By Rosemary K. Otzman
After about an hour of discussion at its July 11 meeting, the Belleville Planning Commission granted final site plan approval to the Davenport Brothers’ proposed strip mall at 164 E. Columbia Ave.
Now the construction can begin in earnest.
The request for site plan review was signed by Steve Davenport, who estimated an October, 2013 completion date.
This vacant property was the former site of the Amerman Lumber Yard and part of South Liberty Street ran through the property. The city council recently abandoned that part of the street so the Davenport project could proceed.
The property had been zoned Industrial-1, but the recent Clearzoning project that updated the zoning ordinances rezoned the property to B-1 so Davenports wouldn’t have to seek rezoning of the property.
Local architect Wayne Hoppe presented the plans for the 14,980 square foot Columbia Avenue Retail Center to the planning commission.
“It’s a nice, high-end kind of upscale mall,” Hoppe said, noting that there will be an exit only drive across Columbia from Madeline Street. Light poles will be like those in downtown Belleville, he said.
Parking will be in two rows in the front and on the side, with a loading area in the back with employee parking. Also in back, along the railroad, will be the storm water detention ponds, about 2’ in depth.
The highest façade is 18’ tall on the one-story building, which has tower at the west end as an aesthetic addition.
There are nine units, with each one having an individual character. There is space at each end of the mall for additional small buildings, if business is good, Hoppe said.
When asked if the parking couldn’t be put in the back and the building put closer to Columbia, Hoppe said they are in negotiation with proposed tenants and, “Let’s face it. It’s a strip mall.” He said the tenants want parking in front.
Jill Bahm, the commission’s planning consultant from Clearzoning, asked if they considered back entrances to the businesses.
Hoppe said that was considered, but with the railroad behind the strip, they couldn’t see back entrances. One of the problems is with sound attenuation, which they will put on all of the southern wall.
“It’s an issue we have to deal with,” Hoppe said.
There was a question of the fencing height, with everyone agreeing the lady on the west side of the development would like a higher fence as a buffer.
Commissioner Henry Kurczewski had concerns about snow removal, a far-off handicapped access parking space, and traffic on E. Columbia.
Mark Gaworecki, the commission’s consultant from Hennessey Engineers, is the project manager. He said all the engineering items have been worked out and he recommended approval of the site plan.
Planning consultant Bahm did not recommend site plan approval in her letter of June 11, but by the time of the July 11 meeting the re-zoning and street vacation were complete and the other concerns were no longer problems.
Planning Commissioner John Juriga said he would like to have comments from the police chief and fire chief.
City Manager Diana Kollmeyer said all the department heads were sent a memo asking for comment and, to her, “No response is no concerns.”
“If we can take the time, they can take the time,” Juriga said of the chiefs.
Commissioner Mike Renaud agreed that the commission should have a fire report, the way former Commissioner and fireman Jesse Marcotte used to do.
Hoppe said that an interested tenant is interested in having a restaurant and that is not allowed in the B-1 zoning, which the site recently got.
Bahn agreed a restaurant is not allowed in B-1, only B-2 and I-1 zoning districts.
Commission chairman Steve Jones said B-1 was supposed to encompass everything for the mall.
Renaud agreed he thought B-1 would allow everything in a mall.
“It’s a mistake and omission,” Jones said. “We need to get that in the works to change it.”
The commission later set an Aug. 8 public hearing for the zoning amendment to put restaurants in B-1 zoning. With all the steps necessary to change the zoning ordinance, Kollmeyer said it would take about two months.
“I think everyone supports this,” Juriga said referring to the project.
“The general comment from the city council is that they would support this,” Kollmeyer said.
Hoppe said, “We’re trying to create beautification to the area.”
Steve Davenport said they have had a Phase 1 Environmental Study done and they have paperwork that shows nothing was found.
A proposal to have a drive-up window in one of the units needed a variance, since it isn’t allowed in B-1, and if Davenports want that in the future they can seek the variance.
Commissioner Michael Hawkins was concerned about headlights from the parking lot could disturb residents across the street.
“That’s too late,” Kollmeyer said of the concern. “The site plan is already approved.”
Renaud said if complaints came in the future, the commission would be able to work with Davenports to solve the problem.
Commission members said they were excited about the new development and it is a good use for the property.
Renaud said he was excited, but, “I just hope we don’t take business away from downtown.”
By Rosemary K. Otzman