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To build or not to build

Marquette Planning Commission grapples with controversial condo proposal

Shown is a rendering of one of the buildings proposed for the Picnic Rocks Condos. (Courtesy photo)

MARQUETTE — As condominiums are on the rise along Lakeshore Boulevard — one of the area’s most scenic thoroughfares along Lake Superior shoreline in Marquette — Lakeshore Residences LLC has proposed an estimated $30 million project to be built on the former foundry site across from Shiras Park.

A public hearing regarding the project will be held at City Hall Commission Chambers along Baraga Avenue at 6 p.m. Tuesday during the Marquette Planning Commission’s regular meeting.

According to meeting notes, Lakeshore Residences, which also owns Chocolay Bayou Condominiums and the UP the Sky planned development in Marquette Township, is seeking a concept approval of a planned unit development, or PUD, for a mixed-use development consisting of commercial and residential uses within two proposed structures to be located at 955 Lakeshore Boulevard. The real estate agency is calling the project the Picnic Rocks Condos.

The two buildings will be about 100 feet away from the road and five stories high, holding 96 two-bedroom condo units, with some retail and office spaces on the bottom floor. The office structure that’s currently on the lot will be demolished, the application states.

As noted in the plans, there will be residential interior parking and exterior bike racks bordered by trees and shrubs, with 22 percent of the property dedicated to green space.

The project also includes a plan to build a bike path from Fair Avenue to Crescent Street, which would require a license and and a maintenance agreement with the city.

On Tuesday, the planning commission will conduct a hearing and consider all materials provided by Lakeshore Residences, the staff report and analysis, public testimony and then make a decision in accordance with the requirements of the city’s zoning ordinance.

According to David Stensaas, city planner and zoning administrator, a concept approval is the first of three steps for establishing a PUD. If the plan meets the standards, both a preliminary site plan, with architectural and civil engineering details fully developed, and final site plan would need to be approved by the planning and city commissions. Four additional public hearings would also be required before the applicant could acquire a permit to build.

“If the site design presented in the concept is altered significantly prior to the submission of preliminary plans the developer would need to reapply for concept approval,” Stensaas said in an email.

Dan Keller, property manager of Lakeshore Residences, said the condos are projected to cost around $300,000-350,000.

“We can’t afford to build it unless we use high-quality materials,” he said, adding that tearing town the old foundry site cost around $400,000.

Keller said hundreds of people have expressed concerns over Picnic Rocks Condos via social media outlets and by sending letters and emails to the planning and city commissions.

A neighborhood petition was also signed by nearly 100 people opposing the idea because of the size of the buildings, the appearance, location and high price.

“Although it’s good to see a development plan being advanced on the former foundry site the drawings and description do not appear to be in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood,” said Tom Rulseh, owner of Lot 6 Picnic Rocks Pointe, in a letter. “In my opinion, the structures are excessive in height and inappropriate in design. Ideally, the roofline should have multiple pitches. Inclusion of some gables would give a more residential look, similar to existing buildings located to the northwest. A four-story limit would also be more harmonious with nearby structures.”

In a combined response, Ken and Sue Schauland, innkeepers at Nestledown Bed and Breakfast, said the buildings won’t physically fit the area.

“The condo design does not foster the aesthetic appearance of the city,” the Schaulands said in a statement. “It gives nothing back to the city but expensive condos, 96 of them that may not even sell and then it has the potential for being a large apartment complex. It is highly dense housing for the 3.29 acres.”

John Gillette, of Albert Street, said the buildings lack creativity, affordability and green space. Gillette’s home was designed to be heated by solar energy and the 74-feet condos would block the eastern morning sun, which would reduce the capacity to heat the home, he said.

“This will result in higher heating bills and may constitute a private nuisance. For both community-level and personal reasons, we feel that the proposed Picnic Rocks Condos is not appropriate for this site,” Gillette said. “We would like to see a smaller-scale project that blends better into the existing neighborhoods. We would also like to see more green space, better connectivity in terms of pedestrian and cycling traffic, a bus stop, mixed income units, and an overall design that celebrates Marquette’s unique history and environment.”

Carroll Swanson, of West Hewitt Avenue, said the condos would add congestion to the area and that she’d rather see a two to three story structure with moderate to lower income housing or a business that offers food and refreshments, recreation opportunities, activity choices and social engagement.

“Progress, growth and economic development MUST be balanced with community values, traditions, and character if we wish to remain the unique and treasured place we all love and call home,” she said in an email.

Keller said the agency will take current residents’ feelings into consideration and he hopes to stick with a business plan that works for everybody.

The planning commission’s meeting agenda can be viewed on the city’s website at www.marquettemi.gov.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.