Context for story on development projects

I wanted to provide some context for an East Lansing Info (ELi) story on recent happenings with the two big development projects downtown[1]. The story focuses on the June 22, 2017 meeting of the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. I was at the meeting, as an observer (I'm not a member of these panels).

The first missing piece concerns the latest hiccup in the Park District project at the corner of Grand River and Abbot, which was announced at the meeting. Turns out the state changed its brownfield law in April of this year to require 30-day notice to a developer whose brownfield plan is about to be abolished[2]. The new notice requirement, which we found out about late in the game, means we now have to wait out the notice to the old developer before the new developer can move ahead with his application for a state tax credit. The result will be a delay of a month or possibly two in demolishing the buildings. There should be no delay in construction, which was slated for next spring. This sucks, but it is what it is, and nobody had any control over the change in state law.

The ELi story omits this detail about the law changing recently, so it looks like our people neglected an important legal requirement that's been on the books forever and that everyone should have known about. That’s not right and not fair.

The story also focuses all the blame on the city while letting the developer off the hook. The developer is represented by local counsel who knows the law and our procedures as well as anyone and has not been shy about presenting updates to City Council. If he saw this coming, but wasn't seeing action at the staff level, he could and should have made sure it was on our radar.

This one-sided treatment raises a separate issue that ELi readers and board members might want to keep in mind. The developer's counsel worked closely with residents of the nearby Oakwood neighborhood to address their concerns about the project (which was great; a model for any project). One of these residents, who actually hosted the meetings, was the author of this ELi story that gave the developer’s counsel a pass. The ELi experiment is predicated on activists being able to set aside their interests when they take on the role of journalist. Maybe this can work, but here it didn’t.

The second missing piece concerns the Center City District project that we approved on June 20. The development agreement contains a provision giving the city two days to evaluate the report from our due diligence consultant. Two days is not very long — but the story makes it seem impossibly and unreasonably short.

You wouldn’t know it from the story, but we got into specifics about how this would work at the June 20 Council meeting. The contingency plan is that if there are any red flags, the City Manager will terminate the agreement and call a special meeting of the Council to decide whether to unterminate it and under what conditions. That’s effectively a mechanism for extending the timeline. The City Attorney describes this in an exchange starting at 3:26:20 of the video[3] of the Council meeting, and described again at the DDA/BRA meeting. There were also good suggestions there for making sure people’s schedules are cleared, and there was one emailed in from the community for a “fire drill” approach to getting ready.

I’m ok with this plan, and was ok giving some consideration to the developer's timeline. They came a long way in the negotiations and it made sense to me to show some goodwill after we'd gotten everything we wanted in terms of revenue and risk mitigation. My (possibly naive) bet is that being reasonable can be productive.

The third piece that actually very few people are missing concerns whom to yell at if you're unhappy with a development project or mistakes we've made. I respectfully ask that people yell at the electeds, not at city staff. We are accountable for problems, which we monitor from a position of information. If we're doing it wrong or not enough, tell us, and if that doesn't work, replace us.

Our city staff are skilled and hardworking and have put enormous amounts of time and productive effort into these projects. They have no portfolio — and even if they did, they'd have no time — to defend themselves against the kinds of attacks they've faced not just online but also in person at meetings down the hall from where they work. Going after them isn't just counterproductive and unfair. Using a media platform to bludgeon people who can’t defend themselves is the mark of a bully and reflects poorly on everyone who’s contributed to help fund it (including me).

Please yell at me (or not) anytime by phone (517-927-8589) or email (ealtmann@cityofeastlansing.com).

Erik

(Coda: Journalism isn't dead at ELi, just spotty. Please do read the article about the proposal for the income tax plus property tax reduction[4], under which seniors on fixed incomes who own their homes would in fact pay less in total taxes than they pay now.)

[1] - ELi Article - Park district plans
[2] - See (8) at Mi dot Gov Link
[3] - City Council Video
[4] - ELi Article - City Income tax

-------------

Please send submissions to Public Response using admin@publicresponse.com.

FREE, Subscribe Here - admin@publicresponse.com
If you no longer wish to receive emails from Public Response, you can unsubscribe here.

Protocol & Disclaimer:
"Work submitted and published in Public Response is the sole responsibility of the work's author(s)." "Any editorial statements made by the editor of Public Response do not necessarily reflect those of the subscribers, list members, or sponsors. Likewise, the assertions and opinions set forth by contributors whose works are published are not endorsed by Public Response."