ELi was exclusively invited to a Zoom meeting Dec. 6 with the developer of the proposed 530 Albert Ave workforce housing project and some of its former detractors.
The long-discussed initiative was defeated by a 3-2 vote from the East Lansing City Council on Oct. 17. It was moments after that meeting ended, however, that hope returned for Chris Young, vice president of American Community Developers (ACD), the firm that won the bid to construct the housing structure.
“After listening to the Council after they voted no on the project, Mike Krueger came up to me afterwards,” Young said. “I was sitting in the chair there and Mike said he’d like to see the project go ahead if we could do parking. So, a couple days later, Mike and I met. In that short 48-hour window, we ran a complete redo of the project, and it was about $6 million dollars [more than the original cost]. So part of what we’re doing here, we’re looking where there’s money to cover the cost.”
Krueger is owner of the Peanut Barrel, which backs up to the Bailey Street Parking Lot where the proposed housing project would be built. He also owns Crunchy’s and is chair of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA).
The revised plan is an adaptation of the previous proposal but includes parking and greenspace.
Young speeds through a slew of acronyms, denoting federal funding available for the effort, his voice dampened by a cold. He had hastily arranged this meeting to share the revised plans with ELi and to bring together Krueger and Al Bay, owner of the Wild Goose Inn at 512 Albert St., directly west of the proposed site.
“We really did listen to Mike and especially to Al Bay,” Young said. “[Bay] has now 20 feet of greenspace slash walkway between our building and his. Before it was like seven [feet]. We have committed to putting approximately 45 parking spots under the building. That number came from them, not us, just so you know.
“We could have done more but we then gave 10 more feet of greenspace to the alley, to activate it, to be able to do stuff, and artwork from the art commission, let’s say they have five to six pieces of art they want to do behind the Peanut Barrel,” Young said. “Anybody will be able to park there because the parking is for the businesses, not for the residents. We still plan on blocking off parking for the residents in a couple of lots there, right by the side, nothing’s been done, but being cautious here.”
Public and stakeholder input will be part of the new process.
Once public comments are received and stakeholders have a chance to review the plans, Young will resubmit to the city and “start that process over,” he said. Young plans to hold a public viewing of the revised plans at a future date. ELi will provide details as they become available.
The process over the initial draft of plans was fraught with opposition from residents of the Bailey neighborhood, those who frequent downtown East Lansing and, most vocally, business owners in the 500 block of Grand River Avenue.
Most found fault with the plan to eliminate the parking spots in the existing Bailey lot co-owned by the City of East Lansing and the Metzger/Fabian family. Business owners worried a reduction of parking would result in fewer patrons at downtown restaurants and shops. These owners consistently showed up to meetings of the DDA, the Planning Commission and City Council to oppose the plan. While most remained respectful in their opposition, some private citizens criticized ACD and its track record.
When asked about this history, Young was quick to defend his company and explain that all past transgressions were water under the bridge.
“ACD is a very, very reputable company and I think people realize that,” Young said.
ACD’s Young takes full responsibility for the initial plan’s failure.
Young also insists he holds no grudges against anyone who opposed the initial plan, taking responsibility for the plans and the bumpy process.
“I just want to tell you this,” he said, ”if there’s any complaints or any criticisms given here or anything by the way, it falls on me. I run the project. Any apologies, I give from me, not my company. I made the decision, I went to the city. I made the decision and have to live with those decisions.
“It all falls on my shoulders, the good and the bad,” Young said. “This time, we have listened to the stakeholders appropriately, we did meet with the Bailey [Community Association] and we did invite them to a couple of meetings. We have had a few new Council members show up to a meeting, just to listen in, at different times, not together, and we continue to work with all the different stakeholders.”
Those Council members, Young said, were Mark Meadows, who showed up at a meeting at the Hannah Community Center, and Kerry Ebersole Singh.
“[Then] Councilmember Brookover summed up the position pretty correctly,” said Krueger, commenting on now-Mayor Brookover’s remarks in October that construction on the Bailey parking lot was inevitable. (Brookover voted against the proposal.) “When I reached out to Chris right after that meeting, I waited until the end, stayed through the adjournment, and I actually went up to him and said, ‘Don’t give up on it.’ I said I think there might be a way that we can work this out. That’s when he contacted me a couple days later and had a meeting and sort of where I said, as a business owner, I would love to see workforce housing back there, and I would love to see it with parking.”
Krueger said he told Young he thought the business owners on that block would be able to get behind such a plan.
“And I talked to a few of them and they are, everyone is sort of cautiously optimistic about it, including myself,” Krueger said. “Because at some point here, construction of some kind is going to happen and we’re losing that parking for some time period. So everyone is apprehensive about that part of it. But we all know something is inevitable.
“Chris and his organization have certainly come to myself, to Al, to others that came forward,” he said. ”And they’re doing the best, seemingly the best that they can to try to meet the needs of what, at least he and I, have come forward with to the businesses in the area. I think working with ACD can be a benefit to the city. The design looks really nice. The way they want to activate the alley, I think, could be of huge benefit. And just having more people downtown is certainly a good thing.”
Bay and his bed and breakfast would have originally been seven feet from the new development, and he expressed his satisfaction with how plans have changed.
“I am in full support of what we came up with,” Bay said. “I think it’s great that all of the businesses have been invited to make contributions. I like the parking. It’s really vital. To have added the parking, really made a difference. The public green space along the alley is really going to activate the alley. I think the way it is now, people will want to visit the 500 block.
“You don’t have that canyon effect you see in other parts of our city where property is developed right up to the alley lot line,” he said. “Instead, they’ve really allowed for open space, space that will allow us to involve the community in and make it a living space for everybody and that’s what I really like about this project.”
Greg Ballein of the Bailey Community Association and owner of the Student Book Store on Grand River weighed in during the Zoom meeting, as well.
“I think they’re making the best of the situation and listening to the community,” he said. “I’m very happy with where it’s headed.”
Young admitted there is no perfect world.
“But we’re doing what we think is the most appropriate to deliver 124 units of affordable housing, workforce housing, to the downtown district, to do it appropriately with all the stakeholders,” he said.
Update: This story has been updated with a link to ELi’s longitudinal coverage of the 530 Albert Ave proposal.
Correction: The public event for viewing of the newly revamped plans for 530 Albert Ave will be held in the future. This story has been corrected.
Did you know that East Lansing is the only municipality in our region with the kind of independent coverage of local government that ELi provides? If you value this nonprofit news service, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution TODAY. Learn more about our Annual Campaign here, and find all your donation options here. Got a question? Write to us.