East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA) — two agencies that share the same membership — voted unanimously on Thursday, March 25, to approve a third amendment to the Center City District Master Development Agreement.
The pair of votes finalize legal permission to the developers of the Center City District to continue renting three Newman Lofts apartments to people under the age of 55, in violation of East Lansing’s zoning law, for as long as those tenants wish to stay.
City Council voted 4-1 in favor of the same agreement on March 10, with only Council member Lisa Babcock objecting to making this accommodation, which includes the promise by the City to bring no legal enforcement to bear on these rental violations. If the City wanted to prosecute the violations, the fines would come to about $100,000 per year.
Council members in favor have said they believe the new agreement is necessary to avoid a lawsuit from the developers.
At today’s meetings, DDA/BRA member Greg Ballein, who is a co-developer of the Center City District project, was recused for the matter.
The item passed twice with almost no discussion. Having already come to the DDA and BRA once before and being sent back for changes, the agreement was apparently now considered satisfactorily clear.
Mayor Aaron Stephens, who sits on the DDA and BRA by virtue of his office, did provide a brief comment, thanking Vice chair Jim Croom for driving the further clarification.
“We want to make sure we’re doing this right and no one in the future has to deal with this issue,” Stephens said.
The passing of the third amendment to the Center City Master Development Agreement reinforces that a Newman Lofts’ apartment can only be rented if at least one tenant in the unit is 55 or older.
Documents recently obtained by ELi via a new request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provide additional evidence that the lead developers from Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors knew before the building was completed that it was intended to be rented exclusively to tenants 55 and older.
This aligns with previous ELi reporting showing the developers were aware of the age restriction from the start.
In a newly-obtained email , Harbor Bay CEO Mark Bell wrote in an August 1, 2018, email to Tali Faris-Hylen, a PR agent from Ripple Public Relations working for the City, that “Newman will be 55+, with a legal constraints protecting / making sure its 55+.”
Bell also wrote in that same email to Faris-Hylen that “if anyone has an incentive for this to be a success, it’s us. God forbid this project fails, we’re the one with the risk. Not the city of EL. As an aside, THIS PROJECT WILL NOT FAIL.”
City Manager George Lahanas was copied on this email change. Lahanas, who has a seat on the DDA and BRA, voted today in favor of the amendment to the contract.