Developer eyes blighted residential area near Saginaw and Pennsylvania for up to 240 apartments

Plan aims to attract workers at the new GM electric car battery factory on the west side


WEDNESDAY, May 10 — A local developer has proposed building a townhouse-style complex with as many as 240 apartments in a blighted residential area near Saginaw Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Lansing.

The developer, Harry Hepler, said he wants to level houses and purchase empty lots owned by the Ingham County Land Bank for the project. Hepler developed nearby Motor Wheel Lofts, which occupies the old Prudden Wheel factory. His new project would occupy 5.5 acres bordered by Prudden Street on the west, Oakland Avenue on the north, Saginaw on the south and Pennsylvania on the east.

Hepler’s hope is to find a sweet spot in pricing that makes living in the new development attractive to an influx of workers expected with the arrival of the opening of electric-car battery plants on the city’s west side, he said at a public hearing Monday before the City Council.

“If you don't supply that, then it goes to the bedroom communities,” Hepler said. “That's not good for the city of Lansing.”

The Council referred Hepler’s rezoning proposal to the Development and Planning Committee.

Hepler’s plan calls for studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Preliminary plans put the potential costs as low as $795 a month, he said.

The townhouse-style buildings would stand about 40 feet tall. Each would be outfitted with solar arrays and battery storage so residents can tap into the solar energy at night. There will also be plugs for electric cars available for each unit.

He also wants to put a large rainwater-collecting cistern on the property. The water collected would then be used to flush toilets.

“Any time you can take pressure off storm systems it's good for the Earth and good for you,” Hepler said. Those sustainability amenities, he said, are not showing up in surrounding communities.

Hepler said he has already acquired some residential properties he needs for the project. One of them was featured in City Pulse’s Eyesore of the Week feature last September.

The entire area is in the First Ward, which is represented by Ryan Kost, whose reaction was mixed.

“It has the potential to attract people who don't live in my ward,” Kost said. “I don't know how attractive it will be to a young family. That's something that's missing in the city right now.”

He said the city needs more single-family housing, with yards for kids to play in. But also said he is skeptical in general about the project, based on experiences the city has had with other developers.

“I think that for years we have gotten plans that don't always pan out the way they present them,” he said.

One such development was SkyVue on Michigan Avenue in front of Frandor. Developers pitched the $90 million project as one designed to lure young professionals to the area. But as its final move was happening, it became apparent it was going to be 100 percent student housing, focusing on renting one room in a shared common living space in the apartments for hundreds of dollars.

While Kost is skeptical, he said he is interested in Hepler’s eco-friendly development plans.

“I am happy we are moving towards more eco-friendly communities,” Kost said.

Meanwhile, Hepler’s plans are getting a thumbs up from the Ingham County Land Bank.

“We're very much aware that at this point it looks like a deteriorating neighborhood with lots of boarded-up houses and empty lots. We're hopeful that will change soon,” said Ingham County Treasurer Alan Fox, ex-officio chair of the land bank board. “That's very much in line with what the land bank is doing to attract people to live in the city.”

Mayor Andy Schor said his initial review of the proposal was “favorable.”

“Replacing old, boarded-up vacant homes with new, high-density housing could help transform this area,” Schor said by email. “I would love to see new residents in this area and look forward to seeing more detailed plans as the developer moves forward in this process.”

However, some opposition has formed.

Eastside resident and activist Nancy Mahlow told the City Council Monday that she opposed the plan.

“Until the city cleans up the red-tagged properties, they should not approve any more,” Mahlow emailed City Pulse, referring to some 700 residential properties in Lansing that the city has deemed unsafe for occupancy.

She said the area Hepler wants to develop was “left to deteriorate,” thus clearing the way for the project.

“That is what we do. Instead of saving a house and fixing it up, we tear down. Other cities seem to find a way to keep housing stock together but not Lansing.”

Hepler said many of the properties he’s purchased in the area would require heavy investment to make them liveable and useful. He noted one home had carpenter ant and termite damage to the structure.

“That’s not really doable,” he said of bringing those properties up to the current code. “Not and to make a profit. I mean, I could sell them back to the slumlords that owned them before, but that doesn’t help anyone.”


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