MARQUETTE - The Marquette Township Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a site plan and conditional use for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community's convenience store and gas station to be built along U.S. 41.
The tribe will now be able to apply for a building permit from Marquette County. The $1.2 million project will build a single-story convenience store with associated amenities including fueling stations, drive lanes and parking on a three-acre parcel -the former site of the Los Tres Amigos Restaurant.
Tribal officials said they were "very pleased" with Wednesday's approvals granted for the 4,145 square-foot store. Components of the project slated for future building, including store expansion, additional gas pumps and a car wash, will have to come back to the planning commission for additional approval.
A Bayland Builders site plan rendering shows the 4,145 square-foot convenience store to be built along the south side of U.S. 41 at Northwoods Drive in Marquette Township. The township planner said the business could be opened next summer. (Bayland Builders illustration)
"We are thankful for the professionalism of the Marquette Township officials in working with Aanikoosing and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community as we prepare to conduct business in Marquette County," said Anthony Rabitaille, chairman of Aanikoosing Inc., a corporation owned by the tribe building the convenience store complex.
The tribe purchased the land in 2010 and first publicly discussed the new development in June 2012.
In addition to the gas station and convenience store, the site is available for other businesses interested in locating at a prime commercial site, Rabitaille said.
"Specifically, the corporation is seeking companies providing food and financial services along with commercial and retail shops," Rabitaille said.
The planning commission was deciding Wednesday whether the site plan met the requirements of the township zoning ordinance and whether the proposed special use of the site - a gasoline service station - was compatible with other uses in the zoning district.
"We're not here to vote whether this is good or bad or we're for it or against it," said planning commission member Lyn Durant. "Our job is just to say whether it meets all the criteria that comes before us."
The panel praised the tribe's submitted plans.
"I was impressed at how thorough this proposal is and site plans, everything looks like it's been dotted and crossed and considered," Durant said. "The plans are clear...everything's really taken into consideration that I can see."
Planning commission chairwoman Ellen Sargent said she was glad the project was using existing driveways and had made provisions for snow storage on the property.
"I agree with Lyn the site plan is totally complete," said planning commission member Judy Boyle. "I just feel that they have complied with all our zoning ordinances and regulations."
Rabitaille said the project is being built on land owned by the tribe and is not part of the KBIC's reservation or held in trust by the U.S. government for the benefit of the tribe, which would exempt the property from state and local taxes.
"The property is not in trust, they are going to be a taxpaying entity," said Marquette Township planner Jason McCarthy. "This proposed development also follows every provision in our zoning ordinance."
McCarthy said he spoke with tribal officials about what would happen to zoning compliance in the future if the property was put into trust.
"At that time, there would likely be a government-to-government communication or understanding that they would usually provide funding for the services that we provide them currently (water, fire, sewer), and then in turn we would require, or ask them, to abide by our zoning," McCarthy said. "That would be discussed in the future. However, all we can do is plan for right now and right now that is a privately held piece of property that is being developed by a private corporation and it appears to meet all of our requirements for zoning."
Access to the site will be provided by an existing driveway off U.S. 41 and another driveway from the east, off Northwoods Road. A total of 27 parking spaces are proposed, including two which would be handicapped-accessible.
Two freestanding signs have been proposed. Cut-off fixtures on lights are planned, which will prevent light pollution and lighting that produces direct or sky-reflected glare. The building will have a brick facade with gable ends and large windows.
McCarthy said site work will begin this fall with the store likely opening next summer.
General concerns remain about increased traffic in the business corridor, which township officials are seeking to address with the Michigan Department of Transportation and other entities, McCarthy said He said the KBIC project will be developed on a site that has been vacant for a number of years and is currently underperforming.
While there are gas stations north of U.S. 41 in that general area, the new tribal gas station will be the only one on the south side of the highway, a development township officials said snowmobilers and others will appreciate.
"That's a plus for the whole township," Durant said.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.