Proposed U-Haul Center Raises Questions About Cherryland Future
By Beth Milligan | Jan. 12, 2018
A proposal to develop a U-Haul center in the former Kmart space on Garfield Avenue could help revitalize the Cherryland Center and has the support of surrounding tenants – but faces an uphill battle with Garfield Township planning commissioners.
Schostak Brothers & Company, which owns nearly a dozen acres of property on the eastern side of the Cherryland Center that includes the Kmart building, is seeking a zoning amendment from Garfield Township to allow U-Haul to open on the site. U-Haul would offer rental trucks, indoor climate-controlled storage spaces, and a retail store selling moving supplies in a roughly 90,000 square-foot footprint.
“We’ve been looking for a long time in the Traverse City area…this is the first real opportunity that has met our criteria,” U-Haul Area District Vice President Bill Rains told township planning commissioners Wednesday. “Frankly, I don’t think there’s anywhere else in any of the other districts that I could find that meets the criteria for what we want for our customers.”
Jeffrey Schostak of Schostak Brothers & Company told the board his company had been bracing for Kmart’s closure for years and had “taken a very proactive approach” in recruiting potential tenants for the property. But logistical challenges – including the building’s setback from the road, bottleneck entrances to the Cherryland Center, and a dying big-box retail landscape – made it difficult to find another retail anchor for the site, according to Schostak.
“We never were able to find another user to go here,” he said, adding that potential retail tenants – including Costco – had either deemed the property unsuitable for their needs or flocked to the west side of town near Grand Traverse Mall and Buffalo Ridge Center, where surrounding thriving commercial businesses were in stronger supply.
Schostak submitted letters of support for U-Haul from numerous Cherryland Mall tenants and surrounding businesses, including the mall’s leasing company, Sears, Perfect Edge Hockey, Bill Marsh Auto Group, Northwest Oil Express and several others. “The community surrounding the mall seems to think that this would be a good thing to help revitalize the area,” he said.
While a few residential neighbors raised concerns about noise and 24-hour traffic at the storage spaces at Wednesday’s meeting, Rains’ explanation that the retail center closes at 7pm every day except Sunday (when it closes at 5pm) and that 24-hour users only account for two percent of U-Haul’s customer base seemed to put neighbors at ease. Customers have access cards that allow them to open a loading door, park inside and close the door behind them, then load storage goods into or out of their vehicles – containing noise to the inside of the facility, Rains said. The site is also protected by a 24-hour security system containing over 40 surveillance cameras, according to Rains.
“We’re very sensitive to the surrounding community,” he said. “We’re way less noise than even Kmart has.”
While planning commissioners expressed interest in the project Wednesday, the implications of the rezoning request raised several hurdles that seemed to vex the board. Township Planner Rob Larrea noted that while the applicants wanted to amend zoning rules for planned shopping centers – a category that includes Cherryland Center, Grand Traverse Mall and Meijer – to allow a new use called “retail and self-storage and truck and trailer share,” the actual use proposed by U-Haul was “warehousing.” That use is already allowed in Garfield Township’s industrial districts, which Larrea suggested would be a better fit for the proposal. Changing the zoning ordinance could also have “huge unforeseen circumstances” that could allow the Cherryland Center or Grand Traverse Mall to be turned into rows of storage warehouses, Larrea warned.
Planning commissioners expressed concerns about turning down a proposal that could potentially help revitalize the Cherryland Center and/or the surrounding commercial corridor, but also questioned whether a more fitting retail use allowed under current zoning rules might materialize for the Kmart space. “What I’m feeling is the pressure to look at, is this the best we can hope for for the use of our old Kmart facility, or is there something out there we don’t know about?” said Planning Commissioner Chris DeGood. “Are we accepting the first proposal of marriage and the other guy is just standing down the street?”
Responding to DeGood’s metaphor, Schostak replied: “I’ve asked a lot of girls out, and they’ve all said no. The reality is there are very few big-box users in general…it’s a very tough conversation with this property. We’ve tried with many. We’ve been working on it, and it’s just a very challenging building to reuse.” Other project representatives expressed concern over a “death spiral” that could occur at Cherryland Center if the Kmart space remained vacant for an extended period of time, including anchor tenant clauses that could cause Sears and Younkers to leave the property if the space remained empty.
Opa! Coney and Grill is leaving the Cherryland Center this spring, while Bath & Body Works is departing later this month. Having U-Haul on the property would bring stability to the Cherryland Center and ensure the mall was one of the first places new residents visited in the community, reps said. Schostak added he also planned to open another small restaurant or retail store in some of the building’s leftover unused space.
“If you don’t decide to go with a more flexible zoning, then it could easily and most likely sit vacant for a long time,” Schostak said. “Where I think if you put in a Fortune 500 company like U-Haul…instead of going the other side, this thing can it be its own type of new sort of retail. To just sit and wait and hope to think we get a good traditional retail anchor is not the likely scenario.”
Citing lingering concerns over the potential unintended impacts of rewriting the zoning ordinance, planning commissioners decided to temporarily table the request Wednesday to allow staff more time to study the proposal. Staff and commissioners could set an upcoming study session to look at the overall zoning plan for planned shopping centers and see whether allowing uses such as U-Haul – as well as other types of changes – should be made to the zoning rules. The applicants agreed to that approach, but warned that if the board took too long to study the issue, they would request a planning commission vote and appeal to the township board if rejected.
“With all due respect, we’ve been at this since July trying to get something done,” Rains told commissioners. “I appreciate that you guys want to make an overall change for the entire district, but I kind of feel like this is in front of us. I’d like to act on this and not wait for us to decide what to do with all three districts."