By Rosemary K. Otzman
It looks like Joseph Nasser is finally getting his wish.
For more than 10 years Nasser has been seeking permission from Van Buren Township officials to upgrade his tiny Clark gas station on the corner of Hull and Sumpter roads.
At the township board’s April 15 meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the first reading of an amendment to the township zoning ordinance for a Rezoning with Conditions. There was no discussion on the subject.
After the second reading of the ordinance, presumably at the township board’s May 6 meeting, the approval will be finalized.
That rezoning is for about 1.01 acres also known as 15400 Sumpter Road. It will be rezoned from C (local business) that doesn’t allow a gas station to C-1 (general business) that does.
In 2006 the state authorized a new form of rezoning — Rezoning with Conditions — where the applicant restricts allowed uses on the property in perpetuity through a contract with the township.
Nasser prepared a contract and the VBT Planning Commission voted unanimously on Jan. 22 to recommend its approval by the township board. It finally got to the board for action three months later.
Nasser will have to come back to the planning commission for site plan approval.
The Clark gas station was built in 1967 and is 400 square feet on 1.01 acres.
Nasser bought the place in 2003 and has been asking the township for permission to upgrade it ever since. The township always said no.
The size was a problem, so he tried to buy some of the farmland surrounding the station, but was unsuccessful.
In 2000 the township changed the previous zoning that allowed a gas station there (C-1, general business) to a zoning that doesn’t (C local business). That put the site into non-compliance and while he could continue to operate, if the place burned down he couldn’t rebuild a gas station.
At a public hearing Jan. 23, 2013, Nasser said VBT Planning and Economic Development Director Bryce Kelley told him to wait until the South Side Master Plan was done in 2010, so he did. Then, Kelley left his position.
Kelley’s successor Dan Swallow “had compassion” according to Nasser and said to go through Wayne County, so he did and got plot approval from the county and a sewer permit from the county and VBT.
After a 2009 public hearing, Swallow said he would confer with Nasser to see if he wants to move forward with a rezoning request with conditions, but Rezoning with Conditions was not mentioned at the early 2013 public hearing.
But, that’s exactly what brought his success – the Rezoning with Conditions provision that was signed into law in Michigan in 2006.
Nasser and the present VBT Director of Planning and Economic Development Arthur Mullen brought the 6-page request to the planning commission, which unanimously approved it on Jan. 22 after a public hearing the month before.
It then went to the township attorney for review and got to the board for approval on April 15.
Nasser’s Rezoning with Conditions proposed seven conditions, including paving from the middle of Sumpter Road west for 210 feet of Hull Road along the north border of the gas station property; building a gabled roof building made of brick and stone all around the present building, matching the fire station design across the street; closing the north driveway on Sumpter Road to leave just one curb cut on Sumpter; leaving the gas canopy in its current location; and stating the location is only going to be a gas station/convenience store site — forever.
Carol Kuzara, a backdoor neighbor to the property, spoke against Nasser’s plan, as she has every time he has come up with a plan for the project over the years.
She said she believes the interpretation of the state law on Rezoning with Conditions is that the conditions need to be more strict.
“I have been burned severely by the township on the property next to me … and this becomes another thorn in my side,” Kuzara said.
At the public hearing Dec. 11, Kuzara went over the items in Nasser’s plan and commented on each provision, including reduced setbacks.
She said friends feel the township is going to do whatever it wants to do and she is wasting her time in opposing this.
“I’m idealistic, sentimental,” Kuzara said, adding she wants to fight having to move out of Van Buren Township.
“I hate to think what the township would look like if we all chose our own setbacks,” Kuzara said.
Also at the Dec. 11 hearing, Judy Bell, who runs a rose farm on Hull west of the gas station, said she has no objection to Nasser putting up an improved building. She said the township is going to need businesses, especially if “those Visteon bonds have to be paid.”
Bell said Nasser has a well-maintained gas station in Sumpter Township and he is willing to put up a building that will be an asset to the Van Buren community.
At that Dec. 11 public hearing, Nasser thanked planning consultant Sally Hodges and Mullen: “You got me this far and that’s very far for me…”
At the April 15 meeting, Nasser arrived a few minutes late and did not witness the board finally approving his rezoning. He told the board he called the township hall to find out what time the meeting was and he said he was told it was 7:30 p.m. It actually started at 7 p.m.
Also, Director Mullen was reportedly “stuck in traffic” and so was late for the meeting. Supervisor Linda Combs filled in and presented the item on the agenda. Trustee Jeff Jahr noted that the item was discussed in some detail at a work study meeting some weeks ago, so there was no discussion on the project. Work-study meetings are not cablecast.
During its 29-minute meeting on April 15, the board also:
• Heard Supervisor Combs compliment Clerk Leon Wright for being appointed a member at large to the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) board, serving until Dec. 31, 2016;
• Heard Timothy King of Ypsilanti Township explain his dream of having a state-funded memorial to honor the Willow Run Bomber Plant and those who worked there. He asked the board to support his project as other boards have done and to sign his petition to the governor asking for the funds. He said it is not political and Democrats and Republicans are working together and it has been endorsed by the Willow Run Tea Party Caucus, as well. Supervisor Combs said she has his name and number and would get back to him.
• Heard John Delaney point out that EQ is being sold to US Ecology and he wondered if the new owner would honor the host agreement EQ made a few years ago which involves Beck Fields. He said the new owners of Visteon Village (now Grace Lake Corporate Center) haven’t maintained the public trails. Combs said she has been assured all EQ agreements will be honored and the new owner at Grace Lake, Sovereign Partners, said it would maintain those trails; and
• Heard Reg Ion thank everyone who took part in the recent basketball game to benefit St. Vincent DePaul. He said about $6,000 was raised. Ion said 53 police and fire fighters from the tri-community participated. Ion also asked about the fence that is still missing on the Ecorse Service Drive. He said cars are driving across that area to get on Ecorse Road. He also pointed out that the corner of Beck and Ecorse is a high-accident area and the towing company doesn’t pick up the broken bumpers, aluminum rim pieces and other things which are left on the roadway. She said the towing company will be contacted. Although Ion said he had called County Commissioner Kevin McNamara about the missing fence, it has not been replaced. Combs said she will call McNamara “on your behalf.”
By Rosemary K. Otzman