By Rosemary K. Otzman
The Belleville Planning Commission decided that 50% could be the cap for the number of offices on a block in the city, but those already there wouldn’t have to move.
At the March 14 meeting of the commission, four Main Street businessmen were present to plead for changes that would allow them to sell their businesses without having to renovate the buildings to make them into retail shops.
Former Mayor Glenn Silvenis, a Real Estate Broker, said to have to make something into retail that isn’t suitable, you might as well tear it down.
He said people affected should be notified if there are going to be major changes in zoning.
Planning Commission Chairman Steve Jones said there have been notices and the ordinance is already in place that calls for everything on the ground floor to be retail.
“When that was put into place, 5 or 6 years ago, a lot of things were in the hopper,” Jones said, referring to the proposed Kroger store downtown. “That’s the way they wanted to go, but the economy didn’t cooperate.”
Jones said they don’t want to go backward and stagnate and 50% is not such a large number. It might be an issue in a few exceptions, he said. He said new development will go with what the city requires: at least two stories.
Currently it is estimated that the city is 34% office space, including doctors’ and dentists’ offices. There is a concern about how all the vacant space figures into the 50% office space limit.
Gary Snarski of Century 21, Glenn Silvenis of Remax real estate, Bob Stoner owner of an office building, and Ron Vesche of Main Street Flowers gave comments on how the present ordinance affects their businesses.
“If Dr. Robb had a doctor who wants to buy that building, he couldn’t and that’s a change,” Snarski said.
The deal with the doctor was with Silvenis who said he was afraid to send the new doctor to city hall for fear of what he would be told.
Silvenis said he already has been told the new doctor wouldn’t be allowed in the former doctor’s office because it had been vacant more than 90 days and a retail business now is required. He said the proposed buyer, who would be a good addition to the community, has money, and he could walk away.
After much discussion, the commission said they would look at the 90-day vacancy part of the ordinance. Silvenis was invited to bring his doctor to city hall because the city was looking at changing the ordinance.
Vesche said Belleville’s downtown cannot support retail because they have to compete with big box stores and the internet — and every year they have more competition.
He said some downtowns turn out to be all restaurants or all offices where office workers support the community’s businesses.
Vesche talked about the bicycle shop closing, the jewelery store, and all the places next to Charhouse that have closed. They can’t compete, he said.
Vesche, who moved his residence from Van Buren Township to Plymouth, talked about the places in Plymouth that are closing.
Vesche said the people in the meat market said they were losing their house because they can’t sell enough meat.
Commissioner Mike Renaud said when the planning commission talks about retail, it includes restaurants.
Jill Bahm of ClearZoning (formerly called Birchler Arroyo) who wrote the original ordinance and who is working on the updated version said she sits on the board of Main Street Oakland County, a group helping Main Streets to be vital and revitalized. She said small retailers are really struggling, but those in Rochester, Ferndale and Royal Oak are flourishing.
She said retailers do better who have classes and demonstrations because people like individual attention. She said the mix of a community is important. Where there is a meat market, it should be near a wine shop or bakery. Otherwise, people go to Meijer’s and get it all in one place. Small retailers can be successful, she said.
Snarski asked if any other communities limit only retail on the main floor and Bahm said, “Some.”
“Keeping the 90-day rule would kill this community,” Snarski said. “That’s why I’m asking for it to be changed.”
Bahm said she would have the updated ordinance ready for the next meeting with an open house in April and a scheduled public hearing after that.
Bahm said ClearZoning would be also brought to the next meeting. Bahm will condense the work of the sign committee to bring back to the commission, as well.
Jones said the sign committee proposes increasing the window signs to 35% of the store’s window, up from 25%. A previous sign committee had wanted to allow 75% of the window to have signs.
There also was a short discussion on LED signs, which are not permitted except for the city sign and the high school sign. Vesche wanted two small signs for his florist shop to change once a day or once an hour. They would not be flashing signs, he said. Vesche said he has to compete with stores north of the bridge who have such signs and can post sales easily.
Vesche said he talked to the people who are going to open the gas station at Five Points and they said they aren’t allowed to have an LED sign for their gas prices.
It was reported that Citgo has an LED sign that is turned on after hours for city officials and on weekends.
“We just need all the help we can get,” Vesche said. He was told the subject would be discussed at next month’s meeting, at 7:30 p.m., April 11.
By Rosemary K. Otzman