By Lauren Godlesky
Lansing Star staff writer
LANSING – Lansing officials are trying to balance the needs of high-tech company, Niowave with neighbor complaints upset by the appearance of a pole barn in the Walnut neighborhood on Lansing’s north side.
“From a council perspective, we’re trying to get a win for both of them,” said Carol Wood, city council president.
In 2006, Niowave bought Walnut Elementary School to open its manufacturing business in Lansing. In 2012, Niowave built a 14,000 square foot pole barn to expand research and development work. The work included building high tech materials for the U.S. Secretary of Defense and cyclotron particle acceleration use. Neighbors no longer had concerns about the work that took place inside but of the appearance of the pole barn.
“Niowave brings jobs in and they have been a good neighbor in making improvements in the neighborhood but we do understand that this pole barn depreciates the value of the neighborhood,” Wood said.
Bob Ford of Landscape Architects & Planners presented a landscape and architect plan to the residents of Walnut neighborhood in March 2012. Mark Sinila, chief financial advisor of Niowave did not go into detail of what the architect plan entailed but simply said there were plans to plant trees and do further landscaping.
“Lansing is a manufacturing town and it always has been,” Sinila said. “We saw an opportunity where the whole school was being vandalized so we purchased it to use as our facility.”
Sinila said the neighborhood was run down when the company first moved in. Wood agrees.
“Niowave and their owners were very diligent about trying to work with the neighborhood,” Wood said. “They purchased some houses in the neighborhood and rehabbed them, refurbished them and leased them to their employees.”
Sinila said there are 11 employees living in the area.
Neighbors are unhappy with the pole barn but some have recognized the good work Niowave has done. Neighbor Rebekah Cathey commented in a letter addressed to City Council:
“Niowave WAS a good neighbor. I have wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt through this whole process but I have lost faith that Niowave will be a good neighbor again on their own accord.”
Cathey’s response was in part to the Special Land Use Permit that was previously granted to Niowave. This permit allowed Niowave to “utilize the building at 1012 N. Walnut St. as a laboratory.”
“There was a need for putting this building up quickly,” Sinila said of the pole barn.
Sinila said there are limited funds that come with being a new company, which is why the façade of the pole barn is not brick to match the main building. A landscape plan would be more pleasing and cost efficient, he said.
“We follow the rules and regulations stipulated by the city,” Sinila said. “We would like to make a visually appealing site where we more or less hide the building and that’s what the neighbors want.”
Niowave and neighborhood residents have not yet reached an agreement. Sinila said he would remain patient until Niowave and neighbors have concluded an agreement. He did not comment on when the next hearing would be.