Planning board maintains split over Sparrow
By DANIEL STURM
Lansing City Council members hoping to get more guidance from the Planning
Board on the thorny Sparrow Hospital parking lot issue are going to
The board stuck with its 3-3 vote Tuesday night on whether a quasi-park
on the east side should be rezoned for a temporary hospital parking
So Council members, who undoubtedly were hoping for something definitive
from the Planning Board to bail them out on the controversy, may have
to decide on their own whether to choose between Sparrows desires
and the heated demands of eastside residents to block the parking lot
Council has to decide whether to permit Sparrow to lay gravel over 8.2
acres of a 27-acre open area at Marshall and Saginaw streets so the
hospital can use it as an employee parking lot while it builds a permanent
parking structure west of the hospital over the existing parking lot.
The Michigan National Guard owns the property and permits the public
to use it for dog walking, star gazing and other recreational purposes
when it isnt being used as a military staging area, as it was
during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
Council is still scheduled to vote Monday night, Oct. 7, but the vote
may be postponed.
At Tuesdays Planning Board meeting at City Hall, members reviewed
their positions on the proposal without changing them from when they
voted 3-3 on Aug. 20. They put their positions in writing to City Council.
Board member Sissi Foster said she voted against Sparrows request
because there was no concrete assurance by Sparrow that the area would
be restored to grasslands after the temporary parking lot is abandoned.
Another opponent, Debra Winfrey Keene, said that a 600-space parking
lot would change the essential character of the site and might also
bring environmental hazards.
The boards third opponent, John Ruge, said Sparrow could use already
established parking lots in the area instead of disrupting the lands
Board chairman Andy Frederick, who supports the proposal, said that
the public good sometimes needs to be interpreted as including more
than the immediate surrounding residents. Board members Jan Patrick
and Holly Cordill, who favor the proposal, said they were confident
the Michigan National Guard and Sparrow would restore the property as
an open space when the hospital no longer needed temporary parking.
At Monday nights City Council hearing, John Mertz, an attorney
and president of the Eastside Commercial Coalition, argued that Lansings
Master Plan designated the property as parks/open space and that a temporary
parking lot was contrary to this plan and to the intent of zoning ordinances.
The whole purpose of your Master Plan is to get rid of spot zoning
and putting parking lots next to neighborhoods, yet thats exactly
what youre doing.
Sparrow President Joe Damore said that the health of hospital patients
would be at risk if the expanded permanent parking lot wasnt built.
We cant ask people to park at multiple spots and drive around
until they find a parking spot. Damore said Sparrow had considered
leasing surface parking space in the neighborhood. However, none of
the spaces offered unlimited access during the week. Sparrow attorney
Marc Kennedy argued that renting two or three different lots would cause
additional security and transportation costs. What Sparrow is
asking for is a little bit of help, Kennedy said.
LCC student Michelle Johnson told City Council that in Japan, where
she was in an exchange program, green space was considered holy. Japanese
city planners would be considered insane if they decided
to sacrifice inner city grasslands for a parking lot, she said.
Eastside resident Jeanne Carey said she bought a house on Magnolia Avenue
in 1998. Since that time her property value has increased by 50 percent,
but a parking lot in the backyard would have the opposite effect. Isnt
the goal to increase land ownership? she asked? Carey said she
would consider relocating outside of Lansing if the parking lot is built.
North Clemens Street resident Nyla Munk said that since she couldnt
afford to sell her home and move somewhere else, she asked that Council
members not rip the heart and soul out of our neighborhood.
A few residents speaking in favor of the proposal emphasized the economic
and social factor of Sparrow Hospitals importance for the community.
Growth brings problems, said Lansing resident Jack Bates.
He argued that even though the parking lot would take away eight acres
of open space, there would be still enough green space in the area and
that Mayor David Hollister would be a good watchdog in making
sure the field will be restored after the parking facility expansion
Clemens Street resident Tammy Atherton was skeptical of Sparrows
promise, and the rationality of trying to restore grasslands. Soon,
were just a business-oriented town and not a town where people
want to live. And Cindy Burns, who moved to Lansing from Portland,
Ore., commented that she doesnt understand why City Hall is not
investigating more options, such as the option of turning the National
Guard property into a city park. Then you could make Lansing a
decent place to live.
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