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Township hopes 'BIZ' will boost Brown Road

August 04, 2010 - They're calling it BIZ, and the Orion Township Planning Commission held an "informal open house" July 21 to introduce it: The proposed "Brown Road Innovation Zone."

The idea, planning commission chairman Doug Zande told those who attended, is to make zoning regulations more attractive to potential developers.

"When we redid the master plan last year, one key focus was (to identify) an area where mixed-use zoning could be implemented," Zande said. "We decided on Brown Road, roughly between Baldwin and Joslyn."

According to planning consultant Don Wortman, on hand to present the proposal, the plans allow for "very flexible and very liberal" use of land in the study area.

Included, he said, Included in the proposal, he said, is the stretch along Brown Road, with sections on Joslyn, extending almost to Judah, as well as existing residential areas closer to Baldwin Road on Huston, Georgia, and Estes.

Wortman estimated about 50 homes in the residential area.

"It's a good portion of the southern part of township," he said. "It's the whole area south of the gas transmission line."

Currently, many parcels in the area are vacant, for sale, or underutilized, Wortman said, noting he counted about a dozen for-sale signs along the stretch of Brown Road last week.

"Its clearly evident many property owners are trying to do something with these parcels," he said.

But it's not the first time the township has tried to rescue the area.

The Brown Road Overlay zone, established in 2002, fell far short of the hopes it created.

Officials hoped for development of hi-tech research and industrial office space similar to what's found on Harmon Road in Auburn Hills. It never came.

"We had a downturn in the economy and about the time this got going, the economic factors didn't materialize," he said. "The 2009 Master Plan recognized that, and we did a lot of soul searching on the area, and again tried to determine the best use."

But residents who attended the meeting had a somewhat different recollection.

"It's not the economy that caused this problem," said Brown Road resident Sharon Kosiba, noting she and her husband lost out big in 2002. "Walmart was ready. They would have taken (our land) in a heartbeat. But nope, it wouldn't happen. You guys wouldn't even consider it, and look where we sit now."

The big-money offers – any offers, really – stopped coming a long time ago.

"They don't want it now," Kosiba continued. "It's too late. No one's going to invest that kind of money now. All these stores are backing off because they can't afford to build new places."

And residents weren't the only ones to lose a bundle, she pointed out.

"You guys would have had a lot of (tax) money in your coffers," she said.

Building officials claim they sent about 160 notifications of the meeting, but only a small handful of residents showed up to offer comments.

Still, officials hope the changes, if approved, will address current economic realities and allow for the exploration of flexible zoning policies, economic development, and redevelopment

"What is proposed would be a total abandonment of those current zoning classifications and restrictions for this area," Wortman said. "Instead what we're proposing is flexible zoning arranged by…use groups."

Rather than focusing on permitted, he said, the plan calls for identification of prohibited uses:

"We don't want to see junk yards, asphalt plants etc," Wortman said. "If there is to be industry, it should be a cleaner type industry."

The proposal also allows for "a whole array of commercial uses, ranging from small scale retail, large format retail, drive through restaurants, sit down restaurants, virtually all types of commercial uses would be allowed. Same thing with office uses industrial uses."

The planning commission will meet with the township board Wednesday, Aug. 4, at the regular planning commission meeting, to address the issue at a joint workshop.

Watch The Review for updates.

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