A Detroit-based developer who specializes in affordable housing is looking to build a five-story affordable housing apartment building on what is now a surface parking lot along Albert Avenue, just west of Bailey Street.
The parking lot – known as Lot 11 and located behind Peanut Barrel and Campbell’s Market Basket – is actually a combination of two parcels with different owners.
The east side of the lot, nearest the parking lot’s gates, is owned by the city. The rest, consisting of about two-thirds of an acre, is owned by the Metzger and Fabian families. For over two decades, those families have been leasing the land to the city for the parking lot use.
Chris Young, Vice President of American Community Developers (ACD), came with members of his team to the East Lansing Downtown Development Authority (DDA) today to present the plan and take questions.
Young said his company has entered into a contract to buy the land owned by the Metzgers and Fabians. The plan is to build a five-story building with 120 units ranging from studio apartments to apartments with two bedrooms and two baths.
The address for the building would be 530 Albert Ave. and all the units would be income-restricted to those earning 40-80% of the Area Median Income (AMI). In dollar terms, this means it would be restricted to individuals or households earning between about $30,000 and $70,000 per year.
After the meeting, Young provided ELi with the projected rents. A studio would rent for not more than $984 per month, a one-bedroom for not more than $1,054, and a two-bedroom/two-bath unit for not more than $1,266.
The project would rely on federal and state assistance available for these kinds of projects. That assistance comes with a firm requirement that the housing remain income-restricted and not be rented to college students who are dependents of their families. The intention is to have the housing be for “workforce” – for recent college grads in starter jobs and people working in service industries, for example. The apartments would not be age-restricted.
The developers would build no on-site parking, for several reasons. One is that they don’t want to add floors and make the building tower over neighboring properties, including the Wild Goose Inn, just next door. Another is that the city’s colorful parking structure, less than a block away, has very low occupancy, and the developer could help the city financially by contracting to have their tenants park there.
Keeping parking offsite also means not having more parking garages facing Albert Avenue, a street already dense with parking garages.
Paul Weber, Director of Architecture for ACD, told the DDA the plan would be to construct a C-shaped building with a courtyard-style opening facing the back alley. Weber said the site is about 30,000 square feet and the plan would be to build on about 16,000-18,000 of that.
Young told the DDA that his company is one of the largest affordable-housing developers in the nation and that they have over 14,000 housing units under their ownership and management. He said his company has built 113 projects in 40 years and still owns and operates 110 of those, and that they intend to continue to own this one.
That means, Young said, they will build a quality structure that they won’t have to struggle to maintain. Weber explained that, while the building would be aimed at people in the low-to-moderate income range, “The goal is to have a market-rate experience for everyone,” meaning that the apartments would be of the style renters with more income would seek.
Weber said the apartments would have “modern finishes, very sleek cabinets, nice countertops, glass shower doors – really light and bright.”
The windows would be relatively large and the outside finish would be a combination of brick and aluminum siding, similar to surrounding new buildings.
The building would include a community space and an on-site office for the management.
At the meeting, DDA Chair Mike Krueger, who owns The Peanut Barrel, asked whether the developers had started talking with neighboring businesses about the project and the loss of parking. The project would take away about 66 spots from the surface parking lot.
Young said that while the company has secured funding for the project from the federal and state agencies whose support is needed, they are still relatively early in the process. He said they would be happy to reach out to neighbors including business owners, property owners and residents in the Bailey Neighborhood.
City Attorney Tony Chubb asked about whether the project would be seeking a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). This is a concession given by the city to help support affordable housing and basically means the city commits to accepting a relatively low payment compared to what taxes would normally be on a market-rate project of this style.
Young said they would be seeking a PILOT.
DDA member Jacqueline Babcock, who lives in Newman Lofts, asked whether the developers would build a designated pick-up and drop-off area. This is a feature she noted Newman Lofts lacks.
Young said they were working on figuring that out with the city’s planners. He said the developers understand the alley is very active with deliveries and pedestrians and they want to make sure the alley is not being blocked.
To get to the point of local approvals, after going through the Planning Commission and DDA for recommendations, the project will have to obtain approval from City Council for the site plan and Special Use Permit (SUP).
Young is optimistic they could start the construction by the end of this year.
“The financing is in place to build this project,” he told the DDA, and his company wants to bring this affordable workplace housing to East Lansing, as they’ve been doing similar projects in Detroit and elsewhere. (See their website here.)
Speaking to ELi after the meeting, Young said the Metzgers and Fabians entered into the contract because they are committed to the community and would like to see affordable workplace housing built downtown, as it would benefit the city.
Young encouraged community members to engage with his team about how they see the project and what they’d like to see incorporated in the design. (Find ACD’s contact info here.)
“We’re willing to work reasonably with everyone,” he said. “We are an open book. We want them to help us.”