East Lansing City Council announced a decision regarding a proposal to construct an affordable housing complex on Albert Ave will be finalized by Oct. 17. The announcement came during its Oct. 3 meeting, where citizens also participated in a public hearing to share their thoughts.
The proposal in question is the construction of a five -story building with 122 units of affordable rental housing at 530 Albert Ave., a site that is currently a parking lot behind a strip of downton businesses.
The apartments, proposed by American Community Developers, are intended to appeal to young professionals in East Lansing and units are reserved to East Lansing individuals earning $30,000-80,000 a year.
Citizens voiced their concerns about the local businesses that would potentially be impacted if the proposal were to go through, along with concerns about lack of accessible parking in downtown.
The Peanut Barrel employee Jack McDermott said he is worried about the future of the restaurant as it is located on the strip of businesses near the proposed lot.
McDermott recently celebrated his 19th anniversary of working there and said that if the complex were to go up, it would pose a threat to the future of the restaurant.
He pointed out that the nearest parking garage, located on 181 Division St., frequently mentioned in the proposal as alternative parking for customers, is not ideal during winter weather and is not as convenient as the surface lot located on the proposed building site.
McDermott said that the elevator in the garage is too far from the restaurant and that sometimes due to the cold weather, the elevators often don’t work.
“That’s gonna be a severe deterrence and they might just not come to our businesses,” he said.
“People say ‘oh, it’d be great for the businesses because all the people that live there will go to your business.’”Well, if my business isn’t open in two years, no one’s gonna go there,” McDermott said.
Al Bay, the owner of the The Wild Goose Inn, a bed and breakfast located adjacent to the proposed site, is also concerned about the lack of traffic the development may cause for his Inn and neighboring businesses.
“This proposal is bad for East Lansing, resulting in a decrease in the number of visitors to our businesses. We will not give up on creating a vibrant business district in the 500 block of downtown East Lansing.”
Bay is a member of Citizens to Protect East Lansing Access (CPELA), an organized group of East Lansing businesses and residents who oppose the proposal.
The organization has been canvassing a petition since August 4 that has now amassed over 600 signatures on change.org.
“These petitions are not just names on pieces of paper, they represent the will of the people, the people you represent,” Bay said.
The people who spoke against the proposal at the hearing wanted to make clear that they aren’t there because they are against affordable housing, they are there because they oppose the location site.
“A great idea in a stupid spot,” is how General Manager of Eastside Lansing Food Co-Op Sally Potter described the proposal.
“One by one those small businesses which I run for years are going to go away because the margins are too thin and every customer is important and you are taking away their most valuable resource: parking,” she said. “Midwesterners don’t use parking ramps, that’s why the [181 Division St. parking ramp] is empty. They’re not safe.”
Some citizens also spoke in support of the proposal.
Assistant professor at Michigan State University Josh Vermass said that the new apartments would be an accessible housing option for those employed downtown or at MSU.
“It’s within walking distance to a lot of employers. [MSU Federal Credit Union] has their big downtown office there and there are going to be other big downtown developments in that area that already exist. Also MSU is right across the street from Grand River. You can do a lot without a car if you happen to live there.”
Roy Saper, owner of Saper Galleries, which is located on Albert Ave., also voiced his support for the proposal, citing the proposal is no different from other developments that have been enacted in the area.
“ The project before you is consistent with what we’ve done elsewhere downtown without exception,” he said. “This is your opportunity to say yes to the need and make affordable housing available in downtown East Lansing.”
The council will reach a decision on the proposal at their regular Oct. 17 council meeting located at the Hannah Community Center.