Residents Come Together To Protect Their Neighborhood
When Lakewood’s eastside Drug Mart introduced their plans to move to the old Ganley Dealership location on Detroit between Cohasset and Grace, the only sign that the neighborhood was taking note were some fliers stapled to telephone poles in the area. There was going to be a meeting, giving residents a heads up. What they needed to know was that the apartment building that had provided a buffer between their historic streets and the traffic of Detroit was being demolished… along with one of their homes. Those of us who live further down Detroit or Clifton or Franklin or Madison saw the fliers, read the news on the Observation Deck, shook our heads. The dust from the Detroit Theater hasn’t even settled. Here we go again.
But the residents of the Grace/Cohasset neighborhood got together and started doing their homework. Mary Grodek, one of two dozen Lakewood residents who went on the record at the Planning Commission last week to express their concerns regarding Drug Mart’s plan to expand their parking lot down the street and next door to their homes, put it simply, “Yeah it’s a pretty inspiring story.”
Drug Mart’s original proposal was to build a 28,000 sq. ft. store with 92 parking spots on the former Ganley lot on Detroit Ave., taking in the corners of Grace and Cohasset Avenues. They also purchased residential properties on Grace next to the Ganley lot with the plan of obtainging a Conditional Use Permit from the City to raze the properties, and expand their parking lot down two streets.
According to Ms. Grodek, who lives on Grace Avenue, this would not only forever alter the character of their street, but would set a dangerous precedent for the future of Lakewood.
And it could only happen if the City of Lakewood allowed it to happen, because they would have to grant the “Conditional Use” permit to make it possible.
She went into detail about the dangerous precedent: Allowing this permit would blur the idea of transitional space between residential and commercial use. The zoning code—the homeowner’s only protection—would lose all impact if, on any of our streets, residential lots could be changed to commercial, just for the asking. The granting of this permit would threaten every homeowner, on every street in Lakewood, particularly those who live near the ends of the streets, leaving every resident in Lakewood wondering who was next.
Ms. Grodek pointed out that the balance of commercial and residential use on Detroit and other main thoroughfares on most north/south streets would be lost. In her words, “allowing a business to encroach on residential properties will greatly alter the character of the neighborhood and is incompatible with Lakewood's vision of smart development and balance between residents and businesses.”
Why would the City allow this? Is there something special about this development?
From Ms. Grodek point of view, the answer is “no.” There are six drug stores either being built or renovated in Lakewood. Drug Mart is in no way a necessary or destination business and it has no special reason to encroach on land already zoned for residential use, she said.
So what’s a resident to do?
In this case, instead of scratching their individual heads and saying, “Their ought to be a law against this…” the neighbors on Grace and Cohasset and fellow concerned citizens who don’t even live there, got together, did their homework, and looked up the law, which in this case, is Lakewood’s zoning code.
Here’s what they found:
Lakewood’s Planning and Zoning Code, Section1173.02(b)(4):The City encourages conservation, preservation, redevelopment, and revitalization of residential neighborhoods to preserve their unique environments and for the public welfare of the City. The City acknowledges as a matter of public policy that the preservation and protection of residential neighborhoods is required for the health, safety and welfare of the people.
Armed with Lakewood’s own planning code, the neighbors set out to make their concerns known to the City, first at that neighborhood meeting and again at last Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting.
And the City listened. At last Thursday’s meeting, Drug Mart presented redesigned plans. The proposed lot size went from 28,000 to 24,000 square feet, taking away 12 parking spaces. The plan no longer includes destroying the hundred-year-old house, though Drug Mart still intends to purchase the house’s sideyard where the plan is to put a fence between the parking lot and the home. Drug Mart has not yet purchased the property.
Ms. Grodek had the opportunity to tour the house-- which she described as “fantastic”-- with its current owner; the house originally belonged to her grandfather, who passed away recently. The current owner is a widow who had plans to move into the comfortable, familiar home with her five children—ages 6 through 14-- and fix it up a little. She described the street, with its welcoming neighbors and well-cared-for homes and yards, as a great location for her kids to play, and Lakewood as an ideal community in which to raise them. With Drug Mart planning on taking her side yard, and the customers, lights, trucks and loading docks immediately over that fence, she is no longer sure if she and her family will choose to live here, even though it’s her grandfather’s house. She has questions now about what kind of environment it will be for her kids. She is no longer sure about—to quote Lakewood zoning code Section1173.02(b)(4)—the health, safety and welfare of the people—who in this case, are her children, living so close to all of that activity, literally, not in her backyard, but in her sideyard.
According to Ms. Grodek, the neighbors also won their request to defer voting on allowing Drug Mart the Conditional Use permit, which would give the drugstore permission to raze the 11-unit apartment building at the end of the street which has served as a buffer between Detroit Road and the residential street for all of these years. Razing this building is still part of the plan; its tenants have all received eviction notices.
She had the opportunity to hear the owner of the apartment building who said that all of the apartments have been restored, and that he’s done a beautiful job. At the meeting he shared the fact that most of his tenants were disabled and he wondered where they would end up.
Ms. Grodek said that the officials at the meeting could only respond, “Times are changing,” which she did not consider a satisfactory answer.
According to Mary Grodek, this story is just beginning. Though they are pleased with the progress they have made thus far, she said that she and her neighbors still have big issues about “encroachment, lack of traffic studies, the noise, the trucks, and how all of this will affect the traffic from the school (this development will be right across from Garfield Middle School).
She stressed that her group (about sixty neighbors at this point—including residents who don’t live on either of the streets but are Lakewood residents) are not anti-development. She said that they respect Drug Mart’s right to be there and their intention to be a good neighbor, but she also stressed that being a good neighbor does not mean kicking the other neighbors out.
She continued, “They don’t need all those parking places, we’re going to shop there, we’re going to walk there, it’s right there. When have you ever seen 80 parking spots filled at Drug Mart? If they want to be part of the neighborhood, and a good neighbor, Drug Mart can’t be out of touch with what their new neighborhood requires. We are an engaged group of citizens who shop. We can make a win-win for them and for us.”
She described the process that she and her neighbors have been through as gratifying: “I’m so impressed with my neighbors. At the beginning, we didn’t know anything. We came together to respectfully fight for something that we all truly believe in. I’m overwhelmed by the knowledge my neighbors brought to this process, from technical expertise to understanding the emotional appeal and importance of this situation.”
She said that at the beginning, “it was very disconcerting” to feel that “your city is not working for you.” She said that they have learned that the City “needs a push to know you are there. To know what you want. They need to know that we have to be a part of the conversation, and a part of the process. At the end of the day, we feel good that we are presenting a strong case, respectfully.”
Ms. Grodek concluded (for today) that they don’t know what the outcome will be, but she is proud to be among this group of people and she is pleased by the initial response from the City. She said that she has heard that the Heritage Board and the Architectural Board of Review had a lot to do with the responsible decisions that have been made thus far. Councilwoman Mary Louise Madigan, who represents Grace and Cohasset, along with that section of Detroit, is getting involved and the group has high hopes for the next round of meetings and reviews.
As for what they’ve figured out so far, she summed it up: “We live here. We are staying here. We are the future.”