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December 5, 2012

Planning Commission recommends Wal-Mart construction in Southfield

City Council to study and make decision after New Year

By Jessica Strachan
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Locals pack the house at the Nov. 28 public hearing to speak out on the rezoning and site plan for a new Wal-Mart.
 

SOUTHFIELD — The Southfield Planning Commission voted 5-1 to favorably recommend the construction of a Wal-Mart at 12 Mile and Greenfield roads during a Nov. 28 meeting.

Southfield City Council will now study the proposal and make a formal decision sometime during the beginning of the year, according to City Council President Joan Seymour.

Planning Commission Chair Steven Huntington said that the decision to rezone the property from residential to commercial use was recommended so that area of Southfield may be revitalized.

“Other cities, they are growing and they are building. (They) have learned to adapt to traffic and growth,” he said.

Commissioner Donald Culpepper echoed the same sentiment.

“We know that area needs development,” Culpepper said.

During the more than six-hour meeting, which included a public hearing for residents to voice their concerns about the proposal, the commission first approved a recommendation to council to rezone the property for commercial use, and then a recommendation to move forward with Wal-Mart’s site plan to tear down the existing St. Bede Church and build a 130,124-square-foot supercenter.

Commissioner Roy Bell cast the single vote against rezoning the property to B-3 and against the plan to demolish St. Bede for construction of the Wal-Mart Supercenter. As a longtime resident near the site, he said that regardless of figures that show the intersection being able to handle a heavier traffic flow, the reality is that traffic is too congested as it is.
“I don’t think B-3 is good for this site until major road improvements are made. … B-3 is going to be way too intense for that corner,” he said. 

According to Archdiocese of Detroit officials, the vacant St. Bede property costs about $150,000 to maintain each year. Joe Kohn, archdiocese spokesman, said the costs of utilities, a full-time maintenance worker, recent repairs to the boiler and maintaining property insurance contribute to that figure.

The two tenants of the property, an adult day care and a school for autistic children, account for less than 15 percent of the upkeep costs, he added.

Eric Hingst, Wal-Mart spokesman, said that an estimated 240-270 new jobs would be created with the construction of the Wal-Mart, and up to $350,000 in tax revenue would be generated — one-third of which would be used for the city’s general fund.

City Planner Terry Croad said that commercial use for the site aligns with Southfield’s master plan, and the proposal includes upgraded Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation bus shelters, connected sidewalks from Southfield Road to the front of the store, bike racks and improved traffic signals to maintain a smooth flow of traffic. It’s also meant to be a “green” project.

“If the project moves forward and they tear St. Bede down, part of what we’ve asked them to do is recycle and reuse material from that project. We call that a ‘sensitive teardown,’” he added.

Many Southfield residents voiced concerns about the location and safety at the meeting. Lathrup Village residents and property owners are also major stakeholders in the proposed project, accounting for more than 50 percent of the residents and property owners in the site’s 350-foot radius, according to Matt Baumgarten, assistant to the city administrator.

“Lathrup Village gets the noise pollution, traffic volume, without any benefits of it, like the tax revenue,” he explained.

Croad said that Southfield and Wal-Mart officials are covering all of their bases, and everyone within 700 feet of the site has been contacted about the proposal.

“(Lathrup Village) is concerned about traffic like everyone else,” Croad said. “If we make that area more walkable … and residents want to walk across the street to shop at Wal-Mart, that is a benefit to their residents. If the signals are improved at the intersection, which their residents travel though, they will benefit from it.”

Huntington noted that, if the area is to be redeveloped, traffic is inevitable.

“Whatever goes there will create traffic,” he said.

If the area is not rezoned for commercial use, the Seth Temple Church in Detroit — Michigan’s largest Church of God in Christ — is seeking to purchase the property to house its 400-plus member congregation, according to the Rev. Philip Jackson.

The recommendation to instead rezone for commercial use and build a Wal-Mart at the site, with the condition of limiting hours to 6 a.m. to midnight (with the exception of Black Friday hours), was made by the planning commission, 5-1; Bell voted no.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jessica Strachan at jstrachan@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1108.