Update and meeting on Thursday, Nov. 15 at 7:00pm at Hannah Center

Dear Friends in East Lansing Citizens Concerned,

Much has been happening regarding East Lansing downtown development, and East Lansing Citizens Concerned participants have been busy.

I hope you can join us at our next meeting on Thursday, November 15 at 7:00 pm at the Hannah Community Center in the Recital Room. (This is in place of the meeting originally scheduled for November 1 – sorry for this last-minute notice of the change.)

Also, please email me in the next week if you would like to nominate yourself or someone else to serve on the Core Group as co-chair, treasurer, secretary, or at-large. We received several nominations at the October meeting and wish to invite ideas from a larger group, as well.

Here are a few updates, as best I understand them. City staff invited comments on the draft Request for Qualifications / Proposals (RFQP) about the publicly-owned properties in the Park District Planning Area near Valley Court Park. Seven public comments were received by the Oct. 24 deadline, at least six of which were from people who have been engaged with EL Citizens Concerned. Some people active in Citizens Concerned also met with City Manager George Lahanas to discuss issues about the RFQP. Because of this serious response, the Downtown Development Agency (DDA) has scheduled an additional meeting at 4:00 on November 6 (election day) to consider possible changes to the RFQP; the DDA is expected to take final action on Thursday, Nov. 15 at its regular noon meeting. The City Council may act on the RFQP at its meeting on Tuesday, November 20. As at all City Council meetings, there will be a public comment period at the beginning of this meeting. (The City’s website about the RFQP is at:

The Planning Commission has begun its consideration of the site plan application for the privately-owned properties from 100 to 130 W Grand River Ave that were at the core of the former City Center II project. The application is required because residential units (which are proposed as part of mixed-use buildings) are not allowed under current zoning. The city has not yet completed its study of parking issues regarding this development. The parking study may be given to City Council at its November 20 meeting.

I hope to see many of you at our November 15 evening meeting. Notes of the October meeting are attached.

Regards,

Chris

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ELCC meeting notes from October 11, 2012
Notes from East Lansing Citizens Concerned Meeting Thursday, October 11, 2012
Chris Root convened the meeting at 7:05 PM

Introductions were made around the room. Chris Root acted as Chair of meeting and Maureen McCabe-Power acted as Recording Secretary.

The agenda focused first on the RFQP for the Park District Planning Area; the last 20 minutes of the meeting will address matters of internal organization for East Lansing Citizens Concerned (ELCC).

Ray Vlasin reported on progress concerning an agenda item raised at the last meeting: deer management in East Lansing. The Department of Public Works is in the process of filling a position that will, in addition to other duties, help address this issue.

There are two groups of properties in the former City Center II project area that we need to monitor. First, what is now referred to as the Park District Planning Area are properties owned by the City. Second is the site plan application that has been filed by Bergmann Associates on behalf of (a) CADA Investment Group, LLC (which owns the big bank building on the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue) and (b) City Center Two Project, LLL (which owns the other properties).

The draft RFQP being discussed at tonight’s meeting has been created to address the Park District Planning Area properties only.

The RFQP document was on the agenda of the October 9, 2012 City Council work session, but no comment was made on its substance; the only comment was that the January 7 date for receipt of proposals should be delayed a few weeks.

Chris handed out a list of meetings over the next few weeks at which either the draft RFQP and/or the site plan application will be considered and asked for volunteers to attend those meetings in order to report back to the ELCC.

Ray Vlasin reported that he is appalled at the process and the content of the RFQP and has drafted a comment document for ELCC review. Additional comments from ELCC participants were sought; Maureen McCabe-Power will incorporate additional comments, organize signatories, and post on Public Response and release to the press when the document is finalized.

Ray then led the group through the content of the RFQP comment document. The first focus is on process issues – more time is needed for public review and comment.
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ELCC meeting notes from October 11, 2012

There is too much vagueness and ambiguity with respect to spaces – exact property lines and financing sources. The City-owned properties were purchased at three times their current value, and the City is not going to get that money back.

The City currently owes $350,000 plus about $60,000 in interest to MEDC for 303 Abbot and issued $5,650,000 in Bond Anticipation Notes related to the purchase of the Evergreen properties, which must be refinanced in April 2015. Any tax increment financing that might be available for infrastructure improvements would be secondary to using tax increment financing to cover remaining debt service after sale of properties.

It would be better to have a two-stage process, starting with an RFQ (Request for Qualifications) in which criteria would focus on evaluating the developer. A plan could then be developed for public spaces – reflecting information from the Hannah Center sessions in September – then we could move onto a RFP (Request for Proposals). Staff reported citizen input from the September Hannah Center sessions by table, rather than aggregating the output in a manner more useful to staff and/or a potential developer.
It doesn’t appear that the citizen input was considered in writing the RFQP.

The Hannah Center sessions addressed the whole former City Center II site rather than only City-owned properties. Still need to get out there and find out what people want. There are also issues with evaluation criteria and citizens close to the project site ought to be a part of the review team.

Existing Ordinances should be cautiously considered so that they do not restrict ideas. Zoning issues were not dealt with in the RFQP.

There is a wealth of talent and expertise in the East Lansing community in areas of planning, architecture, economic development and related fields; why is no one tapping into all this knowledge? Why not make this project inclusive rather than continuing on what appears to be an exclusive path? Involving people is a much surer way to achieve consensus in any endeavor.

Following the RFQP scenario may make things move faster, but it will not achieve a better outcome.

Chris urged people to give input to the City in multiple ways and reminded people that any ELCC activity does not prevent any individual from contacting, speaking, involving self in any way. In other words, there is no giving up of individual right(s) in this collective endeavor.

Steve Osborn then put forward his People’s Streets Plan, which he believes “dovetails” nicely with Ray’s work. This idea started out as an alternative to the RFQP – a plan for private developments to occur or written into the RFP – to ensure community member’s main objectives – streets and walkways, which seemed like a common theme at the Hannah Center sessions.

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ELCC meeting notes from October 11, 2012

Steve would like to see Valley Court Park more visible from Grand River Avenue. For example, could the public stairway that leads into Valley Court Park extend all the way to City Hall?

Steve expressed urgency about moving ahead and suggested that a delegation from ELCC make an appointment at City Hall with perhaps the City Manager the week of October 15, 2012 to make thoughts known. The Planning Commission’s work needs to slow down – we need a different line of thinking.

Bill Weckesser expressed concern that Council members do not grasp the financial bind in which the City finds itself. Bill proposes the concept of a university retirement and alumni/ae living complex. A number of universities across the country have done this successfully. It would diversify the area and dovetail nicely with the Gateway Project outlined for the Red Cedar Park property of Lansing.
Bill indicated that MSU has endowments that might invest in this type of real estate and the City-owned property could be deeded. Revenue coming in would pay down debt – the City would be an owner and a tax collector.

At Florida State University, a similar complex includes lecture halls, food service and condos. Steve indicates that senior housing tends to be more suburban – a lower intensity environment, but agrees that senior housing could attract different types working together.

Chris Jerome reminded us that whatever is done with any property needs to keep quality of life for neighbors in the forefront of the thinking. Anything that is designed to attract young singles never seems to have enough parking. There is always a lot of pedestrian talk, but at the end of the day people don’t want to walk too far and, while a condo may be designed for one or two people, those people will have company, children home to visit, etc. Parking on neighborhood streets in front of neighbor’s homes never makes for good relations. Young singles often have lots of cars.

Look at Ann Arbor for a nearby example. Parking issues make neighboring property hard to sell. It’s often necessary to force developers to include sufficient parking.
It was pointed out that parking is an issue for City Center I.

Eliot Singer, a member of ELCC’s reform subgroup, reported that the group is looking at long-term structure change – charter, ordinances, etc. The City of East Lansing has not updated its approach to development since it began entering into significant public/private partnerships. We don’t have anything in place to vet crooks and/or deadbeats - nothing to say that the site plan and the financing need a market study. The newly written RFQP only asks for one on-going project for the responder (wonders if the RFQP is being written for a specific developer). There is nothing to prevent a rerun of what just failed. Financially, the City can tread water for 4 or 5 more years if we don’t lose more money on stupid projects.

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ELCC meeting notes from October 11, 2012 Internal Structure of ELCC

Ray recapped the Internal Operation of East Lansing Citizens Concerned and highlighted positions needing nomination and core group responsibilities. The group expressed consensus with these positions in the core group and their responsibilities. The entire document will be up for approval at our next meeting.

Nomination sheets were then distributed and all were invited to nominate people for the positions named below. Nominations also will be invited by email before the next meeting. The tally will be available at the next meeting.

ELCC positions (to constitute the Core Group): Treasurer

Recording Secretary

Arrangements Secretary

Co-chairs for the Organization and for the Core Group

Member at large

Leaders of the operating sub-groups – currently 3 (to be chosen by sub-groups)

Action items: These people agreed to monitoring this groups regarding consideration of the draft RFQP and site plan application.

Planning Commission – Ray Vlasin

DDA – Leo Jerome

Delegation to City Hall – Maureen McCabe-Power, Chris Root to organize

Attachments


Memo to George Lehanas

Internal Operation of East Lansing Citizens Concerned – revised 10/11/2012

Next meeting of the ELCC will be Thursday, November 15, 2012 (changed from Thursday, Nov. 1).