By Rosemary K. Otzman
An upscale strip mall is what Davenport Brothers are planning for the former Amerman lumberyard and house property next to the railroad on East Columbia Avenue in the City of Belleville.
The addresses are 270 S. Liberty Street and 164 E. Columbia.
For the first half hour of the Belleville Planning Commission’s regular meeting on May 9, architect Wade Hoppe introduced planners to the project that he said Davenport is “eager to pursue.”
He said South Liberty Street bisects the property and the Belleville City Council will consider vacating that part of the street at its regular meeting on May 20.
The site has access to sanitary sewer, water and a storm water line from two directions.
“There have been several efforts to develop this property,” Hoppe said. One proposal was an apartment complex. Another, proposed by the late Chesley Odom, was a Westborn Market grocery store.
Hoppe said the strip mall will be along East Columbia Avenue and will feature a variety of spaces for tenants, with two larger areas. There will be provisions for taking out walls between units to make larger areas.
Parking will be along the front and the side of the site, with circulation to the back for employee parking. The preliminary plans show two retention ponds for storm water control that will empty into the wastewater sewer on Wabash Street.
Hoppe said it would be upscale with a lot of amenities. It would be attractive to draw good tenants.
“What it exactly would look like is yet to be determined,” Hoppe said, adding that evening’s presentation was to introduce the public to what is coming. He said they will be back with a site plan to begin the formal process.
Commissioner John Juriga called the plan “a great idea,” but he said South Liberty Street should be changed back to a two-way street to alleviate the traffic problem in that area.
City manager Diana Kollmeyer said they have briefly talked inhouse about two-way traffic on South Liberty next to the park, but it was put in place to make it safe for children.
That street and Five Points is owned by Wayne County and, “Wayne County is its own entity.”
Hoppe said there will be sound attenuation to help keep down the sounds from the trains.
Juriga, who lives on East Huron River Drive, said since the Amerman house was removed, the train sounds come right down Madelon Street to his house. He said he hoped the strip mall would cut off the sounds to his house.
Commissioner Mike Renaud asked if there are any potential tenants and Steve Davenport said he has potential tenants but doesn’t have any signed leases.
Davenport said he met with the real estate person for the railroad to see if the developers could landscape the railroad right of way. He said he was told the right of way is leased to Dr. Louis Leonore and to John Hoops at the Belleville Mill.
Commissioner Henry Kurczewski said he learned that Five Points has the most accidents in the area. He wondered if traffic from the strip mall couldn’t be run to South Street along the tracks.
Davenport said the leases have to be honored.
Mary Jane Dawson who lives across the street from the site of the proposed strip mall said, “I’d be very happy to see something across the street. They do great work.”
Resident John Gage said he was worried about all the traffic the development would bring.
Davenport said they have proposed making Liberty two way again, which would help.
Another resident said she lives on Columbia behind this property and at 5:30 a.m. when she leaves for work, she has to wait for traffic to clear before she can leave. She said it is very congested.
Another resident who lives in the second house on Columbia from Five Points said in the morning and when the schools let out, traffic is backed up to Madelon Street.
Harlan Davenport said at 7 a.m. the traffic is backed up, but the strip mall wouldn’t open until 9 or 9:30 a.m. and be open to 5 or 5:30 p.m.
“It’s an issue,” he said, adding if Liberty Street was open [two ways], when it backs up, people could head down Liberty Street to wherever they have to go.”
“This highlights an issue with Five Points,” said Commission Chairman Steve Jones, who noted a traffic study is needed by Wayne County on Five Points and South Liberty Street to facilitate movement of traffic.
A resident, Vivian, who said her backyard abuts the Davenport property, said it’s not pretty from her backdoor and hasn’t been for some time now.
Hoppe said they would put a screening fence or wall barrier, as required when a commercial project abuts residential.
When asked when he would like to break ground, Steve Davenport replied, “Tomorrow. We’re giving this introduction for a reason. We want people to know what we’re doing.”
In other business at the May 9 meeting, the commission:
• Discussed the zoning ordinance and ClearZoning digital version of the city’s ordinances with planning consultant Jill Bahm. She said they have changed the downtown district to require 50% office space and have deleted the part that puts 20 feet of retail in front, since it may not be viable. Also, “churches” have been changed to “places of worship” and private, nonprofit clubs added. Also, in the hospital district they have “medical uses” for doctor’s offices and the like. She said grocery stores are permitted wherever retial is permitted;
• Set a public hearing on the ClearZoning ordinance update for 7:30 p.m., June 13;
• Removed the proposed Sign Ordinance from the agenda because it is not ready to be presented; and
• Heard Commissioner Renaud say he is glad for the Davenport development, but, “I hope we don’t steal businesses off Main Street to go to the new development.
By Rosemary K. Otzman