Nov. 20 2013 12:00 AM

Committee approves plans for Buddhist church relocation, parking lot for Chamber of Commerce and two brownfields. Plans head to full Council.

The former Casa Nova restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard that a local Vietnamese Buddhist association wants to move into. City Pulse file photo.

Thursday, Nov. 20 — A Lansing City Council committee today approved plans for four separate redevelopment projects, including a special land use request by a religious organization that the city’s Planning Department recommended denying.

The Vietnamese American Buddhist Association of Lansing wants to move a half-mile from 3015 S. Washington Ave. to 3015 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., the former Casa Nova restaurant just north of Holmes Road. The organization says it has grown out of its Washington Avenue temple, which it finished renovating in 2011. It showed major redesign plans today for the restaurant.

Despite objections from zoning administrator Susan Stachowiak that the church shouldn’t occupy space on a commercial corridor, Council members Brian Jeffries and Jody Washington voted during today’s Development and Planning Committee meeting to approve the special land use request, saying it would relieve blight.

However, the Planning Department and the citizen-advisory Planning Board each recommended denying the request, as churches are contrary to commercial corridor plans in the city’s master plan, they say.

“Experience has shown us that churches do not contribute to the vibrancy of a corridor,” Stachowiak said today.

But Washington said this particular area of the city, vulnerable to vacant buildings and liquor and check-cashing stores, could use an occupant like a church. Washington said she drew on her experience of living on the south side for decades.

“This has been going on for years on the southwest side,” Washington said to Stachowiak. “I lived there and you didn’t.”

But Stachowiak said the Council’s approval would not only conflict with planning standards, but also could present a legal problem. The Council may never be able to deny a special land use permit from moving onto a commercial corridor if it says it’s OK here, Stachowiak said.

“If you do that, you make it almost impossible to ever say no to a church,” she said. “It could really come back and hurt the city.”

However, Jeffries said the Council has been consistent with the zoning code as it has granted churches special land use permits to move into commercial areas.

The committee addressed the legal concern by amending a resolution to say that it “considered” the zoning and master plans, rather than saying the project conforms to them.

It’s the latest in a round of recent special land use requests for churches that the Planning Department said doesn’t conform to the master plan.

Similarly, the committee approved a special land use permit request for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which wants to build a surface parking lot across from its headquarters downtown at the corner of Walnut and Hillsdale streets. The Chamber purchased the property and demolished a 93-year-old house formerly used by the Lansing Jaycees.

While the Planning Department recommended denying the request because it wouldn’t conform with the master plan, Stachowiak changed course today, saying “you could make an argument” that it does as an “accessory” to the group’s headquarters across the street.

In other business, the committee approved brownfield redevelopment plans for two projects near Old Town. The first would redevelop the former Heeb building at 1113-1119 N. Washington Ave. for mixed-use retail and low-income housing.

The committee also approved a brownfield plan for High Grade Materials. The company wants to repurpose a cement-mixing site at 1800 Turner St., which nearly anyone could agree is an eyesore in the area.

All four projects are scheduled for a vote by the full Council on Dec. 2.