By Rachel Bidock
Clinton County Staff Reporter
ST.JOHNS — A hotel may not be coming to the City of St. Johns after all.
At the St. Johns City Commission meeting on March 28, commissioners accepted the planning commission’s recommendation to deny the petition for transitional district use, or hotel use, for the first floor of 116 and 118 N. Clinton Ave.
During the meeting the Community Development Director and Deputy City Manager Dave Kudwa explained the plans that the applicant for the petition and owner of the building, Ken Harris, had in mind.
“Mr. Harris submitted an application for a special use permit, for multi-family residential on the second and third floors,” Kudwa said. “Then he wanted to do a hotel use on the first floor so he desires to have both.”
Petitions or permits are often needed in order to renovate or develop buildings, these permits then need to be reviewed and approved, explained the Director for Michigan State University’s Center for Community and Economic Development, Rex LaMore.
“Your planning commission would normally review first, and then they would make a recommendation to the city council based on their review and the city council would either approve it or not,” LaMore said.
Kudwa said that because the applicant wanted to have both an apartment and a hotel, the permit process became complicated.
“We actually split the building up into floors,” Kudwa said. “On the second and third floor the planning commission reviewed a special use permit and then they approved the special use, and then the first floor was handled through our transitional district review process.”
Kudwa explained how the special use permit for the apartment differs from the transitional district review process for the hotel.
“With the special use permit, the planning commission actually decides and approves the special use, but in the case of the transitional district, the planning commission acts as a review body,” Kudwa said.
Harris has come up with multiple different floor plans, he was hoping to put six units on the first floor, but that idea has become an issue for some people, said Kudwa.
“He really wants to do an apartment or a hotel on that first floor,” Kudwa said. “He would like to do those 6 units right now … but the residential units were a big issue that we had a lot of conversation about.”
Ashley Jackson, a business owner in St. Johns, said that she knew people around town had been worried about the possibility of residential use on all floors.
“The store owners up and down this block were pretty upset they were considering turning the bottom level into hotel rooms or apartments and not keeping it a storefront,” Jackson said. “It’s been kind of tense around here.”
Another aspect delaying the application process is the unclear definition of the difference between hotel use and apartment use in the city ordinance, said Kudwa.
“Our ordinance doesn’t have a lot of detail about what distinguishes a hotel use from an apartment use, we’ve tried to have that conversation to determine a criteria unfortunately the city and the applicant, we haven’t agreed on what that criteria looks like,” Kudwa said. “That’s one of the core issues we’re having in the application process.”
John Salemi from St. Johns’ legal department said during the meeting, that Harris can still bring more information to the city or planning commissioners and he could ask for reconsideration.
“He’d have two options, one would be if he felt that the city commission had acted in error … he could pursue an injunctive relief, arguing that he was being irreparably harmed because he’s not able to develop a property that he has now purchased,” Salemi said. “Or secondly, he could sort of reword his proposal and depending on how he rewords it, he could do it back before the planning commission or he could come again to the city commission.”
Marie Lowe, a St. Johns resident, is excited for whatever happens to the building and hopes that it will bring more people into St. Johns.
“I think it’s great, I think it’ll bring a lot of attention to the downtown that each of the businesses are looking for,” Lowe said. “It’s one empty building less downtown, that’s the way I see it.”