East Lansing’s City Council on Tuesday approved a new version of the Third Amendment to the Center City District Master Development Agreement in a 4-1 vote. Council Member Lisa Babcock was (again) the lone dissenting vote.
The developers of the Center City District project are Harbor Bay Real Estate and Ballein Management, operating as HB BM, LLC, and Newman Lofts was built as part of the project on public land with public subsidies.
The new version of the amendment to the MDA still prohibits the City from enforcing the zoning code related to illegal apartment rentals to three sets of tenants under the age of 55 in Newman Lofts, a 55+ age-restricted apartment complex.
No additional illegal rentals will be allowed under the agreement, and the amendment requires the developers to come into legal compliance and have all the Newman Lofts units be occupied by at least one person age 55 or older after the current tenants choose to end their tenancy, whenever that may be.
City Attorney Mike Homier introduced the item — a different version of which Council had previously approved 4-1 on Feb. 23 — and said that issues were raised about the clarity of the prior version.
“You know, you can read an agreement 20 times and then it sounds one way to you,” Homier said. “Someone else reads it and they give you a different perspective. And that’s what happened with this. So what we did was [we] clarified the amendment. The purpose and the intent of the proposed third amendment remains the same.”
Because the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) are both parties to this agreement, those boards must approve any changes to the contract. When the last version of this amendment came before the DDA and BRA in February, two days after City Council, DDA/BRA Vice Chair Jim Croom voiced his concerns.
Croom specifically worried that one sentence in subsection B of the amendment could be read to allow the developers to rent all the units in Newman Lofts to people under the age of 55 for a period of time.
Homier said at this Tuesday’s meeting that the latest version of the third amendment had slightly edited language in subsection B. Homier also included a new subsection C, which clarifies that currently, other than the three units in question, all the units in Newman Lofts are restricted to “tenants/occupants that include at least one member who has achieved the age of 55.”
The developers’ counsel had already agreed to the newest version of the amendment, Homier told Council on Tuesday evening.
Mayor Aaron Stephens thanked Croom for spurring the changes to the amendment. Stephens, as Mayor, is a voting DDA and BRA member and was present at the Feb. 25 DDA meeting where Croom brought up his concerns.
Stephens reiterated a point he made at that DDA meeting, which is that this amendment is to provide clarity about who is supposed to live in Newman Lofts: people 55 or older. He noted this version of the amendment seems like “the one.” (The agreement, however, only requires that at least one member of each apartment be 55+.)
“Our credibility at some point is on the line, because we need to enforce the rest of our codes with other landlords. Favorite political expression of mine: You lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas,” Babcock said. “And all of us have voiced, in one capacity or another, we don’t trust them. We don’t trust what they’re up to. And frankly by siding with them, we take the risk that other developers, other members of the community, won’t trust us.”
Babcock called this a “sweetheart deal” for the developers and questioned why the City would give up the right to enforce its own ordinance. She said she “count not stomach” this.
Council members Jessy Gregg, Dana Watson, and Ron Bacon had no comment on the item this time, simply voting in favor.