The Housing Study, Plasticware (Redux) at The Graduate Bar, and Another New Hotel: Report from EL Planning Commission

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Alice Dreger for ELi

Drinks are served in plastic at The Graduate's rooftop Rock Bar. In the background to the left is the top of The Abbot, which has added hundreds of apartments to East Lansing's housing market.

Despite a relatively short 38-minute meeting of the East Lansing Planning Commission on July 28, members covered a variety of topics, including: concerns regarding glassware usage on the outside portion of the Graduate Hotel’s rooftop bar; a possible joint meeting with the Housing Commission to discuss the Housing Study and policy related to housing; and possible construction of a four-story hotel at 3255 West Road, on the northwest side of the city.

Eight of the nine commissioners were present, with Commissioner Ed Wagner out of town.

Concerns about glassware at The Graduate’s rooftop bar were raised, again.

During the period set aside for commissioner comments, Commissioner Jack Cahill brought up a concern regarding whether the Graduate Hotel is abiding by the City’s alcohol-service permit, which prohibits the hotel staff from serving drinks in glass on the outside section of its Rock Bar rooftop restaurant, adjacent to Grand River Avenue.

This spring, Planning Commission recommended approval of a special use permit (SUP) for the outdoor bar with the condition that glassware would be prohibited in the outdoor area, a condition which Council included in its subsequent approval.

At the July 28 meeting, Planning Commissioner Lauren LaPine said she visited the rooftop bar and that the mason jars being used for drinks are plastic, however, she described them as “very dense.” She said she dropped one on the floor to make sure it is plastic, and it did not break. She said she believes the hotel “found the densest plastic they could find.”

LaPine also said she saw customers drinking from glass beer bottles of Corona, which Cahill said he saw as well. Cahill was also concerned that 16-ounce beer cans, although not glass, are being consumed in the outside area.

“This may be a lesson learned, and I think it was certainly disingenuous of them to be doing that, and I’ll keep that in mind in the future,” Cahill said. City staff said they would review the permit language.

Requests related to another hotel project were also taken up by the commission on July 28.

The Planning Commission voted to recommend that Council approve rezoning of 3225 West Rd. from Residential Agricultural District to Community Retail Sales Business District – a more appropriate fit, according to a report from City staff, and one that would allow for a hotel to be constructed there.

Staff wrote that, “The land uses allowed in the proposed zoning district would be better suited to the area than the land uses allowed under the current zoning of the land.” The report also states the proposal is consistent with the Future Land Use Map, the Master Plan, and “with other zoning districts and uses in the surrounding area.”

The rezoning issue was originally expected only to be discussed (not voted on) in conjunction with the public hearing, but the Planning Commission did vote to take action at the meeting, unanimously recommending approval.

The commissioners who were present also unanimously recommended approval of the request from Concord WP COL GP Holdings II, LLC to construct a 48,660-square-foot hotel with 122 guest rooms and corresponding parking lot on that 4.5 acre site. That proposal will now move on to City Council for possible approval.

Darcy Schmitt, senior planner for the City, said the amenities would include a guest laundry room, a fitness room, and rooms that can be rented per night or by the week.

Commissioner Chris Wolf made the motion to recommend approval, with Commissioner Kathleen Boyle seconding.

“I think this is a proper development for the area, it will fit in with what we have there already,” Wolf said, noting there are other hotels nearby. Wolf added that “it should be a good use for this property that the owners have been trying to sell for quite some time.”

The request was recommended with 18 conditions, some of which describe following both previously submitted site plans and the City Code with regards to trash containers, landscaping, and signage.

Other conditions included erosion control, sidewalk construction, a bicycle rack for at least 12 bikes, at least two electric vehicle charging stations, and exterior lights no taller than 15 feet, among other things. There will also be a survey of trees before construction, which Wolf asked about.

City Council will take up the matter at a date yet to be determined.

On Tuesday, Aug. 11, Council will also likely vote on whether to agree with the Planning Commission’s recommendation from its July 14 meeting to approve a request from the Boji group regarding fencing at 1100 Trowbridge Rd, where the SpringHill Suites by Marriott is located. Read about that issue in an earlier report from ELi.

The commission is looking forward to consideration of housing issues.

Peter Menser, the City’s Planning and Zoning Administrator, told the Planning Commission that staff are hoping to have the Housing Commission and Planning Commission hold a joint meeting, possibly on Sept. 22, to discuss the Housing Study and a related Strategic Plan document. The Strategic Plan is meant to be a bridge between the Housing Study data and the City’s policy objectives.

During her commissioner comments, Boyle thanked City staff for the background information on the housing policy they had assembled. Commissioners and staff indicated they found the Housing Study dense and somewhat hard to use for analysis, so they are looking forward to the Strategic Plan approach.

The next Planning Commission will be held in-person on Sept. 8 at the East Lansing Hannah Community Center, at 819 Abbot Rd.

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