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Planning Commission nixes Kroger

December 11, 2013 - By Meg Peters

Review Staff writer

The cheering and jeering ended at the Orion Township Planning Commission meeting last week after commissioners voted to recommend denial of constructing a Kroger fueling station.

"This is a neighborhood," Mary Painter, a Keatington subdivision resident told commissioners before they voted. "This is putting a gas station in a neighborhood."

Currently zoned as an RB2 "restricted businesses," the proposal would have allowed a fueling station at the Shops on Waldon Pond plaza through a Planned Unit Development (PUD). In order for it to be built, evidence must demonstrate appropriate traffic control, minimal impact to neighbors and design excellence for the fueling station to be allowed.

"RB2 is intended to be a neighborhood business, a restricted business. RB3 is less restricted, so it (a fueling station) is just not a permitted use," Carol Thurber, Chairwoman to the council said. "RB2 is usually more within or adjacent to a residential neighborhood, so it's kind of like day-to-day shopping needs for residents," she said.

Her first concern, she said, was the zoning discrepancy, while her second main concern was the flow of internal traffic.

"The internal circulation where the traffic uses the gas station would also be using the same drive aisles the patrons of the shopping center would be using," Thurber continued. "People backing out of their parking spaces, people finishing getting their gas driving away on their cell phone and not really paying attention to patrons walking to their cars from the shopping center, I just didn't think the site plan prompted the health, safety and welfare. I just didn't think it was a safe plan," Thurber said.

Owner of Pizzarrific, Mike Becker, said, "I could tell you I've spent many, many nights glaring out my front windows and tell you at least 75 percent of that parking lot is not used."

Kroger's parking lot is more filled, he said, but traffic is light in the north end of the plaza.

The petitioner for Kroger Matt Pisko had met with township officials a number of times prior to submitting revisions to the commission to address concerns that originated at an earlier public hearing in March.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to deny the request on December 4, and will recommend the Township Board of Trustees to do the same when the petitioner brings the site plan back to the township board.

Ultimately the deciding vote is up to the township board.

"I'm not in favor of the Kroger gas station, but I'm not strongly opposed," Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said. "Every time they (Kroger) have come back and fixed the problems that were presented, there are more problems. It's getting to the point where people are saying we just don't want anything," Barnett said.

He doesn't agree with completely abolishing the fueling station, especially since so many businesses have stated they desperately need the business. He is not for advocating and promoting its continued process of revisions, however, and would want to see a great change in the next revision to move forward.

The proposed site has the fueling station in the middle of the parking lot—not in Kroger's parking spaces, but just south of Health Quest, and east of the pond. It would require a small section of the pond to be tore up.

"The other thing we do know is that when Baldwin Rd. widens, the Sonoco that's on the corner of Baldwin and Maybee is going to be torn down never to be rebuilt," Barnett added.

Indianwood Junction at Baldwin and Indianwood has recently torn down their old convenience store in preparation for a new gas station to be built sometime this winter.

"I think this is a big mistake," Robert Lunney of Walmsley Circle said. "Those gas trucks are going to come here whenever they're needed. They're not gonna go 'oh, it's 6 oclock in the evening I can't come out here.' I'm kind of surprised the businesses are so much for it."

Pizzariffic owner Becker thought the station would bring more business for his.

"Right now the climate in Orion Township, especially on that side along Baldwin road, I've been struggling."

Not only will it bring people in that normally wouldn't pull off of Baldwin, but it also would create a multi-tenant marquee which would make people more aware of my business, he said.

"And I think that that is something, because of the sign ordinance that has hurt me greatly is the fact that I do not have a sign out there that states the name of my business. I've been there for five years and still to this day I have people coming in here on a regular basis that mention they didn't even know I existed."

Adding the fueling station would eliminate at least 45 parking spaces in the center of the plaza, which was not the main concern of commissioners.

"Part of me wants to think that the increased flow of traffic, even if they were worried about the parking spots, they might just be happy to have those cars coming in there for the gasoline that they might be getting some additional traffic for those stores," commissioner Dick Christie said, the only voter who recommended the fueling station be constructed. "The balancing test is difficult to me because everyone wants less taxes. You want more business, but you don't want as many people and more traffic, so it's difficult from my perspective," he said.

The old Blockbuster on the other side of Baldwin, which a 7-Eleven was interested in earlier this year, was recently occupied by Dollar General.

"Literally I've had people email me, Facebook message me, call me, talk to me on the street. We don't need another dollar store. That's not what our community wants," Barnett said. "You can never make everybody happy, because now everybody is mad that we have a dollar store. I haven't had one person say, I'm so glad we have a Dollar General."

Just the fact that anything is going in there is good, he added.

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