At its first meeting of 2022, the East Lansing Planning Commission dealt with three frats, an application for a Special Use Permit for a dispensary to sell recreational marijuana, and discussed plans for a City lot on the Northern Tier and the near-term housing action plan.
Also, as it was the first meeting of the year, the Commission elected officers. Dan Bollman was nominated and elected to continue in his role as chair, and Joseph Sullivan was elected vice chair — he replaces former Commissioner Kathy Boyle in that role.
Discussion about the Northern Tier and the near-term housing action plan was a primer for further debate at the March 9 meeting of the Planning Commission.
When Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser presented this topic to the Commission, he explained it as such. He wanted the Commission to consider what potential development(s) they’d like to see on a City-owned property in the Northern Tier — something Council discussed briefly the week prior — and, independent of that, consider how to address some of the points in the near-term housing action plan, a product of the housing study. The subject had been previously introduced to City Council for discussion.
Sullivan, talking about the Northern Tier property, specifically, said he wanted to know more about the impact of the Coleman Road extension nearby, the “market caps” for the site and what would truly be envisioned going there — the Commission was presented the same nebulous concepts that City Council had seen — and the impact a development would have on wildlife.
Commissioner Lauren LaPine, considering the near-term housing action plan, noted that housing equity and providing affordable, accessible housing is something the City was advised to do. She posited that this Northern Tier property could be developed in a way to help achieve those ends, suggesting the City potentially “try out some new solutions.”
LaPine, along with a few other commissioners, was also concerned about the massive amounts of parking in the concepts shared with the Planning Commission. She wanted to see more greenspace, as did others.
Wolf said he would like to see something more residential. He acknowledged it was perhaps a pipe dream, but Wolf shared a vision of an almost self-contained neighborhood where residents would live within walking distance of most of the things they need: Groceries, work, leisure, etc.
Bollman then shared his thoughts at length. Bollman said that the office parks and industrial parks in the Northern Tier have run their course — ideas that were innovative in the 1970s are stale in the third decade of the 21st century.
“I think there’s a great opportunity for something different. Whether it ends up being a pipe dream, or not — and I think it’s a fair point, because ultimately you need that critical mass of people before you can generate the commercial that’s going to serve those people. The chicken or the egg, something’s got to come first. We’ve got a fair amount of residential in that general area, now. And you’ve got some commercial office, not a whole lot of retail. If they’re still available, I’d like to see Option 3,” Bollman said, referencing the two concepts presented to the Commission and implying he’d like to see a new one.
He continued, addressing the near-term housing action plan, and how it related to the Northern Tier.
Said Bollman, “Couple of other thoughts, and this kind of gets back to how do the ideas overlap with the housing plan. And I’m perhaps somewhat biased in my point of view here, but what I’d like to see is, and as much as we’ve got this great opportunity to build — are we in fact actually neglecting some of the areas of the City that would benefit by building on with something that was a little less profound or impactful? Are there places to build duplexes and quads closer to areas where these amenities already exist? Where there’s already roads? Where there’s already sewers? Where there’s already utilities? Where there’s already commercial development? And the places are there. The spaces are there. They’re just not combined into one tidy, very large lot. And there’s no reason, presumably, that we couldn’t encourage both. But I’d really like to see us keep focus on those areas that are currently reasonably well served. You know where I live, and I really enjoy being able to walk to those things that are convenient in our downtown area. Schools and libraries and commercial enterprises. I’d like to make my neighborhood much more accessible to the people that can’t currently live there because they can’t afford there. Is it easy to do? Absolutely not. But I think you’re right with the idea that we can build duplexes and quads, if we can encourage the use of auxiliary dwelling units on different lots — let’s find a way.”
He finished: “Let’s not take our eye off the ball that we’ve already created, just because we’ve got this shiny, brand new piece of property, that could really be spectacular. Let’s keep an eye on how to make the entire City better.”
As was noted by several commissioners during the meeting, any changes to future land use in the Northern Tier is not something as simple as a zoning change — it would be a months-long process to alter at least a portion of the Master Plan, in essence.
There will be further and more in-depth discussion about the Northern Tier property and the near-term housing action plan at the March 9 meeting of the Planning Commission.
Three more fraternities were on the agenda.
One was a public hearing on a site plan and Special Use Permit (SUP) to establish a fraternity at 404 E. Michigan Ave. The other two were the actual approval recommendations for the respective site plans and SUPS to establish fraternities at 532 Ann St. and 251 W. Grand River Ave. Both of those site plans and SUPs were recommended unanimously for approval. (Council has the final vote on these matters, though the Planning Commission technically recommends that Council pass or not pass an SUP.)
As it only went through the public hearing phase, the application for 404 E. Michigan Ave. will be back for a vote in March.
That public hearing went by without any notable discussion and the queries about the two fraternities being voted on were nothing out of the ordinary: Follow ups about inspections, third-floor egress, and the like.
As ELi has previously reported, City-level approvals for fraternities and sororities hold new weight as they’re baked into MSU’s own rules for allowing an exemption to the sophomores-on-campus housing policy.
An SUP for adult recreational marijuana sales at a soon-to-be-opened dispensary sailed through.
As a quick refresher, the City of East Lansing requires an SUP for each of the types of marijuana sales: medical and adult recreational use.
The applicants in this case had already gotten the SUP for medical use approved in 2019 — this is for the Ascend dispensary that will soon be opening at 1415 E. Michigan Ave, at the site of the former Sawyers Pontiac. The applicants were back for the public hearing on an SUP for adult recreational use on Wednesday, but were requesting that the Planning Commission suspend its bylaws and vote to recommend SUP approval on the same night.
Planning Commission did exactly that, with Wolf noting they were amenable to do it because the applicants had previously gotten the medical SUP and the requirements for the adult use SUP are basically the same/contingent on the medical SUP.
There were a handful of questions for Lucas Hoefflicker, who represented Ascend Wellness Holdings at the meeting. Commissioner Cynthia Williams asked about the company’s commitment to social equity and where their East Lansing-specific donation might go.
The City requires in it’s ordinance allowing marijuana sales that retailers in East Lansing make “an annual donation in the amount of 1% of net profits from its operations or $5,000.000, whichever amount is greater” to a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization “largely benefitting the residents of East Lansing and organized and operated exclusively for purposes of improving the lives of people with low to moderate income, conserving or improving natural resources, or preventing cruelty to children or animals.”
Hoefflicker explained that the company recently hired a director of social equity and that they’re committed to hiring and helping people who were disproportionately affected by the War of Drugs.
Wolf asked if there were other Ascend dispensaries already operating in Michigan, and Hoefflicker responded by firing off the names of locations, which you can see on their website here.
Lastly, Sullivan asked about the timeline and why the applicant wanted to fast-track this SUP. Hoefflicker explained that having the SUP sooner would allow them to have the necessary state-level inspections for selling both medical and adult use marijuana at the same time. Hoefflicker said they plan to open for business in a matter of weeks and the inspection was going to be sometime in mid-March.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Chris Wolf was the vice chair of the Planning Commission. The previous vice chair of the Planning Commission was Kathy Boyle. It also misnamed Lauren LaPine as Laura.