Bil-Mar zoning change to aid in renovation

Alex Doty • Jan 12, 2018 at 10:00 AM

A change in zoning for the Bil-Mar property along Harbor Drive is expected to help developers in their quest to remodel the site.

The Grand Haven Planning Commission recently considered a request from Noto’s Old World Dining for a zoning change for the property from Waterfront District to Planned Development District, along with approval of a preliminary development plan for an expansion of the former Bil-Mar restaurant at 1223 S. Harbor Ave.

The current use of the property as a restaurant doesn’t conform to city zoning rules, and the site can’t be expanded under its current zoning designation. In an effort to preserve the presence of a restaurant on the beach, and allow for modernization and expansion of the building, the new owners are pursuing approval of a planned development.

“(The commission) unanimously recommended approval of that planned development,” said the city’s community development manager, Jennifer Howland.

In a recent Tribune article, it was revealed that a problem with the roof required that it be removed and replaced. The construction manager on the project said other plans for the restaurant include a small kitchen and bathroom by the outside deck, moving the kitchen and bar, removing part of the ceiling and installing a chandelier, adding an outdoor deck suitable for many types of weather, and opening up the floor plan and the view.

City officials say the use will be the same as what’s existing on the property, and therefore it is not expected to create a change in impact to the neighborhood as would a new building with different uses. The restaurant will also preserve the public access to the site, as opposed to a private residential use where only a few would benefit from it.

The city notes that developers have been in contact with the Highland Park Association, and they are in support of the direction the project is taking.

The item now heads to City Council for review and approval.

With council’s approval of the preliminary development plan and rezoning, the applicant can then bring a final plan forward to the Planning Commission. That plan will include the level of detail expected from a traditional site plan review. The project will also require a Sensitive Areas Overlay Review by the Planning Commission, which will take place as part of the final development plan approval.

The Bil-Mar structure was built in 1888 and served as a bathhouse where people could rent wool bathing suits. In the early 1900s, it was a grocery store for Highland Park residents. The upstairs once housed 12 rooms.

Russ Baltz started the restaurant in the 1940s. It was named for his children, Bil and Margo.

Longtime owner Howard Meyer sold the waterfront property last fall to the Noto family, owners of Noto's Old World Italian Dining restaurant in Cascade. The new owners plan to open Noto's at the Bil-Mar on the site this coming spring.

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