Esky apartment plan tabled

Jenny Lancour | Daily Press
Site plans for a four-story, 45-unit apartment and retail complex in downtown Escanaba are presented during Thursday’s planning commission meeting by Architect Chad Grinwis, at left, of Hooker/De Jong Architects and Engineers, and Craig Patterson, representing the project’s developer, Bay de Noc Limited Dividend Housing Association.

Jenny Lancour | Daily Press Site plans for a four-story, 45-unit apartment and retail complex in downtown Escanaba are presented during Thursday’s planning commission meeting by Architect Chad Grinwis, at left, of Hooker/De Jong Architects and Engineers, and Craig Patterson, representing the project’s developer, Bay de Noc Limited Dividend Housing Association.

ESCANABA — A proposal to build an apartment and retail complex in downtown Escanaba was tabled Thursday by the city planning commission, which will reconsider the project’s site plan if adjustments are made.

Bay de Noc Limited Dividend Housing Association is proposing to construct a $9.5 million four-story, 13,844-square-foot structure on the 1400 block of Ludington Street at the former Northern Motors property. The complex would include 45 low- to moderate-income apartments with retail and lobby space on part of the first floor.

Following public comments from six individuals and discussion by planning commissioners, the board reached a split vote when acting on a motion to approve the site plan for the project. The motion included a condition that details would be added regarding parking, utilities and green space.

Commissioners present at Thursday’s meeting who voted in favor of the motion were Chairperson Kel Smyth, Vice-Chairperson Christine Williams and Brian Black. Commissioners opposing the motion were Paul Caswell, Craig Gierke and James Hellerman.

Following the failed motion, the commission unanimously agreed to table the site plan request and reconsider it at a later date as soon as possible. Commissioners requested the city review parking requirements and asked the developer to add more green space and provide details on water, wastewater and electric designs.

In accordance with city ordinances, the planning commission was required to hold a public hearing for the public’s review and understanding of the proposed development project.

Public comments regarded how the retail space would be filled, what the crime rate is at the developer’s other apartment buildings, the amount of green space, the look of the building, if parking was adequate, if solar energy is included in the plan, if local labor will be hired for the project, and a concern the apartments would compete with other rental units in the city.

Downtown Development Authority Director Ed Legault said the plan’s number of parking spaces meet requirements, which were decreased in conjunction with Escanaba being certified last year as a Redevelopment Ready Community (RRC).

The RRC certification lets developers know Escanaba has a vision for the future and the city has created a sound foundation for redevelopment, including removing barriers and streamlining processes to be more attractive for economic growth.

Discussion by commissioners Thursday included if there was a demand for low- to moderate-income housing in Escanaba, what the income requirements would be for tenants, the plan’s lack of required green space and parking spaces, and the exterior design of the building.

Williams stated she approved the structure’s look and its historical appearance which Caswell described as looking like a “Soviet block building” and Black said looked like a “gulag.”

Bay de Noc Limited Dividend Housing Association representative Craig Patterson said the building’s exterior was meant to integrate with the historic neighborhood. He added that changes can be made on the design.

Architect Chad Grinwis, of Hooker/De Jong Architects and Engineers, said the exterior look honored the local masonry materials similar to those used in many of the city’s downtown buildings with a two-tone brick color added for more of a modern look.

Regarding the parking issue, Community Development Director Blaine DeGrave said the site plan meets the parking requirements of 55 spaces for the residents. He said he would check on the spaces needed for the building’s commercial use. There are 21 public parking spaces on the block.

Regarding other concerns expressed by the public and commissioners, Patterson said filling the retail space is a risk the developer takes, tenants will be screened very well with credit and criminal checks, there will be no solar energy system, the project will seek to hire local workers, and more green space can be added to the landscape.

Patterson added a market study is being done on the demand for low- to moderate-income housing in the city and the project would not move forward if there is no need. Tenant wages would be approximately $12,000 to $32,000 to meet housing guidelines, he said.

Following Thursday’s meeting, Patterson said the requested adjustments would be made on the proposal to be presented to the planning commission at a later date. He commented it is obvious the commissioners want to make sure the building plans are right.

Patterson also noted approval of the project is needed prior to an April 1 application deadline to file for low-income housing tax credits to help fund the project through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

Grinwis said the project’s goal is to receive the MSHDA tax credit approval in the next funding round with the project completion planned for the spring of 2020.

The developer will also be seeking approval from the city for a payment in lieu of taxes and a municipal services agreement in conjunction with the project.

While describing the proposed project to the planning commission, Patterson said every apartment will be handicapped-compliant, an elevator will be installed in the building, and commercial space on the first floor will include a lobby, office and retail space. The housing association would manage the property, which would be marketed to individuals in the community, he added.

In other business Thursday, commissioners unanimously approved a special land use permit to allow Meijer to construct a 10-unit Tesla Supercharging Station in its parking lot for hybrid electric vehicles.

The planning commission also approved a site plan for the city’s proposed $1.7 million one-megawatt solar generation project to be constructed on six acres to be leased from the Delta County Airport.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net

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