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Grosse Pointe City

July 9, 2013

Village regulations to be clarified, amended

Plans call for continued emphasis on retail in district

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Although City leaders continue to disagree about the amount of retail that should be required in the Village, officials are expected to clarify and revise requirements in the Central Business District, or C-2, at the City Council meeting at 7 p.m. July 15.

The changes come in the wake of a proposal — ultimately denied by the City Council — for a variance that would have resulted in the creation of two small retail spaces on Kercheval and the addition of medical offices and facilities for St. John Providence Health System, which had hoped to take over the old Borders building and use about 80 percent of that structure for medical services, such as testing and physical therapy.

“We wanted to respond to the comments we received” from businesses and during the master planning process, said City Planner John Jackson, of McKenna Associates, during a June 17 City Council meeting.

As proposed, the zoning changes would include allowing dance studios and fitness or health clubs to occupy what are now only classified as office spaces. Dance and fitness facilities are currently restricted to basements or upper floors in the Village.

The zoning would also be clarified to include language allowing for office use on the first floor of a Village building with frontage on St. Clair or Notre Dame, “provided such use is no closer than 60 percent of the building depth or 60 feet, whichever is greater to Kercheval.”

Office uses — which, if approved, would now include fitness clubs and dance studios — would still be allowed on the first floor of a Village structure with Kercheval frontage as long as the building was at least 80 feet deep and this non-retail use was confined to the back 40 percent of the building depth or the rear 40 feet, whichever was greater.

The amount of office space permitted could be modified by the Planning Commission as long as the project received special approval and it was found that “such modification is consistent with the general intent of maintaining active and vibrant ground floor retail space” and “such modification shall result in a viable retail user occupying the resulting building frontage,” according to the proposed revised zoning language. The developer would be required to identify the retail tenant at the time of application — something that wasn’t required when St. John officials approached the City with their plan.

“The intent here, with these standards, is to not end up with speculative space in the front of the building,” Jackson said, saying that the revisions do still “grant some degree of flexibility” for more uses.

Screening requirements between residential and nonresidential uses would also be clarified to indicate that a 4- to 6-foot-tall ornamental masonry wall would need to be placed on the property line between these two uses. Jackson said as written now, the ordinance requires a fence on the setback line.

“That’s just not consistent with normal use when you’re screening,” he said.

City Council member Andrew Turnbull said he didn’t believe the Village could attract a retailer for a 20,000 square foot space, given the community’s relative isolation, with Lake St. Clair on one side and Detroit bordering the Grosse Pointes on another two sides. As a recent public safety consolidation report demonstrated, part of the portion of Detroit bordering the Pointes includes blocks of largely empty homes.

“I’d love to see a Jacobson’s for the home, a large national or local retail anchor tenant, but I can’t see what would motivate someone to come in … and spend (millions to renovate the existing Village spaces),” Turnbull said, noting that there are currently two large vacancies in the district left by the former Borders and Ace Hardware stores. “I still think we’ve got to be more flexible (in our zoning regulations).”

“I would disagree with you,” countered City Council member Jean Weipert. She said that those buildings have only been vacant within the last three of her 52 years. She said they only have a three-block district to work with, and have to keep that in mind when making changes.

“If we lose that commitment to retail, then it’s going to be gone and we will never get it back again,” she said.

Jackson agreed with Weipert and said the City has made changes in the last decade to allow for more uses in the Village. For example, residential uses were once forbidden within the business district, but they’ve now been incorporated in certain areas, he said.

Retail, said Jackson, “is a huge ingredient … that’s part of a successful downtown.”

Mayor Dale Scrace said this would mark the fourth modification of Village zoning rules they’ve made in recent years based on discussions about allowing more uses in the district.

“I think this is another step in that direction (to increase flexibility),” Scrace said of the latest set of proposed changes.

City Council member Christopher Boettcher said he and Turnbull weren’t saying they didn’t want to see any retail requirements — just that they wanted the City to be more open to smaller percentages of retail use in buildings.

“Don’t lose the retail look in the front … but I think we have to maybe ease up a little bit on the percentages,” he said.

Ed Nakfoor, the recently appointed marketing consultant for the Village, urged City officials to retain their commitment to retail.

“I believe there are no shortage of retailers that look to communities like Grosse Pointe to open (stores). … I think there’s an opportunity here,” he said.

What they need to do is actively recruit the kinds of retailers they’d like to see, said Nakfoor. That’s something the new The Voice of the Village organization appears to be doing, having sent representatives to a recent retail convention in Las Vegas to market the district. The Village could use some aesthetic improvements overall, from renovating old facades to cleaning dirty awnings, Nakfoor said. As it stands now, he said there’s “not a lot of shopping to be had in the Village.” All the same, the district — and its patrons — have great appeal for retailers.

“There are retailers who look to Grosse Pointe as an attractive market,” Nakfoor said. And he added that retailers “all want to see more retail and better retail” in the Village. Nakfoor said he’d like to see the Village expand “up and out.”

The City Council meets in the municipal court adjacent to City Hall, 17147 Maumee. For an agenda, visit www.grossepointecity.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.