The cost to the developer of this new crosswalk system is not to exceed $30,000.
Tyler McCastle of the carpenters’ union came to support the project, and before casting her vote, Beier complimented the developers for their negotiations with local labor unions, saying that her primary concern is the quality of the construction. She said that she has seen a marked difference between the quality of union-built buildings and those built with contract labor.
Beier said that because Core Spaces plans to manage the rental after the building is built, their interests are aligned with the City’s in terms of building quality. She said “all the buildings they build, they keep. They don’t flip them.”
In fact, Core Spaces has recently entered into an agreement with another large rental corporation to “recapitalize” seven of its projects. One of those seven projects is the not-yet- completed The Hub project in Ann Arbor, which is expected to fully transfer into the ownership of American Campus Communities over the next two years.
Despite public criticism of the extremely low parking-space-to-resident ratio, both Altmann and Meadows expressed “excitement” over the project and specifically spoke about the low ratio as a positive feature. Later in the evening, during discussions of City finances, Altmann said he thought this project could be a model for how the City could increase density while also increasing tax revenue to the City. He suggested these buildings could compete with older, less attractive dorms on MSU’s campus, and financially benefit the City.
According to Pierson and the Core Spaces development team, now that the proposal has been approved, they hope to move quickly in getting building permits in place, ideally beginning demolition in February with construction beginning sometime in Spring 2018.
When asked by ELi if they anticipate any problems with the environmental remediation, Core Spaces’ representative responded that, due to plans for subterranean parking in the project, they would be removing the contaminated material anyway, so the environmental cleanup should cause no delay in the construction schedule.