January 31, 2015
11:06 am

It's All About the Traffic

Considering he had just emerged from what turned out to be nearly three hours of verbal brickbats tossed his way regarding intentions to establish a CVS Pharmacy in Southtown St. Joseph, Indianapolis developer Eric Harvey was cautiously upbeat saying that Thursday night's St. Joseph Planning Commission meeting was, "A big step in the right direction."

Harvey and his partner Jim Koch asked for a dialogue and ended up with what more closely resembled a public hearing regarding their proposed project for the property just off of Niles and Napier in St. Joseph that is currently home to Florin Funeral Home. Nearly two dozen people took turns deriding the proposal, as opposition leader Rick Stobbelaar introduced 851 petition signatures objecting to the pharmacy.

Harvey apologized to the community for their attempt to accelerate the approval process and the rush to get the building on the map.  He asked the community to give the project a second chance and find mutually agreeable solutions going forward. He then introduced Jay Kilpatrick from the engineering firm of Williams & Works in Grand Rapids who delivered a PowerPoint presentation detailing the facts regarding the rezoning discussion, the concerns, responses and possible revisions to make it more palatable.

Planning commissioners Kathy Burczak and Phil Maki and Chair Patsy Hartzell had to recuse themselves from the process due to potential conflicts of interest and left the meeting before the discussion even began. 

Following Kilpatrick's presentation, the parade of objectors began with the most vociferous being David Snyder who proceeded to argue or concur with virtually every point made by Kilpatrick in a re-run of the entire PowerPoint presentation. He then argued that nothing commercial can be placed there because the property is zoned R-1 Residential Special Use and R-1 Residential Conditional Use. St. Joseph Attorney Mark Miller, representing the developers, asked City Attorney Laurie Schmidt for clarification of the commercial zoning and she said, "That's correct," confirming that it is, in fact, zoned for commercial use.

A new player was introduced into the equation in the form of William Beck of Spring Lake. Beck is with Delta Management Resources, a firm contracted by Florin Funeral Services last year to help the Florin family to become more competitive in the wake of falling market share. After lengthy review, Beck determined that the best option for Florin was to "monetize the asset" that is their property on Niles Avenue in order to produce the cashflow necessary to build a contemporary new, state-of-the-art facility elsewhere in the community. 

Beck told planners and citizens alike that he specifically sought out developers Harvey & Koch knowing their sterling reputation for doing projects professionally and correctly. At the time he did not know what plans they might have, but knew they had the capacity to capitalize on the high volume of traffic at that site. 

Beck says that the banks have been patient, but one way or the other he will accept one of several options among the CVS Pharmacy or other options that "do not require rezoning" of the site. He contends that either of the others would be "more disruptive" than CVS would be. Following the meeting he told me that the other options would be more in line with a gasoline service station or fast food operations, but the property will be sold, Florin will relocate, and the building will be leveled this summer. He said he has a legal, ethical and moral obligation to get the best possible option for his clients, the Florin family and their investors, and in his opinion that is the CVS Pharmacy. He tells me that a service station would be the worst possible scenario, but anyone who thinks that the site will be the future home of a quiet dental clinic or a suite of doctor's offices is delusional, because "It's all about the traffic," at that site. The entire value of the property is the traffic for companies like CVS who recognize the economic value of the frontage and have the financial capacity to carry it off.

For his part, Harvey says the community continues to exhibit "a lot of misunderstanding of what we're trying to do, but tonight was a big step in the right direction, and we were able to show potential solutions and listen for additional concerns." He says he is staying positive and will continue to work to keep the project moving forward.

Attorney Miller says that while they respect the 851 petition signatures, "They were based on the original plan," and now that they have a stronger understanding of the communities concerns a new site plan that takes those concerns under consideration will be drafted for future release to the city and the planning commission going forward.