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 Neighbors complain that there is not enough of a buffer between their homes and a site proposed for rezoning on Nine Mile Road.

Neighbors complain that there is not enough of a buffer between their homes and a site proposed for rezoning on Nine Mile Road.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

Rezoning denied after St. Clair Shores residents voice concerns

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published May 14, 2019


ST. CLAIR SHORES — Complaining that shallow backyards place their houses too close to the property lines and of the increased traffic a restaurant would bring, residents showed up to protest a proposed rezoning of the property at 22980 E. Nine Mile Road, which could have paved the way for a Leo’s Coney Island to locate in the city.

“There’s not an adequate buffer to the neighborhood on Pleasant Street,” JoAnn Rottenbucher told the City Council May 6, explaining that the lots are shallow and the houses are located extremely close to the property line. The street is located immediately south of the parcel and the backyards abut the property.

The property’s current zoning of office, she said, would preserve the tranquility of the neighborhood because of typical operating hours of 9 a.m.-5 p.m. City Planner Liz Koto, however, said that there are no time restrictions on an office zoning, so a medical office or other use could be open during any hours from 6 a.m. to midnight, just like any other zoning classification in the city allows without a special land use permit.

“The noise from the establishment would be an invasion of the neighborhood space,” Rottenbucher said. “A brick wall simply wouldn’t buffer the noise.”

She said it is already difficult to walk or bike ride around the block because of all the traffic leaving the Kroger gas station and other nearby developments; rezoning the parcel to Central Lakefront Development District would allow uses that would just make that worse, she added.

Leo Stassinopoulos, the owner of Leo’s Coney Island, and his attorneys were before the City Council May 6 to request for the property’s zoning to be changed to Central Lakefront Development District, which would allow a restaurant on the premises.

According to the city’s master plan, the land use for the property is specified as being a mixture of retail, restaurants and offices connecting the Nautical Mile with the Nine-Mack corridor.

Robert Rollinger, a Farmington Hills attorney, represented Stassinopoulos at the meeting. He said that since the parcels to the east and north of the property in question are both zoned Central Lakefront Development District, rezoning the property would make it compatible with surrounding land uses.

In addition, he said, “We do not believe (the rezoned parcel) will increase traffic any greater than if maintained with office” zoning. He pointed out that, as it is currently zoned, the property has remained vacant for 20 years.

Residents disagreed and said that there would be increased traffic at Nine Mile and Jefferson.

Local resident Bob Jones said that he has had several near-collisions every time he tries to turn north out of Ram’s Horn.

Ted Huebner said that the intersection of Nine Mile Road and Jefferson Avenue is one of the most congested in the city.

“When I try to exit the Kroger gas station, I have to go out, turn south and make a U-turn to go north,” he said. “There are plenty of vacant spaces on the Nautical Mile. That would be a far better place to put a retail establishment.”

City Attorney Robert Ihrie said that any future litigation would take into account whether the reasons for denial were valid with respect to the public’s health, safety and welfare, and also whether a denial would leave the owner of the property with any viable use of the property in the future.

A protest petition filed to oppose the rezoning meant that a two-thirds vote of the City Council was necessary to approve the change. Councilman Peter Rubino recused himself from the vote because the firm where he works handles business for Stassinopoulos, meaning that five out of the six remaining council members would have to approve the rezoning for it to be approved, according to Ihrie.

Councilwoman Candice Rusie pointed out that the City Council is not allowed to take the identity of the petitioner into account when considering a rezoning, only if the zoning classification would be a good fit for the property.

She said that more than two years ago, the property in question was before the City Council for rezoning to the same classification for a potential Dollar General. Because she supported the rezoning then, she said she still supports the new zoning classification because it is consistent with the master plan.

“That lot’s been vacant for a long time. We have petitioners who want to come and do business in St. Clair Shores,” she said.

Other council members, however, were not in favor of expanding the Central Lakefront Development District beyond the Nautical Mile.

Councilman John Caron said the master plan includes multiple zoning districts that sometimes overlap. He said he feels the mix of uses, which includes office as the property is currently zoned, is needed in the area.

“We’ve seen the increased traffic that (the Kroger gas station) caused over the gas station that was there (east of Jefferson Avenue). Adding a zoning class that would allow for more inflow, outflow traffic ... would definitely impact that area,” he said.

Koto pointed out, however, that traffic will increase at the intersection no matter how the property is developed and no matter the zoning classification, since it is currently a vacant lot.

The council voted 5-1 to deny the rezoning request, with Rusie opposed to the denial and Rubino abstaining from the vote.

“We do have a lot of other properties in other areas close to there that could be developed,” Councilman Chris Vitale said. “I don’t think this is a valueless piece of property. I think there could be development here.

“At this time, I don’t think it’s the right time.”