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Tuesday, August 10,2010

Kids in the Hall

Is the city paying too much for a parking lot?

by Andy Balaskovitz
The lone contentious vote at Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting was over the purchase of a parcel of land at 229 S. Cedar St. to be converted into a parking lot.

The site on the east side of Cedar Street near the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s solar array will be purchased by the city for $350,000. The city plans to demolish the parcel to create 80 new public parking spaces that will adjoin Lot 49 downtown.

After being on the market for a number of years and a failed redevelopment attempt (the Gene Townsend-led Lansing Gateway), the roughly one-acre parcel belongs to the city, which intends to demolish the present Yellow Cab building for surface parking. At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said it would be wise for the city to maintain the site and leave it open for a possible redevelopment in the “long term.”

While Jeffries was thinking long term, two Council members voiced opposition over short-term concerns.

Council President A’Lynne Robinson, a Realtor, thinks the city could be paying too much by relying on an outdated property assessment.

In November 2007, R.J. Thomas & Associates, Inc./Harold Blake Co. placed the property’s market value at $435,000. One year later, the value dipped to $350,000. And that’s what the city will pay in 2010, despite the downward trend of property values ever since.

“If I was buying a house, I would want an up-to-date value of my purchase,” Robinson said after the meeting. “In this case, we (the city) are the purchasers.”

Robinson added that while the purchase may very well be an investment by the city with hopes of interested redevelopers in the future, it was difficult for her to support based on projections.

“The current real estate trend is like an avalanche,” Robinson said while motioning her hands in a downward-step motion. “And you want to buy in low and sell high.”

Jeffries said the resolution was time sensitive – hence having the public hearing for the sale on the same night – but Robinson disagreed.

“This could have easily been brought back with a new appraisal,” she said.

Added to the $350,000 price tag will be costs to demolish the one-story Yellow Cab building, which neither Jeffries nor Jerry Ambrose, city finance director, could estimate.

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt also voted no because factored into the $350,000 price tag was the value of the building, which the city intends to tear down anyway.

“If we pay for the building, we’re not buying the property at the same standard we’re selling it,” he said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, who sits on the Planning and Development Committee, backed Jeffries, saying it is a “strategic piece of property” for the city to buy.

The Planning Board voted unanimously in April recommending the purchase. The Committee on Development and Planning, chaired by Jeffries, also recommended that the Council approve the purchase.

In other business, the Council unanimously passed a resolution to change the name of the Principal Shopping District to Lansing Downtown Inc. to reflect some anticipated changes on the horizon.

At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood said the Old Town Commercial Association has plans to structure a development authority similar to PSD but specifically for Old Town businesses, and the new PSD name should reflect that.

For downtown business owners who question how the PSD spends their tax assessments, resolutions to the ordinance also call for public records and detailed accounts by Lansing Downtown Inc. of how maintenance dollars are spent.

The Council approved a resolution objecting to the city taking ownership of four foreclosed properties (two with vacant homes on them) in south Lansing near Waverly and Jolly roads. These properties, located in Eaton County, were to be automatically transferred to the city unless the Council rejected them.

This is the first time Planning and Neighborhood Development Director Bob Johnson could remember an instance where the city was forced to take over properties from Eaton County due to tax foreclosures. When this happens in Ingham County, Johnson said the county Land Bank takes them over and plans to sell them.

The resolution to approve an employee agreement with Ingham County over the transfer of workers for the new consolidated 911 dispatch center also passed unanimously.

The Council sent two properties to the make safe or demolish list, one at 1604 Bailey St. and the other at 801 N. Sycamore St., a former City Pulse Eyesore of the Week. The owners have 60 days to bring their buildings up to code or they will be demolished.

Other approved resolutions were a liquor license for the Soup Spoon Caf' at 1419 E. Michigan Ave., construction of a church on the vacant property west of 815 W. Edgewood Blvd. and an outdoor patio for the Tin Can at 414 E. Michigan Ave.

During his comment period, Lansing City Clerk Chris Swope apologized to the public for ballot shortages in the city during Tuesday’s primary election that left voters at least two locations waiting “five to 10 minutes” to receive ballots. Though there were 25,000 ballots prepared for the roughly 16,000 voters who turned out, Swope believes it was the high Republican turnout that caused the shortage.

“We didn’t have them where they needed to be,” he said.

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