Public Comments Are Helping to Reshape the Valley Court Pavilion Project

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Valley Court Park is the home of the East Lansing Farmers' Market between June and October.

Changes are coming to the Valley Court Park pavilion project. Revised plans may be available as soon as this Wednesday, Nov. 9, for the East Lansing Planning Commission meeting that starts at 7 p.m.

As ELi reported, the project, which is expected to bring a pavilion, public restrooms, better landscaping and dry interior storage space to Valley Court Park, was in the spotlight at the Wednesday, Oct. 26 Planning Commission meeting. It is being funded in part through a $1 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).

In a follow-up interview during a Thursday, Nov. 3, public input session for the project, Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser told ELi planners are hearing that people want to see less green space be paved over, to ensure there is ample parking and to include a performance space in the project. The Nov. 3 public input session itself was sparsely attended, but citizens have been speaking up in other public meetings and sending email with their ideas. (See what has been submitted here.)

Menser said feedback from citizens has been given to the companies working on the project, Mayotte Group Architects and VIRIDIS Design Group. He is hoping a new draft for the project is available in time for this Wednesday’s (Nov. 9) Planning Commission meeting, but is unsure if it will be. 

Dylan Lees for ELi

East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser at the Oct. 26, 2022, meeting of Planning Commission.

Menser said the plan was always to make adjustments throughout the planning process. Unlike most projects in the city where private companies present plans that are then subject to review by designated boards and commissions in addition to Council, the city is the developer of the pavilion project. The intent has always been to have the project guided by the public. 

“They’re the people that are in the park on a day to day basis,” Menser said. “What they want is the most important part.”

Parks, Recreation and Arts Director Cathy DeShambo also spoke with ELi at the Nov. 3 public input session, indicating she is excited by the potential uses of the pavilion. 

“What we’re really excited about is the opportunity to have a permanent structure that allows for really expanded programming from the farmer’s market,” she said. 

DeShambo mentioned painting and yoga classes as potential uses of the new pavilion, as well as bringing entrepreneurs in to sell their products, and holding poetry readings. She said the pavilion could also be booked by residents, and pointed to the popularity of the Patriarche Park pavilion as evidence there is a need. 

As part of the project, the old brick Lansing Board of Water and Light building is expected to be repaired. Right now, the plan is just to repair the building so it stops leaking. Eventually, Menser is hopeful the building can be used for more than storage space, offering the example of it being used by a seasonal vendor. However, the current priority is stopping leaks. 

“Anything we can do just to kind of get this building so it’s not falling apart and wet, for some future phase where maybe it gets reutilized,” he said. 

Menser said city staff are working with the Historic District Commission to ensure repairs are done in a way that maintains the building’s character. That commission must vote to allow the entire park renovation project to proceed.

Menser said there are a lot of routes the city can take to preserve more green space than the initial plan provides. While he was unsure what changes would be made to the proposal, he said removing a pathway, moving the basketball court to an area that will be used for parking during the farmer’s market, and removing parking are all potential fixes. 

The plan right now is to build the pavilion in the center  of the park. Menser said that location is not set in stone, but some areas are off limits because there are challenges draining water in the low lying park. 

“There may be some hard and fast things in terms of location that might tie us into a certain area of the site,” he said. “But I think we’re pretty open in terms of location.” 

DeShambo said the current farmers’ market location has issues draining water, and sometimes the city has to put out construction mats so vendors’ vehicles don’t get stuck in the mud. She said the city will look at best practices in other cities to manage stormwater. She also said it will be easier to plan out water management infrastructure once they settle on how the rearranged park will be laid out. 

Dylan Lees for ELi

East Lansing Director of Parks, Rec & Arts Cathy DeShambo at the Oct. 26, 2022, meeting of Planning Commission.

“People can talk about green space, but the quality of green space is a whole different issue here,” she said.

One solution that is commonly referenced as a partial solution is adding bioswales (specially designed channels) to absorb some of the storm water runoff. DeShambo said the bioswales will include native plants that support pollinators, so they serve purposes other than stormwater management. 

Once plans are solidified, the city will look for bids from contractors to take on the project, a process that can take months. There is no timeline attached to the project, but Menser said ideally a plan will be solidified by early 2023 and construction will start in late 2023 or early 2024. 

The city is looking to maintain flexibility for future improvements to the park even after the pavilion project is completed. Menser gave the example of possibly building the pavilion in a way that would allow retractable doors, like garage doors, to be added. This would allow the pavilion to transition to an indoor facility for some events. 

DeShambo said the city has received many letters recommending big changes like adding a mini splash pad or ice skating rink to the park. She said these suggestions are being retained so the city can come back to them later.

“We love hearing those ideas,” she said. “While we don’t have the budget for [those ideas] in phase one of this project, those are all things that we’re excited to think about, to consider for potential phase two or phase three [additions].”

Members of the public who want to comment on the project can attend the Wednesday, Nov. 9, Planning Commission meeting, Thursday, Nov. 10, Historic District Commission, and email suggestions to Agendas for upcoming meetings are available at the City website.

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