April 24 2013 12:00 AM

Updates added to Niowave pole barn solution will be brought to City Council for approval

Courtesy of C2AE

The top official for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership said Tuesday afternoon that a solution has been reached for the Niowave pole barn problem. But this is the final offer, so neighbors will have to take it or leave it. 

“It would be wrong to characterize it as a deal,” said Bob Trezise, president and CEO of LEAP. “We know several people in the neighborhood are not going to support the solution, but it’s the only solution.” 

Along with previously proposed façade changes, Niowave has agreed to paint the roof of its 14,000-square-foot pole barn to reduce glare, which was a chief concern among neighbors. The proposed façade changes and landscaping will be tied to Niowave’s six-year, $550,000 personal property tax exemption request.

Trezise said none of this information had been shared with the neighborhood as of Tuesday afternoon. The company will not ask the neighbors to sign off on the solution, he said, and instead will ask the City Council to approve the tax abatement with conditions. The additional changes add $15,000 to the original $200,000 price tag, but nearly all of that — $14,000 — would come from the city’s Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund, with Niowave pitching in an additional $1,000. Niowave would not have to repay the money from the brownfield fund.

LEAP led the effort to broker a deal between neighbors and Niowave by having local architecture firm C2AE design a rendering of building changes. The Lansing Economic Development Corp. paid C2AE $2,000 for its work, which included four options. The one pictured here was the “most complete and expensive option,” Trezise has said.

The dispute between Niowave and neighbors has gone on for 10 months. Three weeks ago, residents in the Walnut Neighborhood were presented with proposed façade changes that include painting the sides, lining brick along the lower portion of two sides of the building and adding fake windows, for which Niowave would pay $100,000. Another $100,000 worth of landscaping and parking lot changes would be paid for out of the brownfield fund, which is funded by capturing taxes from developers on brownfield sites elsewhere and can be used on other eligible brownfield improvements.

After the proposed changes surfaced, neighbors still had concerns about glare from the roof. At first, Niowave was unwilling to do anything about the roof. Mark Sinila, Niowave’s chief financial officer, said last week that painting or adding shingles to the roof would void a 25-year warranty. But after negotiations with LEAP, Niowave has come around to fixing the roof, despite losing the warranty on the building.

Trezise said the extra $14,000 from the brownfield fund was needed to convince Niowave to paint the roof and waive the warranty. 

Trezise said as part of the “universal agreement” coming to the Council, there will be a condition that says if Niowave doesn’t complete the changes to the pole barn, the landscaping and the parking lot one year after the Council approves the tax abatement, the abatement can be revoked. 

Dale Schrader, a Walnut Neighborhood resident who’s been a harsh critic of the pole barn, still doesn’t think the building will look good with the proposed changes. He’s concerned it might end up looking like a “botched facelift.” He thinks Niowave needs to go above and beyond just painting the metal siding and tacking on fake windows. He believes Niowave has taken advantage of the situation by getting money from the city. 

“Niowave still hasn’t really kicked in much of anything for this,” Schrader said. “They’re getting a free façade, basically. They should be thrilled that they bullied the city into paying for landscaping and a parking lot. I’m still not happy with them.”

Mary Elaine Kiener, a Walnut Neighborhood activist, takes a milder approach. “It’s better than what we have now. It’s not as good as we might have hoped for. But it’s as good as we’re going to get.”

A survey issued two weeks ago by Kiener asked residents whether they would accept the façade changes or the pole barn “as it stands.” In response: 78 percent of Lansing residents from outside the neighborhood, 67 percent of those living within the neighborhood and 73 percent of homeowners living adjacent to Niowave of those surveyed said they would accept the façade changes over nothing.

Trezise said Niowave hopes to bring the proposal before the City Council at its Committee of the Whole meeting on Monday. Hopefully, Trezise said, the Council would then vote on the exemption at the next regular meeting on May 6. 

“Eyesore of the Week,” our look at some of the seedier properties in Lansing, will return next week. It rotates each week with Eye Candy of the Week. If you have a suggestion, please e-mail eye@lansingcitypulse.com or call Andy Balaskovitz at 999-5064.