By Rosemary K. Otzman
A roomful of neighbors opposed a proposed rezoning of small parcel on the South I-94 Service Drive to make way for an office building to house Tucker Insurance and two other businesses.
The Van Buren Township Planning Commission held a public hearing at its Sept. 11 meeting and planners heard eight speakers give reasons why the rezoning in their neighborhood shouldn’t take place.
Two letters, one written by Samantha Taylor and one by Catherine Howard on behalf of the neighbors and signed by more than 30 residents, also were in the planning commission packet for the evening.
Planning Commission chairman Carol Thompson explained that the procedure is for the commission to have a public hearing at one meeting and then make the decision at an upcoming meeting.
Tucker is asking for rezoning of about .72 acre of property currently zoned R-1B (Single Family Residential) to C-2 (Extensive Highway Business). This site is at the corner of the I-94 South Service Drive and Dewitt Road, east of Belleville Road.
Architect Wayde Hoppe of Hoppe Design gave a presentation on the proposed project. He explained there are two parcels, with one already zoned C-2. The adjoining parcel on the corner of Dewitt is to hold a storm water detention pond.
The other parcel is planned to hold a 5,700 square foot professional office building, with access from the South Service Drive, away from the curve.
The building, which has a design to fit in with the residential neighborhood, will hold Tucker Insurance in 3,000 square feet of the space and two other businesses in about 2,000 square feet.
Hoppe said the Tucker customers will come in mostly by vehicle and are not expected to come through the subdivision. He said they have been asked to put in sidewalks, as well.
A tree buffer is planned between the office building and the residents, with twice the number of trees required. Hoppe said they will be evergreens and offer a nice buffer. The site will be completely landscaped, with a variety of hedges, he said.
He said it will be a single-story building. There will be a lot of glazing on the building with reverse gables and an attractive entrance with craftsman columns and masonry and wood shakes.
“It will be an attractive building to enhance the community,” Hoppe said.
Then the public got its say.
• Mike Taylor of Jeanette, immediately behind the proposed office building, said he wanted an ecological and environmental impact analysis of the project. While this is an office, the zoning allows other than offices in the future. He said many are concerned and the project will modify the neighborhood and impact land values.
• John Mercurio of Jeanette said there are very limited fire hydrants in the neighborhood and the vacant property had been used to get fire engines into the neighborhood. Also, there is a problem with electrical power since Burger King, Van Buren Health Care and the gas station opened, causing dimming.
• Samantha Taylor of Jeanette, whose husband spoke earlier, said she doesn’t want to look out her back window and see this office, saying it would cause a diminuation of value of their home. She wrote one of the letters to the board and met with residents. She said she noted their concerns in the letter. She said a lot were not comfortable to speak directly to the board and the letter was a way to voice their concerns.
• Joe Denike, who lives on the corner of Dewitt directly across from the property, said he doesn’t like the idea of living across from a retention pond that will dry up, be mucky, attract animals and breed mosquitoes.
• Ernie Tozer of Hannan Road had a procedural question. He said the public was told the township has to amend the master plan before rezoning and he asked if this would be spot zoning since it’s outside of the master plan.
• Another neighbor said he has lived directly behind the property since 1974 and has been using the easement and cutting the grass because the property owner had let it grow. He said five or six residents have back gates and now they won’t be able to use the easement. He said it was him understanding there was a small easement there.
Arthur Mullen, VBT Director of Planning and Economic Development, said he will look to see if there’s an easement there. Later, Hoppe said their survey didn’t show an easement.
• Catherine Howard of Jeanette said she went to Tucker with her questions and this is the third set of plans, with other plans calling for nothing on the corner and three site buildings. She criticized the changing plans and asked for a meeting for neighbors to sit down with Tucker and VBT officials to discuss the plans. She named a list of her concerns and stood directly in front of the commission with a microphone in one hand and several papers to show the commission in her other hand.
Chairman Thompson said, in reply to Howard’s criticism of the plan changes, “It’s called a development because plans are being developed.”
Howard asked to be informed of all staff meetings on this issue.
“We want to keep our community nice, safe, and quiet,” Howard said.
• Howard Nugent of Dewitt said his concerns were the retention ponds: “two big holes in the ground in a residential area.”
Hoppe answered questions that had been raised and said primarily the county put the requirement in for retention ponds.
“Nobody likes them. Nobody likes to use up their land for ponds,” Hoppe said, after explaining how they work.
He said he and Tucker would be glad to sit down with residents to discuss the project.
The planning commission then discussed the plans for construction of an AutoZone store, just south of Meijer, and then approved preliminary site plan approval.
Wesley Berlin, civil engineer consultant and project designer for AutoZone, said the construction will bring long-term employment opportunities for the area. He said AutoZone is projecting very good sales for this site.
Of the 21-acre site, the AutoZone will be on 1.5 acres.
A south drive from Belleville Road, where the new traffic light is planned to be installed, will connect with a north-south drive to the Meijer’s parcel. This layout is similar to the Walmart store area.
He said the design of the new building is one that AutoZone has “really spruced up” and there will be sidewalks all around the building. The site has an underground stormwater detention system which empties into a pipe on Belleville Road.
Engineering consultant David Nummer said the driveway is being constructed now and the traffic light can’t be put in place until the drive is constructed. The light is expected to be installed in the spring.
By Rosemary K. Otzman