Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

St. Clair Shores City Council approves site plan approval extension

By: Alyssa Ochss | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published March 1, 2024


ST. CLAIR SHORES — At their meeting on Feb. 20, the St. Clair Shores City Council voted 4-2 to extend site plan approval for a proposed multistory, 40-unit condo project at 24101 Jefferson Ave.

The special land use and site plan approval was requested by Jefferson Plaza LLC and presented by Joe Vaglica, the head engineer and architect for the project, during the August 2023 meeting. The same company asked for the extension and no one from the company was there to present at the February meeting.

According to items attached to the Feb. 20 agenda, the prior specifications were to get the proper certifications and clearance reports from the State of Michigan and submit them to council six months after the council approves the agenda item, regardless of whether the development occurs, according to the agenda item.

Over 1,100 tons of soil was removed from the site and transported to a landfill for hazardous waste materials. A report about the “remediation activities and findings” was completed and submitted to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy on Jan. 29, 2024, according to the letter attached to the agenda. A confirmation letter from EGLE was received on Feb. 6, 2024.

Councilwoman Candice Rusie and Councilman John Caron were opposed to the extension. Councilwoman Linda Bertges was excused for the meeting.

The development plan, which included a request for a special land use and site plan approval, was presented before the council in March 2023 and tabled 5-2 with Rusie and Caron opposed. It was brought back to council in August 2023, where it was approved in a 5-2 vote, again with Rusie and Caron opposed.

City Manager Dustin Lent said the project engineer and the city staff met on Jan. 9 to discuss several changes, including those to the water distribution system, the fire suppression system and water service to the building.

“The project engineer was in agreement of the proposed changes and has subsequently submitted revised plans to CDI,” Lent said. “Construction documents were submitted also on Jan. 24 of 2024.”

Lent was not at the August meeting when the plan was approved. He said there was no way for the information to get to EGLE with the organization’s 90-day approval. Once EGLE received it, they had 20 days before they responded, Lent said.

“As when we approved this back on Aug. 21, even if they hadn’t done any of the cleanup or they had all the cleanup ready and submitted, EGLE would not have been able to get the information back in time,” Lent said.

The plan, which includes a four-story building and rooftop lounge area, drew the ire of many residents who lived around the area. Many commented on the agenda item when it came back to the City Council the second time.

At the Feb. 20 meeting, one resident, Rick Zaremski, commented on the agenda item before the council voted on it. He stated that, when he was researching the item for the March meeting, he found information that stated that two of the five underground tanks from the gas station were removed in 1986.

“No record exists of the three remaining tanks ever being removed,” Zaremski said.

He also stated his second issue was that the language in the agenda for the February meeting said the development was four stories with a rooftop deck.

“The previous Planning Commission and City Council meetings have stated the condo was a five-story building with a rooftop clubhouse,” Zaremski said. “Has something changed in the plan?”

He went on to say the clubhouse would increase the height of the building and it should be considered a five-story building instead of a four-story building.

Lent said the requester has cleaned the site, they completed sampling of the entire site and they have radar technology to check for tanks under the site.

There are no remaining tanks according to Lent.

“The state does review all of this as well, so the state will make sure that site is 100% clean,” Lent said.

He added that, if EGLE decides the site is still contaminated, the city will notify the company.

Mayor Kip Walby also said there are no changes to the plan.

Caron said he is a little perplexed.

“The city manager said, well, I wasn’t here. Well, perhaps if he was, he would have brought that that was never going to be possible to meet,” Caron said. “Except that was what the Planning Commission had recommended.”

He went on to say he did have discussions about where the language came from.

“To me, I think for anyone that’s developed large projects and had experience would have known that type of turnaround from EGLE wasn’t going to happen, but they agreed to it,” Caron said. “I’m guessing they would have agreed to anything being said just to get the project.”

St. Clair Shores City Councilman Dave Rubello said he voted for the project months ago and that he’s still for it.

“If it takes an extension to make sure safety and all that is brought to the highlight, I don’t care if it would take a year,” Rubello said.

He went on to say they need this type of housing in St. Clair Shores and that he understands there are residents who are unhappy with the project.

“This is a nice option for housing for people in St. Clair Shores,” Rubello said.