High rises… (re: Development Updates around East Lansing) // Thomas Greer

I was born and raised in East Lansing… Walking to dinner in downtown the other night,

6:45 to 7:00 PM bright sun in the west… not a sliver of it on any part of Albert Ave.. Dreary cold shadows… Is this Progress PEOPLE???  no sunlight making it to our streets  during How many months each year??? Do we really need this new development and especially these 12 story buildings How is this going to help the people of E.L. The TAX paying citizens of EL… I”m 66

 ,I have to laugh at the sign that touts SENIOR Living in these buildings…What a Joke…who wants to retire to an expensive apartment above student rentals above a TARGET store…

Stop this insanity

 The only folks benefiting here are the developers… thanks to our council ‘s tax giveaways .

What was once a friendly open downtown space is now a dark corridor even when the sun is shining.

-Thomas Greer

14 thoughts on “High rises… (re: Development Updates around East Lansing) // Thomas Greer”

  1. I don’t know what article mentioned developer giveaways but there hasn’t been any in the last 3.5 years, since this Council was elected. As to senior housing, there is none over student apartments. Seniors are leasing apartments over the new parking garage. Since I don’t actually know when Mr. Greer was walking downtown, I can’t really comment on the temperature as the sun went down at 7pm but Albert was probably shaded no matter where the sun was at that time.

    I did read Alice’s article on the Council Meeting which Matt posted on Public Response. Here are my comments. The part of the article supposing that there is some unknown project being proposed for Grand River, is just that–Alice’s speculation based on zero evidence. For the record, I have no knowledge of any new project proposed for Grand River. As to the amendments to the height overlay which Alice characterized as me placating the Church opposition, I never indicated support for the proposed14 story area along Abbot or the area east of Abbot. The ordinance was introduced in order to get public input regarding additional height in those areas. The public input objected to the additional height in those areas. As to the remainder of the ordinance, the objection to its passage related to the conflict between the proposed height and the recently adopted (by the Planning Commission) Comprehennsive Plan. That plan recommends a maximum height of 120 feet (10 stories) with a 4/5 vote of the City Council, in the Downtown. The ordinance we passed Tuesday night would permit 160 feet with a 4/5 vote. The current height limitation is 140 feet with a 4/5 vote. The most recent approvals, all before the Comp Plan was adopted are 120 feet (the Hotel), 140 feet (Abbot and Grand River), 140 feet (Grand River) and 120 feet (Albert). Alice also asked in her article “Why bother to pass an ordinance for increased height when there is no project that needs it right now?’ I think I answered that question during the meeting: “I think the argument can be made that the Comprehensive Plan ignored what was already happening in the downtown area.”. I also said, “I believe that this [ordinance] gives an instruction to the Planning Commission as they prepare their version of the form based code as to what height the Council would be looking for in the downtown. It does not prevent them from recommending a lower height, a higher height because the key, the element, the part of the form based code is not the height; it is all of the other elements of the form based code.”

    Alice also wrote about the administrative approval of changes to the Alley surface and compared that change to the changes proposed to the first floor of the new hotel. Any staff approval of a change to a site plan is delineated by an ordinance and is limited to minor changes. The proposed change to the Graduate Hotel was more than minor, it eliminated a first floor retail requirement. The change to the alleyway by the Target store does not change the requirement that the alley be constructed in a manner that will support delivery vehicles and meet existing construction standards. Instead it changes the surface appearance of the alley. It is important to remember that we have had a winding brick surface in that alley for many years. We have also tried to turn the alley into a pedestrian area by installing bollerts at the end of the alley and closing it in the evening. All to no avail. It is a place where gum melts into the brick and there is no real way to keep it fancy looking. It will be easier to keep it clean with the change made and the change is minor. The same cannot be said for the other streetscape improvements required on Albert and in the public access from Albert to the Alley that Center City is required to install and which they also want to change. The Council will be discussing those proposed changes at our Discussion Only meeting next week.

    Lastly, Alice did ask three questions of the City which I think were already answered before she asked them. Before I address this, I want folks to remember that Alice found someone who had at sometime in the past inquired about the property and was not advised of the auction. That person was looking to use the property for a specific purpose that would require a zoning change. Staff correctly told the person of the current zoning and that a zoning change would be necessary. The person later said something like staff discouraged him from buying the property and he did not know about the auction. This person was not notified of the auction. Other people had inquired about using the property in a manner that was consistent with the current zoning. In fact the property was sold a couple of years ago to people who had an environmental assessment done and then backed out. Even that group was notified as well as anyone who had recently indicated an interest Alice knows all of this.. Alice also asked why we would sell the property before we even passed an ordinance that would make it more valuable. We did not pass an ordinance that made the property more valuable. That should be obvious and not require any answer. We had already placed that property in an overlay district that permitted marihuana provisioning centers.The passage of the ordinance that Alice questioned made the property less valuable because it allowed two centers in that part of town rather than one. At the time we passed that ordinance, no provisioning centers had been approved for the area. Alice’s question is based on her estimation that the ordinance was “designed to increase the value of the property.” I think Alice might have been thinking about a debate among council members when the ordinance was first introduced. Two members did not like the way the ordinance was worded and objected and, as I remember, said something like “we shouldn’t be doing this just to make sure we can sell our property.” Another council member said something like “What would be wrong with that? Don’t we have a responsibility to make it as valuable as possible?” But, as I said, the ordinance actually makes the property, with its 3 million dollar cleanup cost, less valuable. A monopoly on marihuana sales on property located adjacent to Costco, would have made it more valuable. Technically, the ordinance allows additional provisioning centers in other areas of the City as well.

    – Mark Meadows

  2. I would like to commend Mark Meadows for the tenor of this reply. It is more civil than some I’ve read.

    I would also like to suggest that if the City of East Lansing does not have a requirement that a press release be issued when major changes like the sale of city property move forward, then it should have and I hope that Council will make that happen.

    Kate Corby

    (for publication)

  3. “ … doth protest too much, methinks.”

    Question: Are the taxes on the project between Albert and GR captured to pay for anything related to the project?

    Ron Fisher

  4. This is a response to Mayor Mark Meadows’ post to Public Response yesterday evening.

    On “developer giveaways”:

    Mayor Meadows says there have been no “developer giveaways” in the last 3.5 years.

    Readers might want to see our article about the Center City deal, “$700K in Local Taxes Earmarked for Developer’s Attorneys, Financial Advisor, and Father”:
    Quote from that article: “Mayor Mark Meadows tells ELi he is ‘absolutely’ comfortable with this use of local tax money.”

    Additionally, use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests shows money being paid out from the Center City bond (being repaid with local tax money) for work on the Ballein properties on Grand River Avenue for Center City. In other words, some of the captured tax money from Center City is effectively being given to the developers to pay for their expenses to build The Landmark, a private building.

    For evidence of that, see the payouts for Grand River “site demolition,” “backfill basement” and “deep foundations” here:

    We had been told all of the Center City TIF would go to pay ONLY for public infrastructure; that has turned out not to be true.

    In the case of the DRW/Convexity TIF for the project at the blighted corner of Abbot and Grand River — a project now under construction — there was never any question the TIF would be used in part to pay for the developers’ own expenses. Several million are going to pay the developer for site prep of their own buildings and their purchase of part of a DDA-owned piece of property (303 Abbot Road).

    I want to be clear: The Peoples Church and 21 people from my neighborhood (Oakwood, just up the hill from this project) specifically supported this TIF for DRW Convexity’s project. No one in my neighborhood objected. So there was widespread public support for the DRW/Convexity TIF, because people wanted that project done already.

    But to suggest, as the Mayor seems to be doing, that developers are getting nothing out of TIFs under his mayorship is just plain false.

    Senior housing at Center City, and shadowing:

    Mayor Meadows correctly says there is no senior housing being built over student apartments in Center City. The Newman Lofts senior apartments are being built right next to student apartments in The Landmark.

    To be fair, I should note that the developers stopped specifically marketing The Landmark as student housing with a “ridiculous rooftop deck” right after we published that they had misrepresented their plans to the City.
    First story on that:
    Second story on that:

    This article contains a lead image that might capture what Mr. Greer was talking about with regard to shadowing from the project:

    The Royal Vlahakis proposal:

    Mayor Meadows never indicated support for the proposed 14-stories of the Royal Vlahakis project? Hmmmm. Please see this article:

    I was not the person who first asked why bother to pass an ordinance for increased height when there is no project that needs it right now. That question was actually asked, repeatedly, by Council Member Shanna Draheim. See:

    I agree that the mayor said at Council that the problem is that the Comp Plan is failing to keep up with decisions made by a majority (typically 3-2) of City Council.

    I am not familiar with the idea that the Comp Plan is supposed to be changed according to whatever the majority of the current Council wants. I was under the impression the Comp Plan is meant to represent a community-wide vision for the City. If the Comp Plan is merely meant to reflect what the current majority of Council wants, why have it? Why put hundreds of people through hundreds of hours to produce it?

    The change to the alleyway for Center City:

    The Mayor is correct that ordinances indicate what staff can approve in terms of changes to site plans, but there is a reason the City Manager bothered to bring one particular change — the alleyway of Center City — to Council to tell them staff was making the call. That’s because there’s wiggle room in the interpretation. Council chose not to make the call in this case.

    I agree with the Mayor that the changes to the site plan change the way the alley will look. It will no longer look as it was rendered, with a winding brick path down the center, inviting to pedestrians. I agree that a cement-only alley is probably easier to maintain. And I would have thought the developers would have known this when they proposed the project. Apparently they just figured that out. Huh.

    For what had been rendered, see this:

    The auction of public land on eBay:

    I am delighted the Mayor has finally sort of answered a couple of the repeated questions about the million-dollar eBay (!) land auction of City property, about which only a handful of people were informed. On that, see:
    (All of our previous reporting on that is linked at the end of that article.)

    The Mayor says there was no point in sending notice of the auction to potential buyers who might need a zoning change for what they wanted to do? Why not notify absolutely everybody and let them bid? The bidder in question — left out — is an East Lansing businessman and resident who runs a moving company. Those notified included mostly marijuana dealers from outside East Lansing. We have no idea who else might have wanted to bid who never learned of it until afterwards.

    The Mayor has never answered the question of how City staff selected who would be specially notified about the auction. I’ve now asked three times at City Council.

    The City Council elected to make the purchase agreement, following the auction, dependent on the City Council approving the would-be purchaser’s site plan and special use application for a marijuana provisioning center. In other words, the City gave the buyer an “out” if Council doesn’t approve his pot shop. Council didn’t have to do that. They could have let all buyers take the risk, without pinning getting the money on giving approval.

    Regardless, it seems the top price would likely have come from City Council telling everyone there was an auction. Or telling anyone. Meadows and Council Member Draheim have said they knew about the sale while it was going on — why did they stay silent about it? City staff told only a select few. Why? We don’t know. Very strange.

    It’s really quite curious that at a time when marijuana is causing a gold rush around real estate that the City would stay so very quiet on a land sale aimed at the marijuana industry.

    This Council says it wants to get top dollar for City properties. They said so just last week in the budget work session. Behaviors in this case suggest something besides getting top-dollar was prioritized in this sale of public property.

    More specifically about the mystery of Ordinance 1448:

    The Mayor says the Council did not pass an ordinance (1448) that made the property on Merritt Road more valuable? Huh.

    Check out this:

    The City auctioned the property off AFTER Council had introduced that ordinance (an ordinance designed to drive the price back up) but BEFORE it was voted on.

    Sure, as the Mayor says, giving the City a monopoly on the property (at 1,000 feet) would have in theory given the City a financial advantage — so why pass 1448 at all?

    Does he really not know the answer? The answer is because another property nearby came in with an application before the City had an application for its own property, meaning the City’s Merritt Road land value sank when that other application came in for use of a nearby dentist’s office. See: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/amid-scrum-three-east-lansing-marijuana-retail-plans-recommended

    That’s why the City would need 1448 — to correct for that presumably unexpected application for the dentist’s office. When the Mayor argued 1448 would get the City more money, he knew about all this.

    Logically, the City should have waited to auction the land until 1448 was passed and the value went back up.

    Logically, the City should have made sure everyone knew about the property being up for auction — and yes, it’s cheaper to do an auction on eBay than with a broker, but it’s really, really cheap to openly advertise additionally on the City website, through press releases, and on free listservs designed to sell property and attract the marijuana industry.

    So much could have been done to potentially drive up the price. At ELi, we would have done a story on the property being up for auction if we had known while it was happening. So would the marijuana news sites, I’ll bet. I expect other news organizations would have picked it up.

    I think residents might well want to know why this “silent auction” happened — just days after we all started paying an income tax because the City is in so much financial trouble.

    In conclusion:

    We stand by our reporting on the land sale and everything else noted above.

    Just a reminder you can sign up for ELi’s mailers for free at:

    The City’s weekly mailer won’t tell you what citizens said at City Council. We will.

    Alice Dreger
    Publisher of East Lansing Info

    • I admit I love the back and forth on this. This is how public debate is supposed to work, in a way. Let me just say that I don’t think that Alice’s speculation substitutes for fact. Let me give you an example. She cites to one of her own articles that says that Council Member Altman and myself, as reported on the City’s website, met with Royal Vlahakis. She cites this article as a response to my statement that I never indicated I supported 14 stories on Abbot. She then says “Hmmmm”. The article she cites does not have anything to do with 14 stories on Abbot. It was written on October 22 and referred to a meeting that took place some time before that and which involved them telling us they were thinking about doing something there. And, speculating with a “Hmmmm” is not a good thing.

      Alice ends her response by saying “We stand by our reporting.” That must be the royal “we”. This is about Alice’s article, not that of anyone else who writes for ELI. So, lets get to that.

      In Alice’s response, Alice cites to her article about $700,000.00 paid in bond proceeds to the developer”s attorneys, financial advisor, and an origination fee as proof that there was a developer givaway regarding the Center City project. . There is nothing wrong with the article except for what it does not say. The $700.000.00 ( and the City’s comparable fees too) was paid pursuant to the Trust indenture with Huntington Bank. That document details how every dime is to be paid out of the Construction Bond. A portion of the bond proceeds goes into what is called a “Costs of issuance fund”. The legally authorized items to be paid out of that portion of the bond proceeds are defined as “fees of accountants, intitial trustee fees, legal fees, finanacial consulting fees, purchaser’s fees, underwriters fees, and amounts to reimburse the Authoritiy or the City for general funds expended in connections with the foregoing…” You know those add ons when you get your mortgage like closing fees, attorney fees and points? The developer’s father purchased the construction bonds. Like a bank, he received his “points”. The $700,000.00 was paid out of the construction bonds in accordance with the trust indenture. The bottom line is that the $700,000.00, in a 24 million dollar deal, is not a developer givaway. Every one of those costs had to be documented and I can attest that a boatload of Attorneys and financial advisors were involved in this deal and the numerous drafts, revisions and proposals that got the parties to a final document.

      I may as well lump in Alice’s other references to taxes, specifically TIF. The City Council has adopted an official policy limiting the use of Tax Increment Financing or TIF. That policy limits the use of TIF to two purposes: environmental costs and public infrastructure costs. Now, I was not addressing the details of TIF when I commented on the claim that Council had handed out 70 million in “developer giveaways”. There are no “developer giveaways”, at least in the last 3.5 years. And, I am flattered that Alice referred to those years as my “Mayorship” but we all know the Mayor is but one vote on Council. By the way, Alice referred to a vote by myself, Council Member Beier and Council Member Altman as the “usual majority” in the article I commented on previously and in this most recent posting she characterized a 3-2 vote as a “typical majority”. The “usual majority” and the “typical majority” in Council votes is unanimous, not 3-2 or 4-1. I think 5-0 occurs in the upper 90 percentile of our votes.

      But back to TIF. TIF does not include any tax dollars from enywhere but the project involved. So there is no TIF that includes any tax dollar you pay. The amount available for TIF is the result of the new tax value of a project minus the tax value of the project prior to the redevelopment or improvement. So, the City and everyone else continues to get the amount of money that they received prior to the completion of the development. It is the new, additional money that can constitute TIF. Every dollar of TIF comes from the developer and nowhere else. Tif does not include taxpayer voted debt either. So there is no reduction to the payment of the recent school bond, for instance. In fact, it will probably be paid off earlier as a result of this and other development in East Lansing. Every property tax dollar works out something like this–about 1/3 comes to the City and 2/3 goes to some other taxing entitiy, like the County, CATA, LCC etc. Alice mentioned in her response that the City was actually using TIF to pay for some of the work on Grand River. We are using TIF to pay for some work on Grand River on City property. That is consistent with our policy but it is not a “developer giveaway” which is what I was commenting on in my earlier posting. The resolution adopting the TIF plan for Center City limited the TIF to repayment of the non-recourse revenue bonds plus interest. Exhibit N to the Development Agreement details the costs associated with those bonds. Except for “lead and asbestos abatement”, “site demolition (Grand River-includes sbsurface debris and removal of utilities)”, and “grading and earth retention (Albert Ave/Alley/ Grand River)” none involve the Grand River apartments and only a portion of the items I identified actually involve that part of the project. The “deep foundations” Alice refers to are on City Property. Any “deep Foundations” on private property are on the Developer’s dime, not the public’s. The TIF will use developer tax dollars to pay for the publicly owned construction and road, sewer and water and sidewalk improvements on City property. In one of her cited articles Alice states, in regard to the Park District development, that TIF is being used to pay the developer “mainly for environmental cleanup, demolition of the vacant buildings and purchase of [real property] from the DDA plus interest for the developer laying out funds upfront.” The Center City project is not as good for the developer but much of the TIF total cost is interest for the developer loaning money to the City to build, replace and reconstruct the public infrastructure (Just like the Park Place project). Again, it is not a giveaway. It is a pretty good deal for East Lansing Citizens though. If we were to redo that public ifrastructure by bonding, it would be your dollars that paid for it. TIF is only the developer’s dollars and the portion of the cost actually paid with dollars that would otherwise come to the City’s general fund is 1/3. So, that City Center TIF with a value of 53 million including interest really only costs us a little over 17 million dollars. Its like going to the store and finding out the thing you want is on sale with 66% off the regular price..

      As to Ordinance 1448, I stand by my statements regarding it. The Council introduced the ordinance on December 18, 2018. The article Alice cited correctly gets the gist of what I said when it was introduced. I did think it would increase the value of the property and I was hopeful that any money we received for it would be used to pay down the debt on the current DPW site. I learned, however, that we cannot pay that debt early and I also realized that we were actually lowering the the value of the property by the time 1448 came back to Council for a vote. And, not because it had already been auctioned off. Ordiance 1448 started a general discussion at the Planning Commission and the City Council about the separation distances. Something that Council Member Dreheim said she would be hoping for when the Council unanimously voted to introduce and refer the ordiannce to the Planning Commission.. The result was a significantly different ordinance which reduced separation distances everywhere except in the Grand River overlay area and even there eliminated the separation distances from liquor stores. The change maintained a value for the City owned property on Merritt Road but it did not increase it. I have said before that the Ebay auction should have been coupled with at least a press release. I regret that it was not. But, also as I have previously said, I think it worked out well given over 1 million for the property with a known environmental assessment indicating 3 million in cleanup. One last thing, when someone makes an application and the Planning Commission recommends approval as with the conversion of the dentist office on Merritt to a provisioning center, it does not mean that the Council is necessarily going to approve it. And at the time we introduced the ordinance, there was no feedback from the PC.

      I guess that leaves only Alice’s continuing question regarding how staff chose who to notify about the Ebay auction. On March 15 the City published the following: “…the City placed the land up for auction on EBay and notified all of the parties that came forward with an interest in buying the property.” The City publication also explained why this was done: “…after several interested parties came forward with unsolicited purchase offers.” I agree with Alice that she has asked that question three times at City Counci and if I remember right, in a couple of emails also. But it has been answered.

      Mark Meadows

  5. This is a response to the post from Mr. Meadows yesterday (4/15/19).

    First, a side point: Please note that East Lansing Info (ELi) is currently suffering from a hacker attack (DDOS). Our server host, A2Hosting, is working to remedy the problem. If there’s a link you can’t get to at ELi, please email me at publisher@eastlansinginfo.org and tell me what you’d like to see, and I will email it to you. It will help A2Hosting if you can send me your IP address if you are having a problem. If you’re not sure how to look that up, just email me.

    I’m also very appreciative of Matt Kazmierski’s work at Public Response and Mr. Meadows’ posts, as both give me a chance to bring forth a lot of hard work of the ELi team in terms of longitudinal investigative reporting.

    Here’s some more of that reporting in response to Mr. Meadows.

    Mr. Meadows appears to be disavowing support for the Royal Vlahakis project, particularly the 14-story, 159-foot building proposed, now that it is politically unpopular, including especially with members of the politically-powerful Peoples Church.

    In November, asked at City Council who was leading the closed-door negotiations in the Royal Vlahakis negotiations, Mr. Meadows said it was DDA Chair Peter Dewan. Mr. Meadows said he and Council Member Erik Altmann were just “sitting in.”

    Asked about this at the following DDA meeting, Dewan responded by laughing and saying, “That’s nice to know.” (I have it on tape.) Dewan then said that it was “a group of people – City staff, the Mayor, the Mayor Pro Tem” discussing terms of a development agreement in closed-door negotiations.

    The next month, Mr. Meadows voted with the rest of the DDA to approve the Purchase and Sale Agreement with Royal Vlahakis.

    That agreement repeatedly refers to the intention to build a 14-story building, including using the air rights of public land. Sample: “A purchase and sale of the air space above Lot #4 and the vacated or abandoned part of Albert Avenue, which will be occupied by the 11th through 14th floors of the building proposed by Purchaser…”

    You can see the Purchase and Sale Agreement at ELi here:


    So I don’t think there can really be any question Mr. Meadows helped negotiate and indicated support for the 14-story proposal, until it was openly unpopular. (It’s fine to change your mind, of course. But it’s troubling to try to change history.)

    Mr. Meadows says I used “the royal ‘we’” in my response when I wrote, “We stand by our reporting.” In my response, I referred to reporting on City government by myself, Chris Root (on development), Dan Totzkay (on the eBay land sale), and Ann Nichols (on zoning for marijuana).

    There is no way I could single-handedly do what the ELi team does. The Crystal Award given to ELi last year was given to the team (and not me personally) for good reason.

    Mr. Meadows writes about the Center City deal, “The bottom line is that the $700,000.00, in a 24 million dollar deal, is not a developer givaway [sic]. Every one of those costs had to be documented and I can attest that a boatload of Attorneys and financial advisors were involved in this deal and the numerous drafts, revisions and proposals that got the parties to a final document.”

    Yes, there were lots of consultants getting paid lots of money, and yes, the costs were documented. And the documentation shows that these costs – including payments to developer Mark Bell’s attorneys, financial advisors, and father, on his behalf, will be reimbursed with local property taxes. You can see the letter documenting these costs at ELi here:


    ELi’s report on this is here:


    Incidentally, we might save money if we bid out our own bond attorney work rather than continuing to automatically employ the same attorney on a no-bid deal. Studies show you pay less when you bid out bond attorney work.

    Mr. Meadows suggests there have been “no developer giveaways” during his time as Mayor. I would again point him to the bond payout records for Center City and the TIF agreement for the DRW Convexity project, all of which show developers being reimbursed for expenses on private developments during Mr. Meadows most recent service as Mayor.

    Center City bond payout record here: https://eastlansinginfo.org/sites/default/files/2017-12_pay_app_01_final.pdf

    DRW/Convexity TIF plan here: http://eastlansing.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=1818&meta_id=66584

    Mr. Meadows says there have not been very many 3-2 votes at City Council and I’m wrong to characterize a “typical majority” as being Meadows-Altmann-Beier. I submit the following 3-2 examples, in all cases with Meadows-Altmann-Beier voting in favor and Draheim-Stephens voting against:

    New Freedom of Information Act policy, giving more power to Mayor (Meadows) and City Manager: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/new-foia-policy-east-lansing-hands-power-city-manager-and-mayor

    Chesterfield Hills parking: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/chesterfield-hills-parking-approved-3-2-after-long-debate

    Hawthorn Neighborhood rental prohibition: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/council-supports-hawthorn-neighborhood-rental-prohibition-3-2-vote

    Allowing 140-foot-tall buildings in more of downtown, including just north of People’s Church: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/officials-looking-allowing-taller-buildings-more-downtown

    Allowing 160-foot-tall buildings in a section of downtown: https://eastlansinginfo.org/content/myriad-developments-council-meeting-no-answer-land-sale

    These are just a few examples.

    Mr. Meadows writes, “I am flattered that Alice referred to those years as my ‘Mayorship’ but we all know the Mayor is but one vote on Council.”

    One vote, yet substantial power — more so since, in his time as Mayor, Mr. Meadows has led Council in moves to consolidate the powers of the mayor. Under Mr. Meadows’ mayorship, the Mayor has been given unprecedented power over Freedom of Information Act requests (see above).

    Probably most significant is the power the Council gave Mr. Meadows to finalize the deal in Center City . . . except, as it turns out, the motion was done incorrectly and he was never actually given that power.

    He executed agreements he seems to have had no legal authority to execute, including the master condo agreement for Center City. The motion to empower him to sign the Master Development Agreement was this, by Ruth Beier: “I move approval of the East Lansing Center City Master Development Agreement dated 6-20-2017 in our packet.”

    That packet did not include all of what Meadows went on to sign on behalf of the City as its Mayor. What was in the packet was about 30 pages long. What Mr. Meadows signed for was about 200 pages long.

    Mr. Meadows says, “TIF does not include any tax dollars from enywhere [sic] but the project involved. So there is no TIF that includes any tax dollar you pay.”

    That’s right. The TIF dollars are diverted tax dollars. The dollars from new projects are diverted away from the City’s general fund, away from the Ingham County trails millage, away from CATA, and so forth.

    If those dollars weren’t diverted, they would go to the taxing authorities that your tax dollars are used to support. Developers’ properties would function just like yours – they would fund general public services like police and fire, pensions and parks, instead of enabling private development.

    Some developments, like the Hub, are built without TIF, and pay into the usual tax coffers. Some TIFs are used for public infrastructure. The Center City TIF is mostly paying for the new parking garage replacing Lot 1. That parking garage will mean the diversion of over $50 million in new taxes. To be clear, those new taxes would not exist without the private redevelopment. That TIF comes to about $83,000 per parking space. (And the parking spaces as designed are pretty small.)

    Hopefully someday Mr. Meadows or Mr. Lahanas will answer the question of how the City staff decided who to let in on the eBay auction information. Mr. Meadows writes that the City has told us “…the City placed the land up for auction on EBay and notified all of the parties that came forward with an interest in buying the property.”

    But we know that isn’t true. Bill Willbrandt had indicated interest in buying the property and he was not notified.

    Mr. Meadows keeps offering explanations that don’t really get to the question the citizens seem to reasonably have: Why wasn’t the auction of a million-dollar public property broadcast far and wide, on all free channels available, so that the City could get top dollar?

    Why did City staff and City Council remain silent about the ongoing auction even as they publicly discussed an ordinance related to trying to boost that land’s value? Why did we and possible bidders only learn about this auction after it was over?

    Mr. Meadows writes, “I have said before that the Ebay auction should have been coupled with at least a press release. I regret that it was not.”

    This is news to me. Where did I miss this regret? (Thanks again, Public Response!)

    Mr. Meadows adds, “But, also as I have previously said, I think it worked out well given over 1 million for the property with a known environmental assessment indicating 3 million in cleanup.”

    The City Council is cutting things like $3,200 subsidies to Meals on Wheels, because “we can’t afford it.” One wonders, if the auction had been advertised, if we could afford to help pay for East Lansing seniors’ survival for at least another year.

    Alice Dreger, Publisher of East Lansing Info

  6. Let me ask, has the fire department weighed in on whether its current equipment can respond to fires in 14- or 16-story downtown structures? Thanks to all who write on this topic!

    – Susan Froetschel

      • Again, I should be looking at gmail more often. I won’t go line by line on Alice’s post but respond with the following:

        As to the first few paragraphs, Alice is right–it is troubling to change history. It is also troubling to make up history, which is what Alice does here. The 14 story reference is contained in Section 5 of the purchase agreement. That section icontains the contingencies relating to the purchase:

        “Unless waived in writing signed by the parties, Purchaser’s obligation to purchase and seller’s obligation to sell… are contingent on all of the following:

        a. The purchaser, the seller and the City of East Lansing…entering into a development agreement by April 1, 2019 which shall include… the following:

        iv. …it is intended that said lease terms shall allow purchaser to construct a 14 story, mixed use condominium building…

        v. …which will be occupied by the 11th through 14th floors of the building proposed by purchaser, which 11th through 14th floors shall be used for the construction of residential condominium units which shall be occupied by the unit owners or their owner’s families.”

        The issue alice raises actually involves a proposal to allow, with a 2/3 vote of Council, 160 feet in height on the Dublin site. (anybody needs a 2/3 vote for anything over 112 feet in the B-3 district that Dublin sits in). While the church did mention 14 stories, it was objecting to the additional height being proposed. In fact, today they urged the DDA to approve the portion of the project on the DDA property. That portion is 14 stories (140 feet) high. I am a statutory member of the DDA by virtue of my being Mayor. I have on more that one occasion indicated that my vote, as a DDA member, to move something forward should not be interpreted as indicating how I am going to vote when and if the matter is on the Council agenda. The vote on the purchase agreement was to accept a offer to purchase. It was a vote to move the matter forward. I did not comment on its content and did not express my support for 14 stories (160 feet) in the meeting Alice referred to or any other meeting. My objective on development projects is to get to a 5-0 vote and that requires compromise usually and gives each Council Member an equal footing in making the plan acceptable. Approval of all development proposals since 2015 have been by 5-0 votes. I think opposition to the height of the Dublin project is what caused it to be eliminated as part of the project as it went forward. But, the developer made that decision, not the Council or the DDA. Regardless on my position on any particular project, the ultimate decision is by Council and I have always moved a project toward that decision. I did so today, again, by voting to give the developer additional time to reach agreement on a Development Agreement. My patience with this project is running out though and I don’t think I am the only one on the DDA who feels that way.

        The property is owned by the DDA. The DDA negotiated and approved the purchase agreement. Councilmember Altmann and myself were in some of the meetings with the purchaser, Other Council Members were in a meeting or meetings with the purchaser.

        Alice comes up with five examples of 3-2 votes in 3.5 years. That supports my statement that the usual vote of Council is unanimous.

        Alice characterizes the responsibility to decide appeals of FOIA denials as a “power”, an “unprecedented” one. It is a responsibility established by our Charter and the definitions in FOIA. The revision of the FOIA resolution was to conform the policy to the law. Any decison regarding an appeal can be further appealed to Circuit Court. It is not a power, it is a responsibility.

        I already addressed Alice’s Bill Willbrandt comment. He has not indicated he would have even bid on the Merritt Road property. Since I have made the statement that I regret that the City did not advertise the ebay auction at Council meetings I am surprised she says it is news to her. Alice states that “East Lansing Seniors'” will not survive another year because the Council eliminated a $3,200 subsidy as part of another set of cuts in the budget. That is pretty florid language. No one is going to die because of that cut (which by the way has not been approved yet).

        This is the first time I heard that Alice thinks I was not authorized to sign all of the documents that I signed in the Center City deal. The Development agreement made reference to and incorporated by reference a bunch of exhibits and some of those were other documents that needed to be signed.. Some of which were amended at the Council meeting that approved, conditionally, the Development agreement. When all of those exhibits were ready and properly executed, the Development Agreement was signed. Some of those documents were signed by me on behalf of the City, as part of the Development Agreement. I am confident I was authorized to sign at that point and I have gone back and reviewed the video of the meeting. I could not sign the Development Agreement without signing the other documents when they were ready to be signed and I was advised by the City Attorney that they were complete. I believe that is what Council Member Beier moved and that is what Council Member Altmann confirmed later in the meeting.


  7. Mark, I’m sure you’re a fine Mayor (I may get flamed for that) My original comment was not aimed at you or anyone in particular.
    As Mayor, I guess that you feel some responsibility for what is going on in this here town. This all started long before you… I feel that it is symptomatic of larger and more distant events than we here in EL can claim responsibility for. I have been a home builder in the Lansing area for nearly 40 years. Year after year, I’ve seen clients march relentlessly toward bigger is better.
    Corporate America and apparently city governments have done the same.

    You kind of missed my point in what I said about my downtown experience the other night. The sun was well above the horizon

    as I walked toward El Azteco. from MAC. It was,however, nothing but a halo hidden behind the the new structure , blocking all of the sunlight from the downtown area. I do wonder what the rooftop experience at EL.Az. will be like from now on.

    I am freely willing to admit that I am unaware of all the minutia of the TIF business and many of the details, obviously, of the particular projects, about which I trust you to know everything.

    I am aware, however, of years of reporting about our EL city government where the tenor of the administrations have functioned to disregard the needs or desires of the citizens. Tax give-aways, land sales bending city charter

    rules, ongoing deals with less than reputable developers, questionable relationships with city attorneys, developers being allowed to add 5th floors that weren’t on the approved plans after the building partially collapsed….
    the litany goes on…

    I’m not trying to lay any of that at at your feet… but you must treat me like an ignorant child… and explain to me… how all of this development is benefiting your constituents, me, some one who is paying more in property taxes for my 1800 sq. ft. home in EL than I pay for a home in ST. Augustine, Florida, on the intra-coastal which includes a 400 ft. deep water dock. And now I’m going to get to pay income tax for…????… mismanagement???? more traffic in downtown, more people in downtown, less sunshine in downtown, a (in my opinion) less inviting downtown, less business friendly downtown (higher rents) So, please explain to me in my ignorance, as a citizen, how I am benefiting; it seems to me the developers are benefiting.
    …… Adding “SENIOR LIVING” requirements to the plans to make developments seem more palatable to an aging population is simply pandering. The next things we will be asked to pay for are increased capacity to the sewer system and the waste water treatment plant. And perhaps more fire and police protection, more fresh water treatment…it goes on…..

    This is the bigger picture, I think………….WHERE IS THIS ALL GOING…?????? are we trying to grow because there is not enough housing for the demand??? Are we trying to create the demand so we can grow???

    The differences between these two are immense…as an old friend used to say “There’s 10,000 miles between want and need”

    Are we really doing what the TAX PAYING citizens of EL want??? .. As current Mayor… isn’t that your job??? I believe that I am right in saying that the majority of the long time residents of this town DO NOT want all this.

    Let’s start asking the question…. WHY???….and …start acting on our needs first…….

    Thomas Greer

  8. Well said Thomas Greer! I too am a life long resident of East Lansing and what is happening to our downtown makes me sad.

    Barbara Ball-McClure

  9. I will reply to both of these at the same time and also state that I need to check gmail more often! Barbara indicates that she is sad about what is happening in the downtown. I don’t know what that means from her persepective. The downtown is going to be denser in population. The downtown is going to have more retail space. The downtown will no longer be two stories high (mostly). The height of the downtown has been increasing for 20 or so years. Businesses that were there when I came to East Lansing are mostly no longer there. I miss some of them too. But, I don’t miss the decay at the corner of Grand River and Abbott. I like the idea of a Target and I like the senior apartments that are being built. I like the idea of a downtown with more people living in it and more things happening there. So, obviously I can’t respond to Barbara’s concerns but I urge her to call me so I can make sure they are made known to other council members.

    With regard to Thomas’ position, I will try to answer the core question which I think is: how do citizens in the community benefit from the development in the downtown? There are several answers to that based on the specific projects. I won’t touch the “litany” because most, if not all, of that occurred while I was off Council. One of the objectives of all development is the generation of taxes to be used for the delivery of services to citizens of EL. As to the Hub, the development provides a denser student housing area with modern housing, pays 100% of the increase in property taxes to the general fund, 100% of any income tax revenue from residents to the general fund and supports sewer and water funds with hookup and usage fees. It is not expected that the Hub will cause greater demands on any of the city’s services.

    As to Center City, The project produces $200,000 per year in new revenue for the general fund, captures the amount previously generated by the surface lot it replaced, captures over $600,000 in hookup fees, rebuilds Albert Avenue between Grove Street and Abbott including below ground infrastructure and adds a modern, more useful parking garage to the City’s inventory. Because the Developer is required to lease spaces for his project, the project also adds about $200,000 to the parking fund.

    As to Park Place, it will provide a new hotel in the downtown, realign Albert Avenue going west as well as rebuilding Albert between Abbott and Evergreen and replacing the underground utilities through there. It will also pay the hookup fees to the sewer and water funds, pay lease payments to the parking fund and have revenue generated by the income tax

    Neither Park Place nor Center City will result in additional funds in the general fund from property taxes for a period of time. This is so for the reasons I stated in a prior post and I won’t repeat those comments here. We borrow funds from the developer to perform infrastructure work and use the developer’s taxes to pay the developer back.

    On other points: income tax monies are used only for three purposes by law: to make extra pension fund payment, to make public infrastructure improvements and to support public safety services. Citizens of EL voted to establish the tax with those requirements. The income tax revenue is not going to any developer. Failure to increase payments to the pension fund may result in future bankruptcy. This danger did not occur through mismanagement. This danger arose from a combination of factors including the market crash of ’08 and changes in expected growth of the fund and changes in life expectancy. All of which resulted in a greater unfunded liability.

    I can’t help you with your Florida v Michigan tax question. Florida does not permit local income taxes and while it does have some pretting high property taxes it looks like your place in Florida (do you pay separately on the deep water dock?) has less property tax add ons that you typically see in Michigan. Especially with regard to school taxes. In EL your City taxes are actually a little over $1,330. The income tax lowered your property taxes for city operations to 12.5 mills–about a 1/3 reduction in those taxes. It looks like your Florida taxes are around $3,000 but I don’t know if those are St. Augustine city or something else. So, I can’t compare them. You are also (I am guessing) retired?) I think your parents lived across the street from me on Collingwood so knowing them makes me guess your age. Which means you are not paying the income tax on all of your income.

    The Downtown is growing and redeveloping because of demand. Not the City’s demand but the demand of others. . I am a long time resident of this City and I think you are dead wrong in stating that most long time residents do not support the changes in the downtown. You want to keep it as t shirt shops and college bars? What are you suggesting we preserve? Your statement on the shading seems to imply that the sun is always in the same position at the same time of day. The seniors who have already pre leased apartments in the senior apartment building probably disagree with you too. And, yes; a higher population may require that the city increase sewer loads and water lines and other infrastructure. The new developments pay for these installations, not you. The infrastructure improvements which are part of the developments which are being built now are replacing outdated infrastructure that the City would have had to bond for and you, indeed, would have paid if that happened.

    Doing what the public wants, as you questioned, is what I believe I am doing. It is what residents told me they wanted at almost every door I knocked on in 2015 and 2017 and 2018. I will find out more when I knock on doors in 2019. If our citizens don’t like the decisions I have made, they will vote me out. That is the way a democracy works and while I hope you are wrong, I accepted that risk when our citizens gave me this job. Finally, I would never treat you as a child. That is not what questioning your perspective is. You are treating me like an adult and I am doing the same to you.


  10. Great Discussion!

    The questions I hear repeatedly, in virtually every conversation on this matter, are similar to the question the mayor has answered here for Mr. Greer, but perhaps more specific: “what is with this newfound fascination of City Council with 10-14 story student apartments, what are the true costs to the city, and how do we (citizens) benefit from such increased height?” I’m also concerned about traffic, future demographics and the longer term market for MSU student housing, in our increasingly electronic society.

    Having lived here for more than 50 years, I understand the natural resistance to change that can challenge any proposal to redevelop. However, I believe that even lifelong residents, and other neophobes, have recognized that the 1940’s strip mall that we call “downtown” is in serious need of improvement. I also believe that if, 20 years from now, we discovered that market forces and private capital had conspired to replace most of the original 2-story structures in the downtown with newer, 8-story versions, it would be viewed by most as a pretty good thing. However, that does not appear to be the path we are on.

    There is a big difference between supporting the re-development of a downtown, and favoring a cluster of structures 12-16 stories high (or even a single structure that high), in an area already plagued by congestion and other traffic issues. Wasn’t there a study awhile back that placed the blame for all of the riotous behavior in the Cedar Village student housing area on the high density and narrow streets found there? Seems like increased height brings increased density, and on a much larger scale, so why are we promoting it? What are the costs and benefits *of only the additional height* of these structures for all parties?

    Take the Center City project, for example: it appears that each additional floor of student housing allowed would add roughly up to $10MM ($500k NOI@5%) to the eventual sales price, once stabilized (fully rented). With that as a backdrop, it’s clearly been worthwhile for those developers to push for as high a building as they could conjure. It also explains the spate of requests received from others for ever-higher buildings. But then, what does the city get in return, and how does that translate into a real, palpable advantage for residents?

    Again, using CC as an example, besides the increased tax revenue (that may or may not be realized after 30 years of TIF recapture), it’s hard to find any measurable benefit to the average citizen of East Lansing. Not in the ground lease, which looks like a wash, as far as income and real value go. Nor in the infrastructure improvements, which appear to be pretty local, or of limited benefit (who cares if a street jogs?).

    On the negative side, though, this is sure to exacerbate an already serious problem with traffic. (Spare me the traffic studies… I drive. 😉 We also trade the easy-in, easy-out convenience of a surface parking lot downtown for a ramp, possibly with fewer available spaces, and a longer walk to the store! It is likely to add disproportionate expense to the cost of basic city services, and requires expertise we don’t currently have – for fire, in particular, but also public safety, etc. Why, then, are we not sticking to, for example, an 8-story maximum (as recommended by the community-generated Comprehensive Plan), and making additional stories available, in certain zones, and *subject to an appropriate fee*, along with the other regulatory approvals? (That fee could put a real dent in the DDA debt – and with potential congestion spread out over a larger/different area.) And, if some attorney tells you it can’t be done like that, I would look instead for an attorney who will try to show you how it *can* be done, because that is what is needed here.

    Many developers would imply that they need 12 stories to “make the deal work”. (!!!) Do we really need to do those deals? I believe our position on student housing, from the start, should be that we are seriously looking for stand-alone developments of up to 8 stories, and after that – let’s talk! And, if those talks don’t reveal truly compelling benefits proposed for most citizens, we stay at 8 stories… or less.

    I realize the CC project is pretty much baked in, and I hope things work out well for all. But what about the other behemoths that are still in planning? Assuming the income potential to the developers is similar, what are the projected benefits of the extra floors to the citizenry for those deals? The term “projected” is used because East Lansing really has no *proven* experience with this type (12+ stories) of development – not in the evaluation stage, construction, provision of services, traffic impacts – none. That makes all the numbers somewhat suspect. So why are we even entertaining so many of these high-rises – not only at the same time, but also within the same 2-3 square blocks? Why not wait a bit… let them “develop”! Do we not want to learn something useful for the next one? It’s puzzling.



    • Go Mark…. I could never have been as eloquent as you are in this response… I appreciate that there are many aspects of all this that I don’t really have a clue about. Butttt… All of us that are long term residents

      who remain here year round deal daily with the escalating traffic downtown. I have’t a clue about occupancy rates in our surrounding existing apartment complexes either. We have all watched complexes develop around the

      perimeter of our community , and we have all watched almost all of the businesses that once supported a vibrant downtown leave or go out of business , to be replaced by bars and restaurants catering largely to students and

      drinking as a culture. And yes Mr. Meadows T-Shirt shops may be preferable to Bars…( Few people require any extra law enforcement personnel when purchasing Shirts) Never the less I really wonder how many more Apartments we need.

      And again????? why are we racing to increase the density in the most congested areas of our city?? Stop this insanity…PLEASE…OUR citizens are the folks who will suffer.

      -Thomas Greer


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