EAST LANSING, Mich. — City of East Lansing officials are currently reviewing and considering next steps in regard to a determination made by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as it relates to a sidewalk and retaining wall reconstruction project that was completed along Abbot Road in 2013 with the use of $134,330.03 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
Yesterday, City of East Lansing officials received a letter (PDF) in response to a request for a conflict of interest determination, which indicated that the project was ineligible for CDBG funds. The project included the rebuilding and widening of a sidewalk and reconstruction of a retaining wall adjacent to four parcels of land, one of which was/is owned by the City’s contracted attorneys.
The City has acknowledged that a conflict of interest determination should have been requested; however, officials did believe that the project was eligible for CDBG funds at the time of construction.
Prior to the improvement project, the existing sidewalk and retaining wall on the west side of Abbot Road, between Fern Street and Oakhill Avenue, was in excess of 50 years old. The retaining wall was in disrepair and the sidewalk was narrow and uneven. The sidewalk in that area also lacked ADA-compliant ramps that would allow a person with disabilities to access the sidewalk. By widening and making improvements to the sidewalk and replacing the crumbling retaining wall, the project significantly improved pedestrian safety along this highly traveled corridor. View a before photo (PDF) and after photo (PDF) of the project site.
“We believe this was the right project to do to improve walkability and safety for pedestrians on one of East Lansing’s busiest roadways,” said East Lansing City Manager George Lahanas. “While we recognize that a mistake was made by not providing the proper disclosures at the time, we did believe this project was eligible for the CDBG funding it received because it took place in the public right-of-way and it serves a public benefit. In addition, the retaining wall construction was necessary to complete the sidewalk widening and replacement.”
City officials would also like to clarify that the retaining wall was and is in the public right-of-way, not on private property as stated in HUD’s letter. The property owners who had parcels adjacent to the sidewalk donated public easements to the City, which allowed the retaining wall to be pushed back to the edge of the public right-of-way in order to maximize the width of the sidewalk. The public easement also allowed for the structure of the retaining wall behind the face (the backfill and step returns at wall elevation changes) to be built on private property. These public easements were granted to the City at no cost by the property owners and they will be used into perpetuity for a public benefit. Obtaining easements from private property owners for public right-of-way infrastructure improvement projects is a standard practice by engineering professionals. Another example in the East Lansing community would be the Saginaw Street pathway project, in which property owners granted easements for the construction of sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety. On this project, City staff worked cooperatively with Michigan Department of Transportation right-of-way staff to obtain both permanent and temporary construction easements at no cost to the project.
City officials will be reviewing the HUD matter internally and will be considering further options.