BG Council OK’s rezoning for apartment complex

Bowling Green Council on Monday approved a much-debated rezoning request for more than 20 acres along South Dunbridge Road, land where a new apartment complex is planned.

Among the issues were concerns that the zoning change did not match up with the vision laid out in the city’s 2014 Future Land Use Plan.

“I think we have discussed needing more people living in this area, and having a need for housing in this area, and this does exactly that,” said Councilman Nick Rubando.

Bowling Green Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee held a public hearing on the matter prior to Monday’s council meeting. It concerned a rezoning request of approximately 20.71 acres located along South Dunbridge Road, just north of 525 S. Dunbridge Road, from A-1 agricultural zoning to R-4 multiple-family residential, high density zoning. Whitson Properties LLC and Cash Waggner and Associates were the applicants. The land is just north of where a new assisted living facility is being constructed.

Bowling Green Planning Commission voted 4-3 to pass this rezoning matter on to council at the Jan. 5 meeting. Nathan Waggner of Cash Waggner and Associates, the civil engineer of record on the project, spoke at that meeting about the planned apartment complex, saying the developer, East Lansing-based Management Resources Development, was proposing a project consisting of eight buildings and 288 units, aimed at young professionals.

The issue of the complex’s location in relation to the city’s Future Land Use Plan was one issue that raised questions with the planning commission; the land use plan designates the area for light manufacturing and assembly.

During council’s Feb. 22 meeting, John Whitson of Whitson Properties LLC, which owns the property and is an applicant for the zoning change, addressed council. He said the development was “a gift to the community,” and that industrial workers “need a place to live.” He said that it could help spark development in the area.

During Monday’s public hearing, Planning Director Heather Sayler said that the R-4 residential zoning classification sought for the property may not exist in the new zoning code, which is currently being developed.

Councilwoman Rachel Phipps, chair of Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee, said that the staff report offered by Sayler’s office on the zoning change was neutral.

Sayler said she didn’t believe she had made a neutral recommendation since she began working for the city in 2008.

“This was a tough call for your office,” Phipps said.

“It absolutely was, yes,” Sayler replied.

Waggner also spoke during the hearing, saying that the developer liked the location for the complex due to its proximity to the interstate and its being a buffer between the upcoming assisted living facility and likely commercial development to the north.

“We don’t seem to think it’s a good fit to squeeze the light industrial in between the commercial and the nursing home,” he said. “We also don’t think we’re an isolated or an island of rezoning.”

He reiterated that the focus of the apartment complex would be young professionals or workers who are employed by a corporation for a few months to two years.

“One of the main questions we always get is what type of market are we after,” Waggner said. “We don’t do subsidized housing. It is market rate housing.”

Waggner provided a recommendation letter from the village of Dundee, Michigan, where developer Management Resources Development is working on the fourth phase of an apartment project.

Answering a question from Rubando, who serves on the committee, Waggner said they hope to break ground on the Bowling Green project this summer.

Brian McMahon, of Danberry National, spoke in favor of the developer, saying in part that “they own, they don’t build and sell.

“The reason it’s important that they own what they build is they maintain them better,” he said. “I think the letter from little Dundee is a testimony that they work with the communities.”

Resident Adam Skaff said he had nothing to gain financially from the project, addressed the committee.

“This is an opportunity I think we should take as a city,” he said, adding that it could spark other development, and could also enable people of different economic backgrounds to live in the city.

When the matter came up for a vote during the Monday council meeting, Councilman Greg Robinette, who also sits on the planning, zoning and economic development committee, said he supported the rezoning request. But, he added that the 2014 Future Land Use Plan “states that all land use decisions will be consistent with the BG plan,” and, if not, either the proposal will be adjusted or the plan will be amended.

Robinette proposed to postpone the vote on the rezoning until a change could be made to the land use plan, suggesting a mid-April date.

When City Attorney Mike Marsh was queried about the matter, he suggested simply amending the ordinance and inserting the change to the plan within it. Robinette subsequently tabled his amendment.

Council President Mark Hollenbaugh said he understands the importance of housing in the city, but was not in favor of the rezoning.

“I personally have reservations about changing the zoning in the middle of rewriting the city’s zoning code. Especially when we’re looking to change the zoning to a classification that will no longer exist once the city’s zoning code is rewritten.”

Councilman Jeff Dennis noted that high-density residential areas are already present around the land in question.

“It seems like we’re just getting caught up on semantics, the end result’s going to be higher-density living in this area,” he said.

Dennis said later he felt increasing the supply of housing would promote competition, lower costs, and improve quality.

“I think that, if we sit here waiting for the perfect opportunity, historically, those have not materialized,” he said.

Councilman Bill Herald said that if those involved with the project committed to working closely with the city on their site plan “quite a few of my reservations would be decreased.”

Waggner said that they would work with the city.

Robinette moved to amend the ordinance so that the zoning change would also be reflected in the 2014 Land Use Plan.

The amendment passed 6-1, with Hollenbaugh voting against.

Prior to the vote to approve the ordinance, Hollenbaugh said “Although I agree that we do need more housing in town, our development plan calls for more housing density in a walkable downtown vicinity and I think that this could have a deleterious effect on our development plans. I hope I’m wrong.”

The rezoning ordinance passed 6-1, with Hollenbaugh voting against.