Rezoning Approved For Orchard Park

October 27, 2006
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WALKER — The Walker City Commission voted 6-1 Monday to rezone roughly 240 acres on the city’s northwest side to mixed planned use development, a move that advances the proposed Orchard Park development project one step closer to reality.

Several times during last week’s commission meeting, Mayor Rob VerHeulen reminded those in attendance that if commissioners voted in favor of rezoning, it would not necessarily signal that the project is going forward.

The project won’t go forward until city commissioners determine that all the issues that have been brought up have been adequately addressed, and they are assured that all the roads and related infrastructure necessary to accommodate the development are paid for, VerHeulen pointed out.

The developer, Trademark Property Co., is proposing a “new urban”-style development with a mixture of commercial, office and residential sites, as well as a 62-acre parcel with entertainment venues, restaurants, shops, residential units, public gathering spaces, and possibly a theater. According to the conceptual plan, the town center would be a tourist-oriented commercial area anchored by a big commercial draw. Cabela’s, the nation’s largest specialty retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and outdoor merchandise, remains a candidate for that position. The only Cabela’s in Michigan is in Dundee in the southeast corner of the state, and it reportedly draws nearly six million visitors a year.

The main objections raised by residents in past months have been traffic safety and control issues.

The property, located on the east side of

Walker Avenue
between I-96 and Four Mile Road, west of
Bristol Avenue
, is owned by Walker Orchard Land Partners. City Manager Cathy Vander Meulen read aloud a letter from the Walker Orchard group Monday that outlined the developer’s obligations regarding public infrastructure that is needed to pave the way for the project. The necessary infrastructure is expected to cost between $20 million and $25 million, VerHuelen noted.

The group stated: “This letter will confirm that the city of Walker will not contribute any funding to the public infrastructure improvements, such as road, drainage, water and sewer, that will be required by the city in connection with the proposed Orchard Park MPUD project.”

For what would be the largest development in Walker to date, Walker Orchard Land Partners pledged that they, along with the developer and possibly the Kent County Road Commission or the Michigan Department of Transportation if the agencies are willing to contribute, would bear the costs of all necessary improvements.

“The size of this undertaking requires trust on both sides of the table,” said Tom Carter, principal of Trademark Property. “There are more problems to solve, and we have to work to do that. We have a final site plan that has yet to be approved and a development agreement that has yet to be negotiated and approved. All the outstanding issues that we have to deal with will be contained in those documents.”

Commissioner Barbara Holt underscored the fact that the project still requires a development agreement.

“Now we’re beginning to do even more intense studies,” Holt said. “In fact, we’re kind of having to start now from a new bottom line with information that we’re getting, because we have a lot of studies and the new studies.”

Holt said she has not received a huge response from either proponents or opponents of the project, and she encouraged residents to voice their opinions.

“I’m very concerned about the project and very concerned about making sure everything we do, we do right and do appropriately, and do it in the best long-term interest of the city,” she added.

Commissioner Daniel Kent, the only commissioner to vote against rezoning, said the city has traffic problems on the north end already, and he doesn’t foresee it getting any better if the development moves ahead.

In response to suggestions that the development would cause traffic headaches, Carter said: “We don’t want traffic to fail either, because if traffic fails, then our development fails, and tenants don’t get the business they need and everything gets out of kilter.” He lauded the amount of due diligence the city has put in on the proposed project.

Commissioner Steve Versluis said he doesn’t believe the city can ask for more guarantees than the developer has already offered. He said the planning commission has been involved in every step of the process, and there’s every reason to believe it will continue to be involved.

“I believe as far as anyone can know the good faith and intention of the developer, we do know that,” Versluis said.

Commissioner Al Parent, who acknowledged he has been a supporter of the project for quite a while, said he hopes the project goes forward because it will create new jobs.    

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