In the latest discussions about what to do with the Northern Tier regarding planning and housing, East Lansing’s Planning Commission talked on Wednesday about forming a specific committee to study the area and consider what could be done.
While no formal decision was made at the meeting on Wednesday evening, it does seem likely that either a subcommittee of the Planning Commission or a standalone committee with members from multiple boards and commissions will be formed. Members of the Planning Commission were asked on Wednesday to consider if they would like to serve on such a committee, and to let Chair Dan Bollman or City Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser know if they were interested.
To form a subcommittee of the Planning Commission — or a standalone committee with members of various boards and commissions — a resolution or ordinance would need to be approved by the Planning Commission and/or City Council, depending on the exact nature of the committee.
The idea for a committee was originally proposed by Menser when he reintroduced the discussion of the Northern Tier. He had planned to have some more specific materials and information about the Northern Tier and a City-owned lot that is on sale for potential development, but said he hadn’t been able to pull together all the information in time for Wednesday’s meeting. Instead, Menser proposed that the Planning Commission consider a way to assess and potentially alter plans for the Northern Tier.
“I kind of latched on to the idea of creating a subcommittee,” Menser said. “I think it would be a lot easier, for a variety of reasons.”
The commissioners were clearly in favor of forming some committee to study and potentially make planning recommendations for the Northern Tier.
Bollman said it seemed appropriate and Vice Chair Joseph Sullivan was also in favor of the idea, noting he was particularly in support of a standalone committee with members from other public bodies in the City.
Commissioner Cynthia Williams wanted to specifically make sure members of the Housing Commission would be included, given that housing is one of the main subjects to be considered in this endeavor.
It’s also an endeavor that, as Commissioner Chris Wolf noted, is not without precedent.
The City has undertaken a number of previous, similar studies of the Northern Tier in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, Wolf explained. Wolf also suggested that there might be some value to the Planning Commission forming a subcommittee to do some preliminary legwork on forming a standalone committee.
“As I say it, it sounds a little overly bureaucratic,” Wolf said.
Bollman agreed with Wolf that this potential undertaking is not one to be rushed or half-baked.
“Well it is something that — the impact is potentially significant,” Bollman said. “And I think it’s best to probably be cautious about not moving too quickly and start making decisions or making recommendations without proper authority or without having potentially involved as many people as manageable.”
Commissioner Ed Wagner, toward the end of the discussion, asked Menser about the timeline for this work, given the scale of the task. Menser said there wasn’t a set timeframe, but he wanted to keep up “momentum” from the housing study and the resulting near-term housing action plan — both drivers of the current discussion around the Northern Tier.
Any potential study and recommendations about the Northern Tier would also be folded into potential Master Plan revisions. The Master Plan is slated to be reviewed for potential updates in 2023.
Menser estimated the study and recommendation-making regarding the Northern Tier would take anywhere from three to six months. Wolf added that previous studies took 18 months to three years.
At the end of the discussion, Menser asked members of the Planning Commission to consider their interest in this committee. He also asked them to think beyond just altering land uses, but also pondering what they specifically wanted to see developed in the Northern Tier.
“Ok, we’ve made that decision [about the Northern Tier], now what should go there?” Menser asked, rhetorically. “And that is, I think, a much harder question.”