A Lot of East Lansing City News You Might Want to Know

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

Construction along Albert Ave. in the spring of 2020, near where the MSUFCU project would be constructed on Lot 4.

Here are updates on a bunch of stories I’ve been covering for ELi, provided to our readers before I have to stop reporting altogether to work on trying to get more readers donating into our system so we can keep it going in 2021.

The public hearing we can’t seem to learn anything about: The City’s calendar is showing an  unexpected public hearing on Monday, Dec. 28, sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s when there are normally no meetings. It’s listed as “Consolidated Annual Performance Evaluation Report Public Hearing.”

Poking around suggests this is the federally-required public hearing about how the City will use its Community Development and Block Grant (CDBG) funding from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the next year. There’s been no announcement of this public hearing – other than, we presume, some notice in some print paper somewhere as required by law.

We’ve been told the public can submit comments, but on what, or how, we don’t know. We have no idea who will run the public hearing, since it’s not being held at a City Council meeting, where we would have expected it.

The City used to deal with CDBG very differently, with a dedicated committee (on which now-Council member Dana Watson served) and a lot of public input. 

But then, in the shadow of the retaining wall scandal, which involved CDBG funds, and in reaction to the City’s budget problems, Council decided to cut back on the public input process and just use the funds to pay off the Avondale Square loan from HUD

If we find out more about the hearing, we’ll let you know.

MSUFCU’s downtown office building project: While it was approved by City Council in late September, this project still hasn’t started. We reported on November 13 that a wrench had been thrown into that project because the owners of the Dublin Square property, directly north, are insisting that the construction not involve any of their property or air space, and MSUFCU’s building would be built right up to the property line, creating construction challenges.

According to the credit union’s President/CEO April Clobes, “we are still working through options with the property owner to the north of our property. So, no start date yet.”

The Evergreen infrastructure rebuild: About a hundred feet west of the parking lot where the MSUFCU project is meant to be constructed, this $1.3M public works project also hasn’t started. This project has been dragging on for years as there have been so many moving parts, with possible and actual construction projects scattered all over the area. 

In December 2019, Council okayed the idea of the City paying to get it done. Then, this fall, Council specifically approved a contract for it. The expectation was that it would have started by now.

Asked what’s up, East Lansing Deputy Director of Public Works Nicole McPherson said this week that now “the Evergreen Avenue Utility Project is scheduled to start in February. There are currently some longer lead times for the sewer pipe and manholes being used on this project. We are using the additional time to coordinate with the various developments, commercial properties and residents surrounding this construction project.”

What will happen with the DDA’s Evergreen Properties, on one side of this project, is still unclear. The exclusive contract currently held by River Caddis Development expires in late January.

The Center City District bonds: City Council had nothing to say about this ongoing story this week, and East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) canceled its meeting this Thursday without giving a reason. The DDA has the same membership as the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority which approved the bonds, and several citizens told ELi they were planning to show up and ask questions – but they can’t comment at a meeting that isn’t happening.

So, we have nothing new to report in terms of actions on the bond, although the ELi reporting team is continuing to bring you analysis of what’s happened in that deal. 

The driveway drama: It’s over! The City finally undertook the rebuild of the driveway at 444 Division Street and brought it into confirmation with the City’s code, satisfying the settlement terms from about a year ago. If you missed it, this was a case where the City twice (wrongly) approved a driveway extension only to later declare it illegal, and subsequently threatened the property owners with arrest. Later, they offered the owners cash or arrest, then more cash, before finally settling.

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