Proposed restaurant a no-go after rezoning request fails

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published December 11, 2012


A plan to renovate a former Knights of Columbus hall into a family restaurant was halted in its tracks after City Council opted not to approve a proposed rezoning last month.

Petitioner Diana Toma had requested a conditional rezoning to shift the 2-acre parcel on 15 Mile, near Rhoten, from R-60, one-family residential, to C-1, local convenience business district, to accommodate the project.

Toma intended to renovate the 21-year-old building, adding about 3,300 square feet to the structure’s existing 3,500-square-foot footprint. 

In materials presented to council, City Planner Don Mende indicated that a restaurant “would not be completely dissimilar to the previous use.” The Knights of Columbus hall, which was permitted in R-60 under a special approval land use from 1990, was used for meetings, social events, parties, member meals, etc., though it was not open to the public.

Mende noted that the hall is “relatively isolated,” with uses on surrounding properties including condominiums, a pharmacy, an optical facility, a medical center and a church-owned residence on 3 acres.

As a conditional rezoning, the project would have come with a number of conditions offered up by the petitioner, including restriction of the usage to a restaurant; specific hours of operation; prohibition of outdoor food service and music; and a set timeline for plan approval, permit acquisition and completion.

Toma originally appeared before the Planning Commission in September, requesting a conventional rezoning, but after discussion — including Mende’s warning that a rezoning without ties to a specific agreement and site plan could leave the area susceptible to future development of, in an extreme case, a strip mall — commissioners postponed it.

The proposal re-emerged on the October agenda as a conditional rezoning, at which time the commission voted to recommend approval to City Council.

The plan would have required a pair of variances involving setbacks on the south side and the waiver of screening requirements on the north and south sides. 

Resident Geoff Gariepy spoke against the project at the Nov. 4 City Council meeting, contesting that the existing landscaping was sufficient enough to qualify as a green belt for screening purposes.

He and resident Jeff Norgrove also theorized that the restaurant could end up becoming a noise nuisance for the nearby neighborhood, considering the proposed late operating hours.

At the October Planning Commission meeting, nearby resident Tom Zager said he was worried about spot rezoning, with a muddle of parcels of different classifications in one area, and noted the existence of 13 Middle Eastern restaurants already within a 1 1/2-mile radius.

Sue Nairn agreed, noting that members of her homeowners’ association were “very upset” about the proposed rezoning.

“Our area’s a highly intense area, with traffic, with businesses, with foreclosed homes,” she said. “We don’t want any more spot rezoning. There’s no reason for this. It would be easier on the neighborhood if we didn’t have such an intense use.”

Councilman Joseph Romano made a motion to approve the rezoning “for the sake of conversation” during council’s Nov. 4 meeting, but the motion failed without even progressing to a vote, due to lack of a second. 

As of late November, Toma said she and the other partners were still weighing their options in the wake of the denial.

“I’m not sure what our step is going to be,” she said.