East Lansing’s Planning Commission Reconvened after Three Months – So What Happened?

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Raymond Holt for ELi

"300 Grand" as seen from The Abbot in January 2020.

East Lansing’s Planning Commission met last week for the first time since late February. So what happened at its first virtual meeting?

The Planning Commission moved on commercial redevelopment on the northwest side of town. It also put off decisions relating to a possible private fitness space at 300 West Grand River Ave. and relating to an extension of approval for a marijuana provisioning center on Michigan Ave., as explained below.

Planning and Zoning Administrator David Haywood also told the Commission that a housing study approved by City Council in February is indefinitely delayed because of the challenges of having enough personnel to deal with this as the City has cut back on staffing.

Haywood said the same indefinite delay is in effect for the form-based zoning code that a special committee has been working on to create architectural standards for the denser parts of East Lansing.

EGLE district office likely to relocate to East Lansing

The commission moved several items of business ahead, unanimously voting to recommend City Council approve a site plan that will move the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) district office from Lansing to East Lansing, at 3401 Coolidge Road, where a new 24,000 square foot office building would be built.

Recommendation for that site plan, along with three other agenda items all relating to a proposed redevelopment at 3400 West Road and 3401 Coolidge Road, passed unanimously. 

The commission recommended a new lot split with rezoning. There’s already an industrial facility on this stretch of property, operated by 3GT Racing. This is a high-performance car modification facility that the developers will keep in place.

If Council approves what has been recommended, four lots will result, as shown in the image below taken from the application.

The parcel along West Road lot would be zoned B-5. The lot just east of that, which holds the existing business 3GT Racing, would be zoned M-1 (Manufacturing District). Just east of that would be where the EGLE district offices would be built, zoned B-5, and the remaining lot east of that, along Coolidge Road, would also be zoned B-5.

If the conditions as recommend by the developer and Planning Commission are approved by Council, current and future owners would not be allowed to use the properties for things like outdoor storage of heavy construction equipment or the processing of marijuana. 

Council is expected to take up review and possible approval of the plans on July 14.

DTN’s request for a fitness center on the first floor of “300 Grand” not yet acted on

The commission put off voting whether to recommend approval of DTN’s request to use part of their long-vacant first floor space at 300 W. Grand River for a fitness center to be used by residents of that building and other nearby DTN properties. Biggby Coffee has now moved in to part of the first floor of that site, but the rest of the first floor has remained empty since construction.

Under the current B-2 zoning for the property, the first floor must be used as commercial space — something like a store or restaurant – although a special use permit can allow for recreational commercial uses like a member-only gym.

But a gym restricted to use by residents of DTN properties, without public access, is an amenity and not a commercial use, Planning Commissioner Chris Wolf argued.

In response, Chuck Holman, representing DTN, sought to clarify how his company saw the fitness center as a commercial use – because it would be open to people from other buildings so long as they had leases with DTN that allowed for that use.

Wolf was not swayed, saying he was even “more convinced” it was an amenity after listening to Holman. 

The issue raised again the question of whether East Lansing should persist in requiring commercial uses on the first floor of mixed-use buildings, given what a hard time many building owners have had leasing such space when brick-and-mortar retail is on the downturn across America.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Kathy Boyle said she understood that the City has this zoning approach because everyone wants a vibrant downtown, but many have raised the question of whether that would be more easily achieved by allowing residential space on the first floor of big buildings.

The issue of 300 W. Grand’s space is expected to be revisited by Planning Commission on June 24.

1415 Michigan Avenue extension also deferred

The commission also deferred an extension request on a site plan and special use permit for a proposed medical marijuana provisioning center at 1415 Michigan Avenue, the site of an old car dealership, now next door to the large Red Cedar redevelopment project.

JBC, LLC, asked Planning Commission to put off considering its extension request until June 24 because “the property ownership is in the process of changing, and the remaining owners are settling the existing litigation with the Ingham County Drain Office over the stagnant, open trench dug by the Drain Office on the property.”

The existing SUP and site plan actually expired on March 26, 2020. But because of the COVID pandemic, the matter wasn’t attended to until Wednesday night when the commission met for the first time since February 26, 2020.

ELi has learned that the bigger issue seems to be that JBC, LLC, doesn’t own the property, so it’s questionable whether they can even be making this request for extension of the approved site plan and special use permit.

East Lansing continues to move slowly towards having its first marijuana dispensary

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