On Oct. 3, East Lansing Mayor Ron Bacon announced the vote on a proposal for a five-story affordable housing apartment building on 530 Albert Ave. will be postponed until the next city council meeting on Oct. 17.
While the vote did not happen in early October as originally planned, many residents of East Lansing still had the opportunity to voice their support or object to the project during the public hearing.
The main issue voiced during the public hearing were concerns about parking. The plan calls for the apartment complex to be built where the main Bailey street parking lot is located, and many local business owners are worried that removing these parking spots will damage their business.
“We are going to fight this thing if we have to but we don’t want to,” said Jeffrey Hank, an East Lansing resident and attorney representing the Citizens to Protect East Lansing Access group. “The majority of citizens are against it. It’s a bad idea.”
According to Hank, over 1,000 people have signed a petition against this new development, including over 20 local business owners. People representing businesses such as The Peanut Barrel, Splash of Color Tattoo Parlor, Flat Black and Circular Record Store, The Wild Goose Inn and Campbell’s Market all attended the meeting in opposition of the project.
As soon as Hank heard about the discourse around the project he wanted to get involved.
“(Business owners) found out at the last minute that this was going to happen, and they were very alarmed because they count on parking for their businesses to survive,” Hank said. “I live in the neighborhood and they approached me, they said they needed an attorney and asked if I could help out with this.”
Although many local business owners showed up to convey opposition to the project, others came to show support.
Roy Saper, owner of Saper Galleries and Custom Framing on 433 Albert Ave., said that affordable housing would be “a gift to the city.”
The proposed apartment building is being developed by American Community Developers. They are Detroit based and specialize in affordable housing.
Saper discussed the known need for affordable housing in East Lansing, and how more housing would lead to more customers at these nearby businesses. He also mentioned the fact that the Bailey Street parking lot has been reportedly underused.
“The new residents will be able to walk,” Saper said. “A more populated downtown becomes a more vibrant downtown.”
Although the majority of public commenters said that they supported the concept of affordable housing, many questioned whether this new project should be considered “affordable.”
According to the staff report from the Department of Planning, Building and Development, the developers of the property are planning to charge as much as $1,195 per month for a studio apartment.
Many people were also unhappy with the decision to postpone the vote, suggesting that it could have been due to Council member Dana Watsons absence, which may have forced a 2-2 vote.
However, Mayor Bacon claimed that there has not been a decision on this issue yet, and the decision to postpone was due to new information and opinions that they had just received that day. He wanted the council to have time to consider them before making a decision.
“I was real frustrated with delaying this, I think everybody was. But on the other hand delaying is actually better because a lot more time and thought should go into this decision,” Hank said.
Other residents brought up concerns with the timing of the vote, stating their desire to push it back until after elections in November. Both Mayor Bacon and Mayor Pro Team Jessy Gregg will not be running for reelection this term.
If the vote goes through on Oct. 17, the Citizens to Protect East Lansing Access plans to petition an appeal for the tax break given to the developers by the city, or to put it to a popular vote.
“We believe that we would win that vote,” Hank said.