By Rosemary K. Otzman
“It would be a major turnaround to that part of the community if it works out the way we think,” said Belleville Councilman Tom Fielder at the end of Thursday’s city planning commission meeting.
He referred to the presentation by Sam Kassab, who sought site plan approval for upgrades to the building he owns at 510-524 Main Street, at the gateway to the city. He called his project Lake Plaza.
Councilman Fielder, who spoke from the audience, said he especially liked the way Kassab planned entrances to retail establishments from the parking lot that abuts the building. Kassab plans to pave the site of the former laundromat for additional parking.
“We’ve talked for years about off-street parking,” Fielder said. “… I compliment whoever did it … It looks great.”
After a brief presentation of a rendering of what the building would look like and plans of how the business space would be developed inside, Planning Commission Chairman Steve Jones told Kassab he, for one, needed more details.
Jones said he would like more concrete examples of the colors Kassab plans to use and details on the materials, awnings, greenery, and other items.
“Too many things are not decided,” Jones said.
Later Jones said that at a future meeting when Kassab comes back with samples of the stone he wants to use and other items, the commission could approve the site plan.
Commissioner Michael Hawkins noted Kassab said he wanted to work on the inside of the building in the winter and Kassab said that was true.
Keith Boc, director of the city’s Department of Public Service, said Kassab doesn’t need planning commission approval to begin work inside.
Kassab said when he built in the past, there was always a change in the colors as the project progressed.
“The visual is so important,” stressed Commissioner John Juriga, urging Kassab to bring in a sample of the stone he plans to use on the outside of his building.
Jill Bahm of Clearzoning, the city’s planning consultant, prepared a summary of findings on his project, with six conditions that he needed to follow.
She suggested the commission discuss with Kassab his use of split face concrete masonry units versus half-high concrete “c” bricks on the west elevation, as well as the treatment of the south elevation (Main Street).
She cited standards in the zoning ordinance applying to buildings in the B-2 district.
Bahm reported Kassab is planning to renovate an existing 14,563-square-foot retail center on Main Street. No additions to the building are taking place. The building has 110 feet of frontage on Main Street, with the western frontage of the building facing the site’s parking area.
“It appears that most of the improvements will be to the western elevation, which will greatly enhance the building and entrance to downtown from the west,” Bahm wrote, pointing out this was the gateway to the city.
“The stone elements will add architectural interest…” she wrote. “It appears that an awning or canopy will be added along the west elevation.”
She suggested the commission discuss with Kassab the opportunity to improve the entire site by expanding and improving the parking area towards Liberty Street and to consider placing the Phase 2 building on Main Street.
Kassab’s plans show a new retail building at the site of the longtime home of the late Bob Doane on Liberty.
But Kassab said Phase 2, which includes redoing the parking lot, may not be done for several years. He explained he was having some financial difficulty with tenants who were going to be in the building, but now have pulled back.
When he was questioned on the parking lot, Kassab said he would just pave where the laundromat had stood and smooth out the rest of the lot which one planning commissioner had compared to a “war zone” because of all the holes.
When Kassab was questioned about whether he was putting a new roof on the building, he said he would put one right over the existing roof. He said the roof was new 10 years ago and it was supposed to be good for 25-30 years.
Architect David Jajjoka said Kassab wants to repair the roof and a new load-bearing wall would be constructed.
Commissioner John Juriga said there have been rumors of mold in the roof and Kassab said that was just a rumor and that he believes many roofs have mold in them. He said there are always leaks in flat roofs that you can never get away from.
When they were discussing what colors would be used, Kassab was asked about the orange paint on the wall that was damaged in the laundromat fire.
When pushed to say who told him that bright color was all right, he said he asked former Councilwoman Kay Atkins and she said it was OK, but he didn’t want to get her in trouble by saying that.
After Kassab was directed to come back with samples and more details, Chairman Jones said, “It is a good development. It will enhance the downtown.”
The next meeting of the planning commission is 7:30 p.m., Jan. 9.
By Rosemary K. Otzman