The Latest in Big East Lansing Redevelopment

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Dylan Lees for ELi

The DDA demolished the white house at 328 Evergreen (shown here) along with the building at 314 Evergreen to lease the land to MSUFCU as a construction staging site.

Before we get to what’s happening with the public land sold on eBay, possible future commercial redevelopment on Lake Lansing Road, and big projects downtown, we begin this week’s ELi development update with news of an innovation at the City of East Lansing’s website: a new page providing an easy-to-scan list of current planning and zoning applications before the City of East Lansing.

The new page has been established by East Lansing’s relatively new Planning and Zoning Administrator, Peter Menser, who was hired from Meridian Township. 

Screenshot from Zoom meeting

East Lansing Planning and Zoning Administrator Peter Menser at the Oct. 27, 2021, meeting of Planning Commission.

The innovation makes it easy for citizens to see not only which proposals are in the review process, but also information about upcoming public hearings and application materials. It doesn’t currently link to the staff reports, which often contain important contextual information and analyses, but we’ve suggested to Menser that those be added. 

Now on to project updates.

The MSUFCU downtown project site may look like nothing is happening, but the credit union says it is moving. 

The credit union’s CEO April Clobes told ELi on October 24, “There is work happening on the site, it is just not as visible at this time. Most of the work is underground with BWL moving the electrical lines and access. All the necessary easements are being approved now and that work will move forward.”

Alice Dreger for ELi

The site where MSUFCU plans to build a 7-story office tower.

Indeed, a trench can be seen running along what used to be Parking Lot 4, and now and then workers are seen in the area.

As ELi has been reporting, the credit union’s project — a new seven-story office building at the northwest corner of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road — has been repeatedly delayed by challenges from the owner of the next-door property that houses the Dublin Square restaurant.

Based on discussion at the DDA last week, not much is happening in terms of the Evergreen Properties just west of the MSUFCU build site.

These are the properties along the east side of Evergreen Avenue, just north of Peoples Church, purchased by East Lansing’s Downtown Development Authority circa 2009 to support the since-failed City Center II project (whose developer recently unsuccessfully tried to sue ELi).

As we recently talked about on ELi’s podcast, the properties have been mired in debt for over a decade and have been the source of much controversy. The DDA decided earlier this year to knock down some of the buildings on the properties to help out MSUFCU with its project.

Dylan Lees for ELi

The DDA voted to demolish 314 Evergreen Ave., an income-producing publicly-owned property, to support the MSUFCU project.

City staff asked the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA’s) members on Oct. 28 to start talking now about whether they want to let the auto-renewal of the exclusive agreement on the Evergreen Properties with River Caddis Development happen come January. According to the terms approved by the DDA in July, the agreement will just keep auto-renewing with River Caddis unless they or the DDA intentionally pulls out.

River Caddis has shifted in role from being a developer with a proposal to more of a broker, as their newest materials on what they’re still calling “The CITADEL” are basically an ad for leasing of “premier office space.” In fact, the new materials specifically say they are “Presented by Friedman Real Estate,” a brokerage firm.

River Caddis Development is looking for tenants for the building they’d like to construct on the DDA’s Evergreen properties.

At last Thursday’s meetings, DDA members told City staff they want River Caddis at the next DDA meeting to talk about whether there’s any movement forward. 

DDA member and City Manager George Lahanas strongly advocated for staying the course with River Caddis in the hopes of a big office project being built on these publicly-owned properties, which have cost the taxpayers millions in purchase costs and financing fees. 

Lahanas told the DDA he doesn’t want to see the properties sold to the highest bidder because this would just end in a “bailout offer” that he thinks would lead to nothing but more student housing. The City has ordinances in place for this area to retain a lot of control over what can be built there. 

Remember the public land on Merritt Road sold via eBay?

The development team that bought the old Department of Public Works property known as 2040 Merritt Road, just across Park Lake Road from Costco, got permission from City Council in August 2019 to construct there a hotel, marijuana provisioning center, and small strip-mall for retail. But construction never started.

Site of the East Lansing’s former Department of Public Works, sold by the City via a controversial eBay auction to marijuana industry developers.

The would-be developers are a team operating under various LLC names with paperwork signed by Jeff Yatooma, a marijuana industry player who bought the land from the City via a controversial eBay auction. Now the developers are seeking permission to split the land into three parcels, which would enable them to sell off the respective lots.

The application for the land division came to Planning Commission last week (Oct. 27), and the commission recommended unanimously that Council approve the request with a few conditions. 

Screenshot from Zoom meeting

Andy Andre of Avanti Development Group at the Oct. 27, 2021, meeting of East Lansing Planning Commission, speaking for the owners of the Merritt Road land sold via eBay.

During the discussion of the matter, it emerged that City staff believe that the developers’ Aug. 2019 approvals from Council – for the site plan and Special Use Permits (SUP) – have expired. The developers disagree.

If the approvals have expired, this could get interesting, because East Lansing City Councils past have been quite restrictive with who can operate a marijuana retail operation where, which makes these approved properties in East Lansing potentially quite lucrative. A new City Council will be seated following today’s election.

Meanwhile, up on Lake Lansing Road, a parcel with a house on it might be upzoned and combined with two other parcels for future commercial redevelopment.

Also at last week’s meeting, the Planning Commission heard about an application to rezone 210 W. Lake Lansing Rd. from its present categorization of RA (Residential Agricultural) to B-4 (Restricted Office Business District). The parcel currently holds a single-family house.

The applicant, Sarah Knapp representing 310 LLC, also owns 218 and 224 W. Lake Lansing Rd., the two (vacant) lots to the west of 210, and the ultimate idea is to potentially combine these three properties and see someone redevelop them for commercial use.

Screenshot from Zoom meeting

Sarah Knapp speaking at the Oct. 27, 2021, meeting of the East Lansing Planning Commission.

Knapp had asked for zoning to B4, but the Planning Commission suggested that B5 might make more sense, as it would allow more uses, including retail, and would be in keeping with what the Master Plan envisions for the future of these parcels.

Combining the three properties and zoning them B4 or B5 would allow enough street frontage under the zoning code for commercial redevelopment.

Finally, what’s that big project up on the east side of Abbot Road north of Lake Lansing Road?

ELi readers have been asking about whether that project, just south of the East Lansing Family Aquatic Center, will be more student-directed housing. The answer is no. 

As ELi reported back in January 2020, that redevelopment will result in a senior housing complex.

If you love ELi’s redevelopment reporting on East Lansing, now is the time to support our work so that we can keep it coming in 2022! Make a tax-deductible donation now and see your gift DOUBLED through our 2022 Sustainability Campaign matching funds!

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