August 27, 2014 - A 13-acre parcel from S-E Suburban Estates, located on the east side of Rochester Road and south of Mayfield Lane, could possibly be the site of a new gas station, convenience store and other retail if Addison Township Planning Commission recommends rezoning from residential to C-2 commercial.
A public hearing to discuss the proposal was held Aug. 12 at the Addison Township Complex.
"We want to gather the facts, see what everybody has to say, so we can take those facts, digest them, put them together, make sure they're all correct," Chairman Lawrence Smith told the crowd. "Then on the second meeting we will take all of that put it into the pot, discuss it and then make a decision. There will be no decision tonight."
What's the plan for the property?
According to Timothy Denney, the attorney for Vince Boji, owner of Boji Holdings Group, LLC, the primary proposed use his client has for the property is to construct a gas station/convenience store on the front 13 acres of the 40 acre owned parcel.
"This is not an absentee owner. Mr. Boji would himself operate and own this gas station through this company," Denney explained. "He grew up learning the convenience store business with his family. He has run several convenience stores in small rural areas in Michigan. He knows how to do it successfully and he knows how to do it in a way that respects the rural atmosphere of the community."
Denney said the closest gas station to the south is over five miles away, which would make it a 10 mile trip in order to get gas and the closest station to the north is six miles away.
"I know there has been some concern expressed in written documentation about an empty gas station to the south just across your border (Rochester and Romeo Roads)," he said. "As I understand that situation it's essentially been bought by the competitor on the opposite corner and it's not unusual for a competitor to buy out another busy corner in order to keep any competition out the door. That's not necessarily a lack of demand it's 'I'm not going to bring another competitor in to compete against me.'"
While there is concern from residents surrounding the property (see public comments on Page 6) that a gas station in that location would "take away from rural living," Denney argued "a local gas station does not interfere with rural living. It helps make it financially reachable for folks."
"If you're an elderly person, you don't want to spend $5, just to get to the gas station," he said. "If you're living on limited means, you don't want to have to do that."
As for long-term vision, Denney said his client has expressed the possibility of other uses on the property, such as retail, but he emphasized that "Mr. Boji is not a dumb man."
"He has no intention of seeing how many empty buildings he can create and let stand empty. He is going to build the gas station first and see where things go from there, just like you would expect a reasonable business man to do," he said. "It's probably too much to ask to build all these buildings all at once and then say we'd like to be able to fill them. He understands the sensitivity of the community not to have an empty building"
"Mr. Boji has already told me before he gets to that point that he wants to have letters of intent and say, 'I'm prepared to come into your facility once the certificate of occupancy gets issued,'" Denney added.
Compatibility with township master plan and concerns
According to Denney, the proposed site, does meet the requirement of being located "on a paved major thoroughfare."
"The master plan mentions being near traffic generators, 4-20 acre parcels and obviously Rochester Road is the main traffic generator running through that part township," he said. "It also mentions locating uses near existing commercial centers and obviously we're within a stone's throw from Leonard."
As for uses that surround the property, across the street is a gas plant, which Denney described as a "full peripheral vision."
"You can't even get it in one picture. It's about three or four pictures to get it and I'm not sure if you even get it (all) with that. As you might imagine this property is not well suited for residential development, the frontage at least," he said. "How many people are signing up to stand in front of that gas plant and have that be the complete subtotal of their view to the west? They don't see sunset, they see a gas plant. That does not make a property like that suitable for residential development."
Also around the property are natural gas pipelines with signs that say "caution poisonous gas"
"There are two of those on the property, on the front part," Denney said. "You're not going to find a lot of people who want to put a house in middle of a view that says nothing but gas pipes and then behind you that have piping structures that say 'caution poison gas.'"
He also pointed out that other non-residential uses surround the property as well, such as the concrete stamping plant, which is across the street from Mayfield Lane. As for concern of the subject property being an "eyesore" to neighbors and affecting property values, Denney explained that there is a "huge greenbelt" that surrounds the subject property, where neighbors wouldn't even see the back of the property from their houses.
As far as the one property that does abut the proposed site, Denney said there is a huge line of very mature 20-30 feet tall pine trees that separate the two properties.
"In addition to that there still remains a lot of green belt even on the back end of this property. If there needed to be more that's not a problem," he added. "There is a tremendous amount of greenbelt here, far more than any gas station operation that's been proposed and had a green belt between them and residential."
Concerns of the potential gas station's proximity to the gas plant and pipes will be handled by engineers involved in the project, explained Denney.
"They are more than capable (of designing) this thing to take that into account and provide a safe operation," he said. "Natural gas pipelines are heavily regulated. This will certainly be scrutinized very carefully by the state to abide by all of those rules."
Another concern that Denney has heard mentioned is the smell of gas fumes.
"I've kind of paid close attention over the past month, because I usually walk down to my local gas station at least two or three times a month and I've paid real careful attention to notice this. I can't get more than 15-20 feet away from the pumps and I don't smell anything," he added. "This is not the gas station of old. We have very highly regulated gas stations now and they're essential. You can seriously drive into almost any gas stations and go out of way to smell any fumes from more than 10-15 feet away from the pump and you would be hard pressed to do that. I don't think that's going to be a serious issue."
As for concern of increased vehicular traffic to the surrounding neighborhood, Denney said all access points to the facility will be located off Rochester Road.
"Absolutely none of them are off Mayfield Lane," he said.
In terms of "other available areas," Denney said some of the other areas around the township "seem to be swamp ground" where commercial is zoned and they didn't see how anything could be developed there.
"Some of it seems to be tied up by folks who have an interest in not seeing it developed for commercial to protect their own existing interests," he said. "I understand that, but the law does not look kindly if the township concludes that there are other commercial areas, which in reality really aren't available."
Another issue stated in the township's zoning ordinance is "the necessity of rezoning to avoid exclusion of lawful land uses." Denney noted that state law says that a demonstrating need must make places available for lawful uses.
"According to my calculation and documentation you have provided to us. there are only about 60 acres out of 22,796 in the township that are actually used as commercial. That's one-fifth of one percent," he said. "The master plan projects significant growth in the years to come. Only having one-fifth of one percent of commercial is a tough thing to justify to a court."
While Denney and Boji understand "when new potential business comes along there is a tremendous uproar by any local businessman who thinks these people might even remotely be competitors with them." Denney said the township's master plan "includes a local commercial use as one very important goal and that is 'to provide alternative locations for choice and competition.'"
"You have already made the decision that the best way to serve your residents is making sure there are different locations for businesses so they have a choice and they have competition. Everyone knows what happens when you only have one business can get your business," he said. "Zoning laws were never intended to protect a monopoly."
"Your own master plan says when we're looking to the future, we want to make sure folks have choices," Denney continued. "We want to make sure they have competition because we understand that competition keeps prices down, it gives your residents a choice and you have already committed to (proving) that choice and competition for your residents and that's what this rezoning proposal is all about."
The next meeting will be Sept. 9 at the Addison Township Compliex, located 1440 Rochester Road, starting at 7:30 p.m.
Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.