Local representatives have been working together on an initiative called “Shaping the Avenue” to spark economic development across four mid-Michigan cities. This is a multi-jurisdictional partnership between the City of East Lansing, City of Lansing, Lansing Township, Meridian Township and the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA).
“For many people it’s an exciting opportunity for advancing change in the region in a very positive way, it’s focused on holistic community development from a regional perspective rather than just one area of the city,” said Victoria Meadows, the marketing, communication and talent director for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. “It’s a collaborative effort, a regional effort. I think people are hopeful, it’s creative and interesting, there are a lot of ideas flowing out there, it’s just generally positive.”
The initiative is being funded by the Pilot Program for Transit-Oriented Development Planning, Section 5309. The competitive grant was awarded to the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) and will provide funding to integrate land use and transportation planning in association with a major transit capital investment.
Federal funds in the amount of $1.25 million and state of Michigan dollars equaling $312,500 were awarded, for a total award of more than $1.5 million.
The regional project will incorporate Michigan and Grand River Avenues to transform them into one corridor, termed “the Avenue,” from the Capitol in Lansing to where Dobie Road turns into Central Park Drive crossing Grand River Avenue in Okemos.
“Great experiences happen when the built environment articulates and supports the character, culture and vision of the community,” said Steve Troost, a Michigan State University campus planner. “Many land uses along the corridor today are automobile centric with individual buildings and businesses set back off the street by large parking lots that do not create a positive overall experience.”
In order to be successful, Troost said that the corridor needs to differentiate itself by embracing smart growth urban planning principles and rethinking suburban strip development into more memorable town centers.
“The outcome will be to enhance future development’s ability to create a vibrant sense of place that will attract people and businesses,” said Troost. “Given MSU’s location along the avenue, our students and employees will benefit by working and/or living in a vibrant place, a place worthy of attracting the talent and diversity embedded in our world grant vision.”
The project is not one that will take place overnight; it is estimated to span 20 to 50 years.
“It’s a great example of regional cooperation,” said Tim Dempsey, deputy city manager and director of planning, building, and development for the City of East Lansing. “We have CATA supporting it and funding the project, we have different municipalities participating… I think it’s a great thing to work on collectively, to have these different entities all cooperating and working together. I think that is real positive for the region.”
Shaping the Avenue will use form-based code and transit-oriented development principles in order to capture the community’s vision.
Previous zoning standards, “conventional zoning,” left the communities divided into separate areas by regulating what the land is allowed to be used for.
“Conventional zoning basically declares that every single little legally described plot of land has a specific allowed use, it can either be a house, it can be a store, or it can be an office, or a factory or warehouse, in broad strokes,” said Chris Buck, economic development director of Meridian Township and resident of the township for nine years.
Form Based Code is an alternative type of zoning ordinance that removes emphasis on land use regulation and focuses more on the form of building. This means, how the building will appear visually and how it will be situated on the plot of land – what the building is used for matters a lot less.
“We’re hoping Form Based Code is an answer not only that something that the general public likes to see if they’re driving by, but developers will see the advantage of it and use it,” said Mark Kieselbach, director of community planning and development for Meridian Township.
There have been several public meetings giving residents the opportunity to come speak with consultants and help shape the future of their communities for generations to come.
“In order to ensure that form-based codes and transit-oriented development principles reflect the community’s vision for future building and street design, CATA is facilitating conversations among leaders, planners, business owners and residents who reside or operate in communities that would be impacted by the final set of guidelines that will result from the project,” said Brad Funkhouser, deputy chief executive officer of CATA.
The goal of these meetings are for consultants to determine what residents want to see change in their communities. To do this, residents are given stickers to interactively answers to choices like: which rendering they like the most, their enthusiasm level for certain proposals, what they think their kids would want 20 years from now, what their favorite spots or areas are along the avenue. These types of interactive activities aid consultants in figuring out how members of the community would react to certain trends and changes.
“As a resident of Lansing, I hope that these efforts are going to create really a stronger of place for everybody in the city, and maybe connect with the sense of pride that people have or don’t have for being residents of this area,” said Meadows. “More public art, more opportunities to connect along these spaces with other people, so that they’re not just like roadways, they’re hubs or connections that you can stop off at a point on the corridor and get off, and get on, and go to another part of the safety, and maybe see an increase in safety and diversity of humanity.”
Residents are invited to express not only their thoughts, but also their concerns.
“It appears the Shaping the Avenue concept is more urban, and could result in safety issues,” said Kathy Sundland, a Meridian Township resident of 36 years and trustee. “I am uncertain whether the citizens of Meridian Township are aware of the urban streetscape that we appear to be promoting, with high density housing.”
Sundland suggests that developers should also think about adding to the police force with more foot, horse, or bike patrol.
Safety and the impact of high density housing on surrounding residential areas are among the concerns current residents have. Despite these concerns, most of the feedback from the public has generally been positive.
“The public’s reaction to Shaping The Avenue has been highly positive,” said Funkhouser. “We genuinely appreciate the thoughtful feedback we’ve received from those who’ve participated in our outreach efforts. We will continue to listen to the comments we receive; we will respond with transparency to all questions we’re asked; and we look forward to the ongoing exchange of ideas.”