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Wednesday, April 3,2013

The solution?

Proposed Niowave pole barn solution: brick, fake windows, a painted roof, $200,000

by Sam Inglot
Courtesy of C2AE
A proposed solution to the Niowave Inc. pole barn controversy features a brick fašade on two walls, fake windows, a parking lot and landscaping, at a cost of $200,000.

Bob Trezise, president and CEO of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership — LEAP — said Niowave would pay $100,000. Tresize said the rest would come from the city of Lansing’s brownfield revolving loan fund, which comes from developers.  Niowave would not have to repay it.

“I think both sides have come a long way. We’re making progress, but we haven’t finalized anything yet,” he said. “I’ve done about all I can. I’m hopeful that in the next day or two, we can reach an agreement.” 

The two sides are Niowave, an accelerator research and development company, and residents of the Walnut neighborhood between downtown and Old Town in north Lansing. The neighbors have threatened a lawsuit over the 14,000-square-foot metal pole barn that Niowave built last year. It sits on the property of the old Walnut Street School, which Niowave rehabbed into its headquarters.

Neighborhood leader Mary Elaine Kiener said late Tuesday that she was “feeling optimistic that we’re going to have a resolution.”

Kiener said she and another resident, Dale Schrader, had “input along the way.” Schrader owns the pole barn replica that was parked recently outside Niowave’s headquarters. He said he was going to move it to the homes of Niowave execs so they’d get a sense of what it’s like to have something unsightly pop up in their own neighborhoods.

The catalyst for a compromise is a six-year, $550,000 property tax break plan for Niowave that is stuck in a City Council committee while members see if differences can be resolved.

Trezise said the Lansing Economic Development Corp. paid the architectural firm C2AE $2,000 to come up with a plan. It suggested four options. Trezise said the option that was picked was “the most complete and expensive option.”

Trezise said Niowave was “deeply involved” in deciding the final design. He said they’ve “agreed to nearly everything” in the rendering, but wouldn’t go into detail about where Niowave is not on board. 

“I want to try to continue to have a dialog about resolving that,” he said.

The lower portion of the fašade is brick, which would wrap around two sides of the building. Trezise said the brick doesn’t extend to the north or west side of the pole barn — the sides that don’t face any streets. 

The windows in the rendering are not real windows, Trezise said, but they are made of glass and “will look nice.” 

As for the roof, “We have not come to an agreement — although the picture shows it — that’s an important point to make,” he said.  Neighbors have complained about the glint of sun off of it. The solution is green paint.

If both parties agree to the plans, the renderings would be made part of a “universal agreement” to tie the changes to the approval of Niowave’s personal property tax exemption. 

Neighbors’ protests about the look of the building started publicly in July. Those concerns came at the same time as dignitaries — including two U.S. senators and a Navy admiral — heralded Niowave’s expansion at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Niowave, formed in 2006, specializes in manufacturing and testing particle accelerators — devices that move electrons nearly at the speed of light that can be used in lasers and X-ray technology for the military and medical fields.

The company is seeking a six-year personal property tax abatement worth $550,000. The request was tabled in the City Council’s Development and Planning Committee after Niowave agreed to work with the neighborhood on fašade improvements.

The pledge of cooperation was seen as a breakthrough by neighbors, who had complained that Niowave had largely been absent from neighborhood meetings to discuss the issue.

Early in the controversy, the company enlisted the services of local landscape architect Bob Ford, but the neighbors wanted to see architectural change, not just landscaping.

City administrators have said they couldn’t have stopped Niowave if they had wanted to from building the pole barn. Councilman Brian Jeffries is pushing for changes, in a new ordinance, that would require Council approval in the future for certain projects requiring a special land use permit.

“Eyesore of the Week,” our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing, will return next week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.

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