TUESDAY, April 7 — The Lansing City Council will decide whether Lansing Community College can move forward with plans to construct a new five-story parking garage on Capitol Avenue at Shiawassee Street after the Lansing Planning Board voted 6-2 to move the project forward tonight.
The Planning Board recommended that the City Council move to approve a rezoning request and a special land use permit enabling LCC to tear down and rebuild the Gannon Parking Ramp on North Grand Avenue and build a new one across the street.
Despite pushback, including from City Council President Peter Spadafore, only Planning Board member Josh Hovey voted against the project; the others hesitantly moved it forward.
“This vote is not about opposing LCC, their growth or their continued success,” Hovey said.
The Planning Board tabled tonight’s recommendation last month but approved a special land use permit for LCC to rebuild the Gannon Ramp. Tonight’s recommendation inches those plans forward, but the project still hinges on final approval from the City Council.
It’s unclear when the City Council will meet to examine the issue. Nonessential meetings have been called off. Still, Schor’s administration felt it necessary to call the Planning Board together, for its first virtual meeting tonight, exclusively to discuss LCC’s plans to build a parking ramp.
Hovey and board member Farhan Batti suggested that should plans ever develop to relocate City Hall outside of downtown, additional space could potentially be available for LCC students at the city parking ramp on North Capitol Avenue, negating the need for a new ramp.
“I just really, really think the city, as long as they’re still considering this idea of moving City Hall, should be in better coordination with LCC on parking in the city,” Hovey explained.
Brian McGrain, the city’s director of planning and economic development, said that Schor’s administration is still at least two or three years away from developing plans to move City Hall. And in the meantime, LCC will likely be running out of options for students to park, he said.
LCC President Brent Knight told the board last month that other options — like property across the Grand River or a lot on Saginaw Street — posed safety concerns for commuting students. Other properties, like the lot near the fire station, were simply too small to work.
The goal is to construct the Capitol Avenue garage quickly, then demolish and rebuild Gannon, so that the school never loses a critical amount of parking spots. Both parking structures combined would add 686 parking spaces for LCC students. And the Gannon Ramp would be modeled inconspicuously to look more like a brick, residential building, Knight said.
Spadafore previously said he can’t support the construction of another parking deck in Lansing — at least without an effort to turn the first floor into some viable retail space. Knight said that he doesn’t envision a market for shops to open at that location, but has considered it.
“Unless the college has committed to first-floor retail from the beginning, it’s just another waste of downtown real estate to store cars,” Spadafore explained earlier this evening.
Others have trashed the plan for its potential to increase traffic along a residential swath of Seymour Street, obscuring views and the denting the character of the neighborhood. Other local property owners have argued the construction could tank property values on nearby homes.
Still, the college’s Board of Trustees earlier this year approved $51 million in construction plans with plans to start construction within the next few months. If all goes as planned, LCC officials hope to have the new Gannon ramp fully reconstructed by the fall semester of 2022.
“It builds a fortress of ramps and you’re doing it against a very viable neighborhood,” said local resident Jayne Higo. “If you got up one morning and found a five-story ramp out your front door, you wouldn’t be happy either. It really destroys the feel of a residential neighborhood.”
Despite a temporary coronavirus-related shutdown on campus, officials have estimated that “critical parking needs” will still need to be addressed to accommodate student commuters when the Gannon ramp comes down and as students struggle to find space to park downtown.
“I understand the concerns, but we have to accommodate parking,” Knight told City Pulse in an interview last month. “We don’t have another choice. And it’s not just another parking ramp. We’re going to great lengths to make this structure look like a regular building.”
The $51 million budget for the project will be primarily financed with tax-exempt bond issues of up to $52.5 million. Debt service for will be repaid through the student parking and general funds. There are no tax incentives or financing from the city to get the project off the ground.