Houghton City Council schedules additional public hearings on proposed Julien apartments

HOUGHTON – The Houghton City Council will hold two hearings on Nov. 13 for a proposed apartment complex on the former Good Will Farm site.

The council set the date at a special meeting Thursday night. The Zoning Board of Appeals will meet following the council meeting to consider a request for a parking variance at the property. Under the variance, the complex would have 150 spaces instead of the 194 required by ordinance.

Last month, the council voted down developer Jonathan Julien’s rezoning request for a 138-bedroom complex. Julien said the rezoning from R-3 (residential) to B-3 (general business) was necessary to build the complex in the one- and two-bedroom arrangements preferred by graduate students.

After Julien asked for another hearing, the council held one at its Oct. 10 meeting, at which it tabled the issue.

Thursday night, city attorney Dave Mechlin laid out the criteria the council must use to determine its vote. The council must consider if the proposed use would: be compatible with existing uses in surrounding sites; cause traffic congestion; have significant adverse effect on property values in the surrounding area; significantly increase noise in the area; satisfy a need in the community; and be compatible with the master plan.

“In reviewing the minutes of the earlier council meeting, it appeared to me the council failed to address these issues, and because of that a legal challenge might be raised to the action by the council,” Mechlin said. “… It’s not a popularity contest. Council members can’t make their decision merely on the basis of how many people the proponents or opponents brought to the council meeting.”

Local landlords who have opposed the rezoning again spoke at Thursday’s meeting. Gail Sanchez cited a Michigan Municipal League zoning handbook regarding parking variances saying “self-created” hardships should not be considered in granting the variance. By selling the property before moving, she said, U.P. Kids created the situation.

“The Good Will Farm (now U.P. Kids) has clearly self-created the difficulty and hardship that requires a rezoning and parking variance in order to close their sales agreement,” she said. “Writing a sales contract with the contingency based on zoning is self-creating.”

But Julien said he hadn’t heard anything from Good Will Farm until after they had already moved out.

“They approached me after they had moved their offices to another building,” he said. “I had never, ever contacted the Good Will Farm about selling this property prior to entering into an agreement with them … the reason they’re leaving the site is because the need is no longer there for what they provide at the home.”