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Houghton council considers rezoning

Garrett Neese/DMG Gregg Nominelli, owner of Quality Rentals, LLC, addresses the Houghton Planning Commission during Tuesday’s Houghton Planning Commission meeting.

HOUGHTON — After a recommendation from the Houghton Planning Commission Tuesday, the City Council scheduled a hearing for Dec. 20 to address the rezoning of several East Houghton properties near the edge of downtown, with conditions put upon potential development.

Lots owned by Quality Rentals, LLC, would be rezoned from R-3 (multiple-family residential) to B-2 (community business district), aligning them with the zoning in downtown. The rezoning request would also include two city-owned lots at the site of the Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce building, which would be rezoned to B-2 from B-3 (general business district).

The rezoning would allow for a broader range of projects, which otherwise would be limited to apartments or condominiums, said Quality Rentals, LLC owner Gregg Nominelli.

“I’ve been trying to work to find something that’s mutually beneficial for the city and for my lots,” he said. “…In talking with the community, some people believe that a mixed-use with a business or residential component would be a preferred use for that property.”

The Planning Commission recommended council approval Tuesday. It had voted 8-1 to table the request in October after members’ concern about the potential uses allowed under B-2.

Buildings on the properties would have a height limit of 50 feet above College Avenue.

Approval was also tied to a development plan for the site, which called for two standalone buildings.

One includes the one- or two-story facility intended as a professional building, financial institution, medical office or commercial retail space. Several prohibited uses were also listed: adult stores, gas stations, oil change facilities, vehicle repair shops, parts stores, marijuana facilities, laundromats, hotels and motels.

The apartments or condominiums would come with the second structure, which would be a new residential building, as big as the first or bigger. To accommodate the second building, an existing house on the property would need to be removed, Nominelli wrote.

With Nominelli’s verbal approval from the audience, the planning commission amended his request Tuesday night. A more precise description of a 6,000-square-foot facility for the first building was expanded after commissioners worried it could hamper potential developments that were slightly smaller or larger. Nominelli said he had included the 6,000-square-foot qualifier in his original request after talking to other property owners.

Because removing the amount entirely would have required restarting the entire application process, the language was amended to allow a building up to 6,000 feet or more.

Gas stations and hotels were also added to the list of prohibited uses.

During public comment, Alpha Sigma Tau advisor Jean DeClerck expressed concern over the proximity to the sorority’s house, which neighbors the property.

“Our house is set below College Avenue, so we’re concerned about drainage, we’re concerned about the height of this building,” she said. “The measurement is 50 feet higher than College Avenue, and it’ll seem higher to us.”

Waara said anything over 30 feet would need to be an equivalent distance away from the property line, creating the possibility of a stepped structure. He also said drainage on the new property would need to be the city’s stormwater ordinance in order to meet site plan approval.

In a letter to the commission, Houghton resident Jon Lehtinen supported the rezoning based on the additional residential condominium space.

In other action, the commission:

Recommended council approval of the city recreation plan. The council had received the plan at its previous meeting, but sent it back for reapproval in response to resident recommendations for pickleball courts or a facility. The amended plan calls for seasonal pickleball courts by 2025 and a dedicated four-season facility by 2027.

Approved changing the December meeting date to Dec. 19.

Set a public hearing for Dec. 19 for a special land use permit for an accessory dwelling unit at 18260 Canal Road.

Heard an update from Waara on Meijer. There has still been no update on when the store might begin construction on the site near M-26 and Green Acres Road. the city had approved a site plan in 2019, prior to COVID. Waara guessed the holdoff has been due to the economy and high construction costs. If Meijer continues with the project, it may also adjust the site plan, he said. The previous plan only set aside four spaces for grocery pickup, which has boomed in popularity since the pandemic began.

Heard an update from Waara on the pedestrian walkway on the east side the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, which is closed for an indefinite time for construction. The Michigan Department of Transportation is replacing elevator cars and cables on that side, forcing the closure of the walkway since last month. Work had been delayed, but is now underway and will continue off and on, Waara said.

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