Controversy Erupts as City Council Considers Affordable Housing plan

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In a move aimed at addressing the need for affordable housing, the East Lansing City Council will vote Oct. 17 on whether or not to move forward with a proposal to develop a five-story building on an existing Bailey Street parking lot.

The property’s current owners, the Metzger and Fabian families, intend to transfer the lease to developers for this project. The controversial nature of this proposal came to the forefront during a City Council Meeting on Oct. 3, as local business owners expressed their concerns about the development’s impact on the community. 

“I’m concerned about the proposed development for 530 Albert Ave. could do irreparable harm to the businesses on the 500 block of downtown East Lansing,” said Al Bay, owner of Wild Goose Inn. “This proposal is bad for East Lansing resulting in a decrease in the number of visitors to our downtown.”

530 Albert Ave. is currently a surface parking lot officially known as Lot 11. This ground floor along Albert Avnue included about 1,100-square-feet of commercial space. There is no plan to include balconies or space on the rooftop for tenants.

The Metzger and Fabian families have been leasing the land to the city for over two decades. American Community Developers has entered into a contract with the private owners to buy the land for this project. The building would include 122 apartments, 50 studio apartments, 62 one-bedroom apartments, and 10 two-bedroom apartments.

“This would be a valuable addition to the community in meeting the needs of our residents,” said Bob Metzger on behalf of the Metzger and Fabian families. “Our family truly believes that the development of affordable housing is one of the most important opportunities for our community in many years.”

The building plan includes no on-site parking. Under the zoning law, the project requires 115 parking spaces for tenants; ACD plans to utilize the current Division Street parking garage. The Division Street lot has low usage, so leasing spots benefit the current owners. With parking being taken away both directly behind and surrounding the 500 block, local business owners express worry for their sales. 

“Affordable housing is the right idea, but this is the wrong location,” said Justin Booth, chair of the Bailey Community Association. “It is crucial to recognize that removing parking spaces directly threatens the economic sustainability of our local enterprises on the 500 block business owners as you will hear more of today.”

Although many business owners in the area felt it directly threatened their businesses, some believe the project offers more benefit than harm. Roy Saper, who has been a resident of East Lansing and business owner for decades, said that he has seen projects like this before, and have yet to cause harm for local businesses. 

“Approving this project provides opportunities not only for residents themselves but also for businesses to expand their offerings to meet the additional demand for needed goods and services,” said Saper, owner of Saper Galleries and Custom Framing. “There is no evidence that any business of the 500 block would close due to the city reducing the number of surface parking spaces there, claiming such is not fact.”

Mayor Ron Bacon addressed concerns for the project as well as concerns from the public. Bacon assured those in attendance that it may feel chaotic due to the fact that their selections are not predetermined. Mayor Bacon described the meeting as a “close-to-deer conversation” with the number of community members who are willing to voice their opinions on this project. Local business owners and residents are not giving up on having their voices heard.

“Everybody knows we’re coming, and we are going to make it clear to this council how bad of an idea this is,” said Dudley Smith, a long-term resident of East Lansing. “We need to all come back on Oct. 17. We need to not give up.”

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