Because the property was zoned residential, the only grandfathered commercial uses were those that the 7,000-square-foot building had previously been used for — a flower shop, coffee shop and art gallery.
Tim Boelema, who lives across the street from the building, purchased it two years ago. He told the township board he’s had difficulty leasing or selling the property because prospective tenants and purchasers were uncomfortable committing without knowing if they would be able to use the building for their intended purpose.
That's why Boelema decided to seek rezoning.
“The zoning was a big issue,” he said. “This should help.”
The Planning Commission recommended that the Township Board rezone the property from residential to mixed-use commercial, with the caveat that the Planning Commission have final say on any prospective uses.
“It's progress,” Boelema said. “If somebody has an interest, I can call and ask to be put on the next agenda. It speeds things up. Before, it was at least a 90-day thing and up to $1,000 in fees to do it.
“It's really, really hard on the business,” he added. “People interested in the property would call the township and ask 'what can we do there?' It was R-2 so they could do child care or adult day care.”
Township Manager Gordon Gallagher, Supervisor John Nash and Community Services Director Lukas Hill recently toured the building.
“It's pretty clear that it was build under the premise of commercial — especially on the first floor,” Hill said. “The property back in 2002 received a special land use for the coffee shop and gallery. That special land use is still in place.”
Hill said the conditional rezoning request from Boelema is a tool that the township approved once before — when Harvest Bible Chapel wanted to host church services in the industrial-zoned building operated by the non-profit organization, International Aid.
The Planning Commission having the final say on any future use offers another level of oversight, Hill said.
“The concern was some retail uses may be appropriate in that area and some may not be,” he said. “We want one more level of review to make sure that the use is compatible.”
Township attorney Ron Bultje said the Planning Commission's deciding factor will be if a proposed use is compatible with the neighborhood.
“We want something that's beneficial to the neighborhood, not something that will draw from across the township,” Bultje said. “We want something that will make the neighborhood better and serve the neighborhood.”
Trustee Rick Homan said he would not be in favor of an eating and drinking establishment at the site.
“We don't need another bar,” Homan said. “That road is already a road where traffic speeds heavily. There's a lot of kids in that area. I'm totally against another drinking establishment.”
Boelema said he's had some interest in the building from financial planners and people wanting to lease space to teach classes.
“We're not looking to change the world or change the neighborhood,” Boelema said. “We live next door. We don't want to see too much activity or the wrong thing in there, either.
Prior to the board's 6-0 conditional rezoning approval Monday night, Trustee Jerry Rabideau said he was in favor of the rezoning.
“Right now they're very limited in the use of that building,” he said. “If they don't get any relief from us, they can't do much with that facility.”