The East Lansing City Council met on Tuesday, Oct. 3, for their first of two Regular Council meetings this month. During the meeting, the council listened to speeches from East Lansing residents about the upcoming vote to approve the construction of a five-story affordable housing apartment building at 530 Albert Avenue in Downtown East Lansing.
The council was initially scheduled to vote on the proposal during the meeting, but, a decision to move the vote to the Oct. 17 meeting was met with frustration from the crowd where many guests protested the decision to delay the vote and left the meeting.
The majority of the people who spoke argued that the building of this proposed project would have a “devastating” effect on the local businesses in the Downtown East Lansing area due to the lack of parking that would be available for the businesses in its vicinity. People expressed their concerns that if the council approves the construction of the apartment building, local businesses that are thriving will eventually close. If approved the parking structure would include 122 units of affordable rental housing and take up approximately 1,200 feet of commercial space.
The site where the five-story apartment building is proposed to be built would be built over a large portion of parking that is located in the Downtown East Lansing area on Albert Avenue. The project would only provide 130 parking spaces to tenants and employees of the proposed apartment structure. Bailey Street parking garage is right across from the proposed apartment building, and many speakers expressed concern about using a parking ramp to park, especially those of older age.
Many people who spoke at the meeting even expressed their frustration with how the council is taking course on this proposal, with some arguing that the council is in “complete disarray” and that the vote should be held off until after the November election. Some, however, remain optimistic about the potential that the project could have on the future of Downtown East Lansing and its businesses.
Jack McDermott has been working at the Peanut Barrel, a popular restaurant in Downtown East Lansing for 19 years now and says that if the project for the building is approved his job at the Peanut Barrel, the future of the restaurant, and other local businesses in the area will be severely threatened. “Yoga Slate, Splash of Color, Campbell’s Market, Flat Black and Circular, and my Peanut Barrel with the best patio in town might not be there in two years if this building is approved,” said McDermott.
Justin Booth, the Chair of the Bailey Community Organization says that the proposed apartment building will remove parking for small businesses downtown. He also believes that building the structure is the right idea but that the proposal needs to be in a different location.
“Such proportions raise serious doubts about the feasibility and safety of shoehorning 122 units structure into this limited space, particularly while we’re moving valuable parking of our small businesses,” said Booth.
A few people who participated in the meeting favor the apartment building at 530 Albert Avenue. One of them is Roy Saper, who has been a resident of East Lansing since 1969. He has owned a downtown business in East Lansing at 433 Albert Avenue called Saper Galleries and Custom Framing, since 1978. Saper believes that the approval of this project will help local businesses and the new residents who will live in the proposed affordable housing apartment building by helping it make Downtown East Lansing a more vibrant downtown. “Approving this project provides opportunities not only for the residents of the new building who could be employees themselves but also for businesses to expand their offerings to meet the additional demand for needed goods and services,” said Saper.
Update: The East Lansing City Council voted against the proposal for the affordable housing apartment at 530 Albert Avenue at the October 17th City Council meeting.