April 27 2016 12:22 AM

BWL asked to shift substation to create new riverfront access

substationconceptualmap
Conceptual map of the proposed BWL substation.
Courtesy image

While voting for giving Scott Park to the Lansing Board of Water & Light for a new substation, the Lansing Park Board included a proposal that would at least salvage more of the site for public use.

At-large Lansing Park Board member Paul Holland proposed at the board’s April meeting that the BWL nudge its proposed Central Substation a bit to the west, a move that would allow development of a small urban park with Grand River access. The Park Board included the amendment when it approved a resolution, 5-3, calling on the Lansing City Council to approve the controversial substation plan for the six-acre park on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and Malcolm X Drive, the northern gateway to the revitalized REO town commercial district.

The amendment does not save the Scott House or keep the sunken gardens from being moved, despite the objections of preservationists and Garden Club members who were among more than 30 citizens who turned out for the meeting at the Foster Community Center. Only three people spoke in favor of the BWL plan. One of them, Natalie Molnar, identified herself as president of the Moores Park Neighborhood Association — but neglected to mention she both works for the BWL and is the niece of one of the plan’s leading advocates, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Moreover, social media chatter made it clear she was not speaking for many of her constituents.

But Holland’s plan would at least ameliorate concerns over the 25-foot-high wall proposed by the BWL to block the view of the substation along the Washington Avenue border.

Holland said his amendment calling on the BWL to commit “to basically moving the footprint of the substation as far west as possible, preferably 40 to 50 feet. That’s the dream scenario.” He said the proposal came about after discussions with the BWL and REO Town Commercial Association.

The proposal for the substation entails demolishing or relocating the 98-year-old Jenison House — officially known as the Scott Center but often referred to as Scott House — which BWL agreed to do if a buyer can be found, and moving the sunken gardens southwest overlooking the river from its home along Washington Avenue.

REO Town has been working with the BWL for a few months trying find a way to work around the substation.

“For us pushing that east wall back would go a long way to making an area that is pedestrian friendly, a place that people might want to congregate and hang out,” said Ryan Wert, president of REO Town Commercial Association.

Despite the amendment, the BWL has not formally or legally committed to creating this new park. Efforts to reach the BWL — which was dealing with its “ransomware” partial shutdown — for comment were unsuccessful.

Said Holland: “BWL has been open to the idea but is limited operationally. Their limit is that there is a steam pipe that runs around the area. They cannot build the substation over the pipe. That’s why they have not committed to a certain amount of feet.”

Holland said the steam pipe issue is an obstacle to saving the gardens at its current location, but the substation could still be moved as much as 25 feet west without running into the steam pipe— allowing for the new park Holland and Wert envision.

Not everyone supports the small park plan. Joe Vitale, president of Preservation Lansing, an opponent to the BWL proposal, dislikes the idea.

“It is a mistake,” said Vitale. “By moving it (the substation) closer to the Cooley house and to that historic area, it will make the whole parcel undesirable to visit and certainly creates a position down the road where they can look to eliminate it.

“I am not questioning that we need a power station. I am questioning why do we have to turn a park into one,” said Vitale “I want them to preserve the historic sunken gardens in its entirety, I want the house to be revitalized and I want them to find another site.”

The substation issue moves next to the Planning Board’s court, which also will make a recommendation to the City Council. The board meets Tuesday, but it is not clear yet whether discussing the BWL proposal will be on the agenda.

At-large Lansing Planning Board member Lynne Martinez said that if the BWL proposal is discussed, board members will approach it carefully.

“So many people really want to preserve Scott’s gardens, so people will probably be very cautious about how they address the proposal,” said Martinez.

(Because of a reporting error, this story incorrectly said that by moving the substation 40 to 50 feet to the west, the sunken gardens could be saved. The story has been correctly to delete that reference.)

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