Coolidge Road resident Joe Reynolds shows us the contested area
Several East Lansing residents are in the midst of a fight against the City Council, as the debate between preserving the community and encouraging economic development continues.
The City of East Lansing Planning Commission met Wednesday May 26, facing a series of complaints from concerned residents of Coolidge Road. The proposed development and rezoning of a piece of property at 1525 West Lake Lansing Road was their main concern.
Currently the site houses an empty building and parking lot, the former residence of an office owned by Blue Care Network. Approximately 20 feet from the end of the parking lot sits a water retention pond and adjacent wetland. If the proposed project by CADDIS Development is accepted by the Planning Commission, residents believe that this could mean the end of the nearby wetland, as well as their peace of mind.
“Many of these trees are dying and if I’m understanding him correctly it’s because the wetland has been kind of constricted and the water elevation in the wetlands is too high,” said 27-year-resident of Coolidge Road Joe Reynolds, in reference to local ecologist Dr. Doug Pearsall’s observation of the wetland area. “He’s worried that if this [retention pond] disappears, even more water is going to be forced into here.”
The proposed development would require the property to be rezoned from B-4 to B-2, meaning that it would change from a strictly office development into a potential commercial and retail development site. Currently CADDIS is asking for conditional rezoning, meaning that if the proposal is accepted, the project must be completed within a certain amount of time, or the land reverts back to its original zoning status.
Although much concern has been placed on the rezoning of the property, it still remains unclear exactly what will be built there. Kevin McGraw, president of CADDIS Development, has stated that there is “strong interest for a pharmacy for the northeast corner” of the lot, and “strong interest for a bank, a credit union and several fast food restaurants for the northwest corner, and either a medical office building or hotel for the southern portion of the site.”
At the Planning Commission meeting many residents chose to speak on behalf of preserving the residential atmosphere of their neighborhood. In argument against the rezoning, residents stated several reasons opposing the idea: High potential for an increase in traffic and noise, diminishing property values and significant change in the wetland and dying off of trees.
McGraw has stated that he is trying to meet as many of the resident’s concerns as possible; however, he disagrees that this development will harm the wetland.
“We are not detrimentally affecting the wetland, we are improving it,” McGraw said. “We are enlarging the retention ponds and installing an improved system that will improve the quality of the wetlands.”
McGraw believes that the resident’s concerns regarding the wetland are “unfounded and misinformed.”
“This is not a wetland issue, this is not a traffic issue, this is a use issue. The residents simply do not want anything other than an office going in there,” McGraw said. “The fact that it’s been vacant for two years as an office is proof that it’s not feasible for that property. However given that location, it is feasible for a retail project.”
Dr. Pearsall, who is a resident of Coolidge Road and has casually observed the wetland during his time living in the neighborhood, expressed many of the resident’s concerns about the wetland in one statement:
For the residents on Coolidge Road in addition to all the concerns that they have, I think that those trees dying off and it becoming a non-forested wetland will open up the area to more noise from the freeway, and potentially more polluted air,” Pearsall said. “It’s been shown that trees are able to buffer residential areas from pollutants.”
Pearsall noted that if further development of the lot were to take place, the wetland could undergo significant changes due to an increase in the amount of water in the area.
“My concern is that if we pave around the wetland you’re going to raise the water level even more,” Pearsall said. “Trees that may not be adapted to deeper water may die.”
The dying off of these trees could cause the wetland to change from a forested swamp into an area with significantly more grasses and shrubs. These types of changes could displace animals such as the red tailed hawk, which have made their homes in the neighborhood.
Pearsall also noted that the dying off of many of the trees in the wetland has already begun. He believes that the emerald ash borer may be to blame for the loss of multiple trees on the west side of the wetland, and has stated that “because many of those trees are dying anyway from the emerald ash borer, [the change from forested wetland to grasses and shrubs] may happen anyway.”
At the June 1 City Council meeting, the Coolidge development issue was discussed among board members, and they eventually voted to send the proposal back to the Planning Commission for additional review.
On Wednesday June 9 the Planning Commission reviewed the changes that had been made to the application submitted by CADDIS Development and voted 5-2 to send the proposal to the City Council for a final decision on July 20.