Zoning board still has questions; tables Dairy Treat appeal

Alexander Sinn • May 16, 2019 at 4:00 PM

After hearing legal arguments and dozens of public comments Wednesday regarding the Dairy Treat condominium development, the crowd overflowing Grand Haven City Hall left without knowing the future of the project.

The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted 4-0 to table the issue until its June 19 meeting, hoping a report from city staff can clear up some lingering questions.

The seven-member board shrank to four, as ZBA members Ryan Cummins, Amy Kozaneck and Bill Hohmeyer recused themselves due to conflicts of interest. They watched the packed meeting from the hallway as hours of debate ensued regarding the path forward for the project, which entails a three-story building with a new Dairy Treat ice cream shop and parking on the ground floor, and four condo units above.

In March, the city’s Planning Commission voted 6-1 to approve the site plan, but next-door neighbor Rick Grasman filed an appeal of the decision, which was sent to the ZBA. Grasman has railed against the project on social media, saying its design doesn’t fit the neighborhood character outlined by city guidances.

Grasman’s attorney, Benham Wrigley, argued before the zoning board that the designs for the development do not fit the “spirit and intent of the Waterfront District properties,” which he said intend for the district to be the “front porch of the community.” He called the proposed building a “monolithic Berlin Wall” for its placement close to the sidewalk. The proposed building extends to the sidewalk on South Harbor Drive at the corner of Lafayette Avenue, while the building is set back 15 feet from the road on Lafayette.

Several residents, including neighbors, cited concerns for traffic safety with the new parking area, and the downsizing of trash disposal from two dumpsters to three residential bins.

Developer David Ten Cate, who partnered with the Dairy Treat owners to form Rock Pile Development, called the appeal “emotional,” saying the Planning Commission’s decision should be upheld.

“I would argue that emotions have no place in these deliberations,” Ten Cate told the ZBA. “What you need to look at is what’s in the plan and does it comply with the Zoning Ordinance — and it does.”

Ten Cate explained that the developers approached Grasman over a year ago to discuss a design that would be amenable to the neighbor at 212 S. Harbor. Ten Cate said Grasman “walked out” of the collaboration, believing it could not go through without his involvement.

Benham refuted this version of events, saying the developers offered to sell the property to Grasman, who declined. “Now we’re at war,” the attorney said.

Developers said a rendering of the project circulated by opponents appeared “photoshopped.” Community Development Director Jennifer Howland said a current rendering does not exist for the project, as one is not required by the city for a site plan review. Howland said previous renderings do not reflect green space and picnic tables along the Lafayette side of the building, where the ice cream serving window will be located.

Local officials including Mayor Geri McCaleb, Board of Light & Power Trustee Gerry Witherell and Downtown Development Authority board member Sharon Behm all voiced support for the project.

“All of the development that’s happened along Harbor Drive has created controversy,” the mayor said, adding that parking and traffic are currently not ideal at the site. “This is nothing new.”

While the appointed ZBA needs four votes to overturn a Planning Commission decision, a separate motion to uphold the decision would require a 3-1 vote, city attorney Ron Bultje explained, as the decision would not be “substantive.” 

ZBA member Melanie Riekels said questions remain about parking safety and trash removal, while Chairwoman Mischelle Julien agreed she has concerns for public safety issues at the corner.

“If it’s not in the best interest of the community, then we have a bigger issue,” Julien said.

Howland said the city’s Zoning Ordinance does not have minimum-size requirements for trash receptacles. The setback for the building is determined by the retail use on the ground floor, she said.

Grand Haven Department of Public Safety officials were involved throughout the review process, Howland added, and did not raise any concerns.

The city’s Zoning Ordinance is currently undergoing a review process that will have opportunities for public input.

“Give public input on ordinances,” Julien said. “That’s the only way they’re going to get changed. You live here. This is your community. Get involved.”

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