There has been a surge in development in East Lansing over the last two years with 20 major projects that have dramatically changed the skyline of the city. The new structures, the majority of which being apartment complexes designed with students in mind, have brought with them more students.
The candidates running for this year’s city council election generally support the development. Candidates differ on how they want to go forward from the current breakneck pace. Where they differ is in how they want to move forward after such a rapid surge in development.
Development With Limitations
Lisa Babcock is running for one of the three, four-year terms. She’s open to new development in the downtown area, but Babcock said she thinks the skyline is becoming higher and denser than what residents want, “To developers, I say welcome, but you’re going to pay your fair share, and you’re going to adhere to what the community has set as the standard of development. And that’s eight stories.”
Like Babcock, candidate Jessy Gregg supports increased development. But, she thinks the city needs time to adjust while there are still growing pains. Hasty construction has been a theme of the last two years as developers rush to meet deadlines for student move-ins.
“We need time in between these big projects for our residents to kinda get used to the new things, for businesses to move into the retail area, to make sure we’re not overbuilding housing in areas that we don’t need it. And having a little more thoughtful approach would probably be better,” said Gregg.
Correcting Course And Reversing Blight
Incumbent and current Mayor Mark Meadows said he thinks the development is an appropriate response to former blight in the downtown area, namely an old bank that stood derelict for some time. However, now that most of the new projects have started, Meadows said he thinks new buildings and businesses need time to become established in the community.
“I’d like to see us slow it down a little bit. And we do have others who are interested in some redevelopment in the downtown, and I would like to see the current projects at least running at the time that we actually take a look at those projects.”
Warren Stanfield III is a student at Michigan State University who’s running for a seat on the council. He said the new apartment complexes are far out of reach for a majority of student price ranges. And, most prices don’t match the quality.
“With the price, we also need to work on the quality of some of these - not only these new residential facilities, but some of these rental houses that we already have. The quality of wherever an East Lansing citizen lives needs to be up to par and we can’t just shuffle out whatever we can throw together because this portion of the population is younger.”
Proceeding With Caution
Another candidate, John Revitte, said he has concerns about the changing landscape and making the downtown area too dense.
“Is it possible that we’re going to overbuild and have too many apartments,” said Revitte.
Incumbent and current Mayor Pro-Tempore Erik Altmann said he sees the new developments in the downtown area as a positive change. But, he said he believes any future development should be centered around community.
“We have approved a lot of change in the downtown and the goal is to try and bring a more diverse array of businesses and services and amenities to the downtown and the way to do that is to increase the residential density and so it’s already working. Everyone has wanted a grocery store in our downtown for a long time. It’s been high on our list and we’ve gone from zero to two in the space of a year I think because of all the developments we’ve approved so I think we’re going in a good direction.”
As a group, the candidates see new buildings, residences and businesses as progress. They agree on the end goal of revitalizing the area and bringing more services and businesses downtown, but they differ on to what degree they believe downtown should change.