Plans for Walmart extension delayed by township planning commission

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The grassy area beside the Walmart store in Eastwood Towne Center may be a construction site for an extension to the Walmart, but only if the site plan can make it past the Lansing Township Planning and Development Commission. Video by Rachel Beard.

By Rachel Beard and Ana Williams
Lansing Township News Reporters

Walmart has been planning an extension to their store in Eastwood Towne Center since 2003, and although the plan was scheduled to be complete in January 2015, recent setbacks have put their plans on hold once again.

“We are always looking for ways to better serve our customers in Lansing, but we have no news to announce at this time,” Walmart spokesperson Anne Hatfield said.

The Walmart store in Lansing Township is currently considering an expansion that is being delayed by issues the Lansing Township Planning and Development Commission has with the current site plan. Photo by Rachel Beard.

The Walmart store in Lansing Township is currently considering an expansion that is being delayed by issues the Lansing Township Planning and Development Commission has with the current site plan. Photo by Rachel Beard.

Walmart originally started working on a plan for the extension with the Lansing Township planning commission back in 2003, but the economic recession in 2008 delayed their plans for construction to 2015. Now, their plans are being delayed further by a dispute with the township.

“There was a determination made on March 24, 2015, in which it was determined by the township planning party that the site plan that had been approved on March 12, 2013, had expired,” Walmart Attorney John Musca said.

Currently, Walmart is in the process of trying to get this expiration reversed by the township so that they can return to this expired 2013 site plan. The appeal is based on the grounds that the plan wasn’t approved by the township at the time of its expiration.

“On Dec. 2 of 2014, the township board rescinded its approval of [the 2013 plan], and ordered that [the site plan] be taken back to the planning commission,” Musca said. “Walmart would not be required to resubmit a new plan or pay an additional fee.”

In the meantime, some Lansing residents are looking forward to the completion of the expansion.

“The idea of Walmart expanding is a great idea,” said Lansing resident Derrick Speller. “I do understand why they would want the expansion, only because it seems like a smaller store than the others I’ve been to before, such as in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.”

Lansing Township Planning

Lansing Township Director of Planning and Development Steven Hayward explains why cross parking is so important to Eastwood Towne Center at the Board of Appeals meeting on March 28. Photo by Rachel Beard.

One of the major reasons this site plan has spent so long in the planning phase is that the township planning commission had very particular requests about cross parking in Eastwood Towne Center. Lansing Township Director of Planning and Development Steven Hayward explained that cross parking allows the shopping center to thrive.

“Cross parking allows for – if you have a piece of property on, let’s say, Saginaw highway, and it’s an Arby’s, and it’s sitting next to a Burger King, which is sitting next to a McDonald’s,” Hayward said. “If they’re not under unified ownership, it is very much in the nature of those businesses to put non-connected driveways, to put up fences.”

Because Eastwood Towne Center is all owned by the Eastwood Downtown Development Authority, the businesses in Eastwood can share parking lots.

“The Eastwood planning and development has an average of five units per thousand square feet for parking,” Hayward said. “So if you have one thousand square feet of building, that parcel, on average, has five parking spaces per thousand.”

Hayward says cross parking is a very important part of Eastwood Towne Center.

“So somebody can park in front of the Apple store and walk to the theater and then walk to Bravo and then walk to Walmart,” Hayward said. “Then it comes, to no surprise, that when you have two big boxes providing over 2500 parking spaces, that’s integral to this plan.”

Michigan State University’s Department of Economics Professor Ken Boyer says that working out the perfect plan to provide parking for customers can be a tricky situation.

Graphic by Rachel Beard.

A brief summary of how the process of approving Walmart’s extension plan has played out with Lansing Township. Timeline dates based on dates given by Walmart Attorney John Musca. Graphic by Rachel Beard.

“The issues all stem from the fact that parking is provided free to drivers,” said Boyer. “Despite the fact that it is costly for the store to provide it and that customers/drivers, not seeing the correct price for parking, make choices that do not always benefit those who are providing the subsidized service. Underpriced parking is behind a number of urban problems.”

Boyer explained how the problem that Eastwood is having with parking is more common than one may think.

“Exactly the same issue that you describe causes laws to require on-site parking whenever new residential construction is proposed,” said Boyer. “Even if those living in the house would prefer not to have a car and to use public transportation (and rental cars and taxis) instead. Transportation economists are unanimous in saying that the solution to the problem is to get the price of parking right, rather than to look for build-it-until-no-one’s-parking-decisions-affect-someone-else.”

Musca says Walmart has no problem with taking cross parking into account in their site plan.

“[Walmart and the township] are in agreement on parking,” Musca said. “We have a cross parking agreement in place.”

Lansing resident Jordan Officer thinks cross parking is beneficial to Eastwood Towne Center.

“Well, based on what I’ve heard from associates, [cross parking] sounds useful and only helpful to the community,” Officer said.

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