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December 11, 2013 - Raven Engineering, Inc. received a warm reception from the Oxford Village Planning Commission last week as the company discussed the possibility of purchasing 98 S. Glaspie St. and moving its headquarters there.

"I'm very much in favor of it," said Commissioner Sue Bossardet, who also serves on the village council. "I think it's a wonderful thing."

"This is a great fit for a small community like this," said Commissioner Jack Curtis, who also serves on both the township board and township's planning commission. "And (I) would welcome you to come."

"I would hope that you'd pursue it," said Commissioner John DuVal.

Currently located at 3270 Adventure Lane in Oxford Township, Raven Engineering is exploring the feasibility of buying the 3.58-acre former industrial site and rehabilitating the 21,720-square-foot building that sits on it.

The village has owned 98 S. Glaspie St. since March 2006 when it closed on its $700,000 purchase of the property. It bought the site with the hopes of protecting the nearby municipal water supply from potential contamination and possibly expanding Scripter Park.

In November 2012, village residents voted 1,069 to 521 to grant the municipality the authority to sell it.

Raven, a light manufacturer of balancing/gauging equipment and driveline-related components, is looking for additional space to better accommodate its current needs and allow for continued growth.

"We've moved three times in the last seven years because of our business expanding," said Lee Petrimoulx, corporate sales and marketing executive for Raven.

Petrimoulx told commissioners at this point, Raven is "tired of moving" and likes the idea that 98 S. Glaspie St. offers land to expand. He said he could see the company possibly needing 40,000 square feet of space in the next 10 to 15 years.

However, in order for Raven to make the village site work, two big things need to happen – 1) the village council has to agree to sell the property to the company; 2) the property needs to be rezoned from single-family residential to industrial.

Commissioners discussed the idea of potentially rezoning the property on a conditional basis.

Basically, Raven could request the village rezone the property and give the municipality a list of conditions which the company would have to abide by.

The village could then approve or reject the proposed rezoning and its conditions, but it can't impose its own conditions; they must come from Raven.

"That's technically how it works. That's how the process will work," said village Planner Chris Khorey, of the Northville-based McKenna Associates. "From a practical standpoint, we will sit down and have a discussion with them informally before they formally submit the conditions, just so everyone's on the same page."

Conditions could cover areas such as noise, outdoor storage, hours of operation and truck traffic, according to Khorey.

Khorey noted one of the conditions could be that if Raven ever sells the property, the new owner must abide by the same conditions or else the industrial zoning is void and the property reverts back to residential.

Curtis suggested there could even be a condition that if Raven ever sold the property, it would automatically revert back to residential zoning.

Khorey said that type of condition could hinder Raven's ability to sell.

Petrimoulx explained the real value of this property is linked to light industrial use, not residential. He said the cost of demolishing the existing building would be more than the property's worth as a residential piece.

Conditional zoning is not currently covered under the village zoning ordinance.

"Every other process that the planning commission goes through is spelled out specifically in the zoning ordinance, in terms of the process that's supposed to happen, in terms of the standards for approval, etc." Khorey told this reporter.

"But there's nothing about conditional rezoning in there because conditional rezoning is relatively new. It didn't use to be legal. It didn't used to be something you could do under state law. Now, you can."

Khorey said the village is permitted to grant conditional zoning under state law, however, there's only a half-page of guidelines.

"There's not much guidance in terms of what are the criteria that the planning commission and village council should use when determining whether to approve it," Khorey told this reporter.

He suggested the village could draft some specific language and adopt it as part of the municipal ordinance.

A public hearing regarding the establishment of standards for conditional zoning is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7. The public notice is located to the right on this page.

Curtis expressed his concern about Raven's ability to rehabilitate the existing facility at 98 S. Glaspie St. given its extremely poor condition.

"That building is a toilet," he said. "I wouldn't put my machinery in that building."

Pertimoulx indicated that Raven is up to the challenge. "We've been in a couple (buildings) already that make this one look pretty sweet," he said.

If Raven is able to make a deal with the village, Petrimoulx said it's the company's intention to "embrace" the history of both the property and the village when renovating and adding on to the existing building.

He believes it would be a "travesty" to convert it into something "very modern" that "doesn't fit in" with the rest of the village.

"We don't really have any intentions of doing that," Petrimoulx said.

For instance, Petrimoulx assured that Raven would either preserve or move the Smith silo located on the site.

Smith silos are a part of Oxford history.

Founded in 1906 by Hiram Smith, inventor of the concrete stave silo, the Smith Silo Company sold its first one in 1909.

Smith's son, Warren Smith, expanded the company and built it into one of the best-known concrete silo manufacturers in the Midwest. Under his leadership, the Smith name became synonymous with quality silos.

Smith Silo moved to Oxford in 1930 to be close to its gravel source. The company was located at 98 S. Glaspie St. through the 1970s.

In addition to the Glaspie property, a Smith silo still stands in Seymour Lake Township Park where it's used as a pavilion. A Smith Silo was donated to the Henry Ford museum in 1976.

Bossardet said she'll keep her "warm fuzzy feeling" about Raven's intentions as long as it protects that "little silo."

"I will do everything I can," Petrimoulx said.

Petrimoulx noted that one of the main reasons Raven wants to remain in Oxford is its staff, which consists of 14 full-time and two part-time employees.

He said the company's looked at potential locations in Orion Township and Auburn Hills, but if such a move was made, "we would probably lose 50 percent of our workforce" because many of Raven's employees live in Lapeer, Dryden and North Branch.

"Frankly, we're just not willing to do that," he said. "It means more to us to have the people that we work with (stay) with us than to find a facility somewhere else."

Petrimoulx assured the planning commission that if Raven were to move to 98 S. Glaspie St., it would have a "very minimal" impact in terms of the environment (i.e. no hazardous materials) and on surrounding properties (i.e. minimal noise, truck traffic, etc.).

"We tend to think of ourself as a good neighbor," he said. "We are very considerate of others that are around us."

"In my mind, this (potential use) is far better than it was before (at this site)," said Commissioner Tom Kennis.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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