The St. Clair Shores City Council on Monday voted 5-2 to approve a special land use permit and site plan for a 40-unit, five-story condominium complex on the Jefferson Avenue Nautical Mile.
The development is planned for a 1.6 acre site located between Stephens and Ridgeway streets that was formerly a gas station.
Councilpersons Candice Rusie and John Caron voted against approval of both the special land use permit and the site plan while Mayor Kip Walby and the remaining council members all voted in support of the project.
The special land use permit was needed because zoning requirements in a central lakefront development district stipulate a building may not be more than two stories high. The developers had to secure the permit in order to build the five-story structure as outlined in the site plan submitted to the city.
Councilpersons on both sides of the issue cited the city’s Master Plan as a reason for their vote.
“We have a central lakefront district where buildings are not supposed to exceed two stories and our Master Plan says developments should be two to three stories west of Jefferson – three at most – and this is five stories,” said Rusie. “I think our Master Plan should mean something.
“There is not a reason not to comply with the Master Plan on this particular parcel; we have ordinances and zoning standards for a reason.”
Councilman Chris Vitale, who supports the project, read from the city’s Master Plan and said it calls for more developments with high density such as the one proposed by Jefferson Plaza LLC, represented by Ramiz Sheena. Councilman David Rubello also said the city is lacking high-density, multi-family housing and voted in favor of the special land use permit and site plan because he believes it fills a need.
“I’ve talked to four or five real estate people who told me that St. Clair Shores is in desperate need of this kind of development,” said Rubello.”
It was standing room only in St. Clair Shores council chambers Monday and several residents living in close proximity to the proposed project voiced strong objections to the development. Most indicated they were in favor of condominiums being built, but they opposed granting a special land use permit that would allow a development taller than two stories.
“I am opposed to the size of this development,” said resident Rick Zaremski. “This is two and a half times bigger than what is allowed and will infringe on the privacy of people in the neighborhood.”
Other residents questioned the estimated $350,000 – $400,000 sale price of the condominiums saying that there were condominiums with more amenities – specifically garages, basements and storage – nearby that are selling for less. Many residents also expressed concern about the level of contamination of the soil on the site and how the city would ensure that proper remediation was being done.
An environmental study conducted by Applied Environmental of Ann Arbor and dated Aug. 10,2023 confirms contamination on the site and lists several recommendations for the petitioner to follow to ensure safe development of the property and safe occupation of the building following construction. The report shows levels of benzene and phenanthrene that exceed the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy’s residential criteria for soil and the presence of eight different chemicals greater than residential criteria for groundwater.
Monday night’s decision came more than a year after the petitioner first presented his request for a special use permit to the city’s planning commission.
When asked why he did not consider implementing a design that did not require a special land use permit such as ranch-style or two-story townhouse type condominiums, Sheena said he wanted his project to “wow” people and that a two-story structure would be more likely to be used for low-cost or Section 8 housing. He did not explain why a five-story structure would be less likely to be used for that purpose.
“It would not be feasible to do this project with fewer units than what we have proposed,” said Sheena. “We would be losing money on the project if we did that.”
Caron reiterated his opinion expressed at previous meetings that the petitioner’s financial hardship is “self created” and there is no reason a condominium complex that meets the city’s requirements could not be constructed. He also questioned the experience of the petitioner and his ability to take a project of this scale to completion.
“The same objection I had in March when this was on the agenda still stands,” said Caron. “The petitioner has not shown hardship to go above the two stories.”
Sheena said the project will likely not break ground for a year.