Commercial Project Coming On S. Alpine

August 21, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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WALKER — Plans for construction of the first new commercial buildings on Alpine Avenue at the former GM/Lear plant site moved ahead Wednesday night with the Walker Planning Commission voting unanimously to recommend necessary rezoning of the property.

Jack Buchanan Sr. of Alpinist Endeavors LLC, which owns the 41-acre site now known as Avastar Park, said his company will sell six acres of the former factory parking lot fronting Alpine Avenue to DAR Development of Plainfield Township when the developer gets final city approvals to begin construction.

Preliminary plans by DAR now call for four commercial buildings on Alpine Avenue, including a 15,000-square-foot building on the southeast corner of Alpine Avenue and Avastar Parkway, a new street built through the middle of Avastar Park last year by the city of Walker. That building, known as No. 4, is of interest to an unnamed insurance company, the Walker planners were told.

The selling price of the six acres, which are in a tax-free Renaissance Zone, was not revealed. Buchanan said he assumed the construction investment by DAR would "obviously be several million dollars."

Buildings No. 1 and No. 2 — 8,830 and 9,800 square feet, respectively — are planned for the northwest corner of the former parking lot, with parking lots in front of each. According to the architect, Mark Tomasik of Innovative Design, each will house a number of retail businesses.

Building No. 3 on the northwest corner of Alpine and Avastar Parkway will be about 3,300 square feet and is designed for a business such as a restaurant or a bank.

A fifth building is shown on the preliminary site plans, near the southeast corner of the remaining factory parking lot, but it is not part of the active development plans.

In asking the planners to approve the preliminary plan before them and recommend rezoning, Buchanan said, "We want to begin the process of revitalizing this entire area."

Buchanan told the Walker planners that Darrel Herweyer of DAR has 35 years of experience. "He really understands retail and what works," said Buchanan.

The preliminary plans show buildings of one story but Herweyer pointed out to the Walker planners that building No. 4, the so-called insurance company building, has "a two-story look." He added it ultimately could be two stories but did not commit to that.

Questions and comments from the Planning Commission included frequent mention of the Walker master plan, which tends to favor new commercial buildings of at least two stories, and incorporating residential units where possible.

Herweyer said there is no residential space planned in the four buildings because there is "not a market there for it."

Other issues that surfaced in July when the commission initially reviewed the preliminary site plans had to do with set-back distance from Alpine Avenue and storm-water runoff. The plans were redrawn, which moved buildings 3 and 4 closer to Alpine, with parking in the rear. Buildings 1 and 2 are still set back from Alpine, with parking lots in front, because there is a stream running through an underground culvert under the site close to Alpine.

A subcommittee of the planning commission will meet again soon with the architect to confirm final design details of the buildings.

"If (the completed buildings) look like the artist's renderings, I think it's going to look pretty neat down there," said commission member Tom Byle.

The recommendation to rezone would change the site from commercial to commercial planned unit development, which Walker City Planner Frank Wash described as a "more flexible" type of zoning. The project would not be permitted in a commercial zone because that requires a larger setback from Alpine Avenue, and there isn't enough space there for that much setback.  

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