[farm]East Lansing City Council – We have one of those? East Lansing City Manager – I’m guessing he’s kind of important? East Lansing Planning Commission – Do they plan stuff that has to do with me?
It’s really too bad that a rather large percentage of the 45,000 students at MSU have little to no idea about the city their university calls home. East Lansing, or “Collegeville,” if you happen to prefer the city’s early 20th-century name, is home to many, if not the majority, of MSU students, faculty and staff. And yet it seems we live in our own little bubble; it’s as if East Lansing only comes to mind when we want our parents to send us a care package to our East Lansing addresses.
But little do we know, decisions that the city makes actually have a lot to do with our daily lives. It’s because of them that we can’t play loud music at our nationally acclaimed house parties. It’s because of them that we can speed down Grand River at a whopping 25 mph. It’s because of them that the northern edge of campus is the only place in town that has much of anything. And it’s because of them that East Village will be completely changed in the next 20 to 30 years.
A 35-acre region bound by Bogue Street on the west, Hagadorn Road on the east, Grand River Avenue on the north and the Red Cedar River on the south, East Village is a great location slowly growing obsolete. With almost 2,000 students currently living in the area, East Village is desirable and convenient, and yet environmentally polluted and crammed with once visually appealing buildings.
And although it seems a bit odd to the average college student who worries constantly about papers, exams and which bar to go to tomorrow night, the city of East Lansing has a plan, a vision for the future. It’s the East Village Master Plan, to be exact.
Having been in the works for the past two years, the East Village Master Plan was unanimously approved by the East Lansing Planning Commission Feb. 8. Who really makes up the Planning Commission may not be all that important to students, but this single $16.3 million approval will change the entire area east of campus. I think, for once, MSU students should pay a little attention to the city we live in, even if we continue to think that it has really nothing to do with us.
The East Village area is currently home to 636 households, five frats, one cooperative, 22 traditional rental houses and has an exact population of 1,807 people. So roughly, it’s the size of four ISS lecture classes. Under the new plan, however, the population will likely triple to about 7,000 people living in highly dense housing options.
“The area will offer housing opportunities for beyond just students but a variety of demographics,” said Jim van Ravensway, East Lansing director of planning and community development. “It will be a village mixed with a balance of housing types for faulty, alumni, both graduate and undergraduate students, retirees and empty-nesters.”
The few students on campus who are concerned about the new developments, however, are worried that students will in fact be kicked out of the area, an area so close and convenient to campus and yet considered an off-campus living experience.
“I want to make sure the overall integrity of the area is preserved and student housing stays available there,” said Andrew Bell, ASMSU student assembly vice chairperson of external affairs. “I’m especially for preserving the Greek houses in that area and keeping housing affordable enough for students.”
Of course, East Lansing assures its MSU students that the overall policy is in fact balanced with an area consisting of one-third owner occupied, one-third regular rental and one-third student housing. And thankfully, one third means that at least the same number of students living in East Village now can live there in the future.
[lou3] In the original plan, however, MSU’s Dormitory Road was to be extended into East Village right through the parking lot of Farmhouse fraternity located at 151 Bogue St. “In the new plan, they reworded it so that it sounds like there will be a linkage somewhere else, not through our parking lot,” said Pete Serne, Farmhouse fraternity vice president. “We’re all pretty psyched about that here.”
Serne also said that the frat’s popular “Save Farmhouse” campaign continues strong. But many students, even ones living in East Village, felt they didn’t really have any idea about the plan. “I feel like we didn’t know about it to oppose it,” said supply chain management sophomore, David Wu, who lives in Cedar Village. “But I guess students here just don’t care enough to attend one of the meetings to oppose the plan.”
If such this is the case, then what right do students have to complain now about the changes in East Village? “As much as I do, I am only one person,” Bell said. “Their voices are as loud as they want it to be heard.”
No matter what the complaints are, they need to stop. It doesn’t really matter how much say students really had in the planning process, the Master Plan has already been approved and we need to just move on. We need to continue our lives as students and think of other ways to keep us a part of the plan to renovate the area.
Ultimately, with the new plan, the goal is to create a more urban environment by mixing residential buildings with at least 215,000 square feet of retail and 200,000 square feet of new office space. This will require taller buildings, up to eight stories high, something that requires more work on the part of the Planning Commission since current zoning laws in the area don’t allow for such foreboding skyscrapers. Nevertheless, what the future really brings is unknown.
Because after all, the East Village Master Plan, is only a “vision for the future” that provides a well-designed strategy for achieving that vision over the next 20 years, according to the plan available on the frequently student-visited East Lansing city Web site: www.cityofeastlansing.com.
The plan is based around four main goals: to create an exciting urban village, to establish appropriate pedestrian and vehicle circulation, to develop an overall urban-like appearance and to improve the environment and the river’s health.
[apts] East Lansing, however, carried out no specific comprehensive studies concerning the environment, traffic and housing markets in the area. This is despite the fact that the Michigan Municipal Planning Act requires commissions to “make careful and comprehensive surveys and studies of present conditions and future growth” when developing master plans. To their credit though, the Master Plan is not a specific layout of what will and won’t be in East Village; it’s only a general idea representing hopes for the area.
Rather, the city spent $55,000 on conceptual drawings instead of, according to Tim Dempsey, East Lansing community development administrator, $100,000 to conduct comprehensive studies. But I suppose they didn’t completely ignore the idea of statistical data – a few studies were done concerning the Red Cedar River’s floodplain. That’s because the city wants to “take advantage of the river using state funds from the Department of Natural Resources to clean up the water,” said van Ravensway.
“It will be an exciting area, a village,” he said. “The closest comparison I can think of is Greenwich Village in New York with commercial on the first floor of buildings and residents living above.”
In the end, the idea sounds exciting, but the results may not be all that great. East Village is bound to become a classy area no longer affordable and appropriate for most students. The city might say one-third of the housing will be designed specifically for students but it still seems like the city’s coming in and kicking the students out.
The East Village Master Plan also claims to be a partnership project between the city, the State of Michigan, private developers, individual property owners and MSU. It’s too bad a majority of MSU students don’t think they’ve really had all that much say in the planning process.
So, L.A., I wonder what the university’s next step is. I wonder what the university plans on doing to help save its fraternity houses. And I wonder what the university plans to do to persuade landlords to keep rents low and affordable for students. And I wonder how the university plans to break out of its own little MSU bubble, because not doing anything will result in students being kicked out of an area popular, close and convenient to campus – an idea that seems just a little ridiculous.
Ren O. Vations

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