Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 1, 2010

Meijer submits Acme plan

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
bmcgillivary@record-eagle.com

TRAVERSE CITY — Meijer's long-stalled Acme store project is on the move again, after developers gave township officials updated plans and a new traffic study.

Representatives of The Village at Grand Traverse this week submitted a revised application for phase one of a 182-acre project on M-72 and Lautner Road, about five months behind schedule and six years after its original pitch.

Phase one consists of main interior roads and Meijer's box store, which will anchor up to 1 million square feet of commercial development in The Village.

"I'm glad we finally have something to work with and we can move this project forward," said township Supervisor Wayne Kladder. "It's lingered for years and I think the residents want to see us get this moving."

Kladder expects the latest proposal to be posted on the township's website soon. Acme planning commissioners and township board members will "do a fair job" reviewing development plans, he said, despite years of acrimony, lawsuits, illegal electioneering and millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements paid by Meijer, much of that to current and former Acme officials.

The new store will be about 214,000 square feet, or roughly 8 percent smaller than the original proposed in 2004. It would have a brick facade, glassed-in main entrance and less parking, said Sharon Vreeland, township manager.

The entrance road was moved at the township's request, with an improved landscaped buffer to separate the store from M-72.

The building style remains relatively boxy, with not much to break up large expanses of brick, Vreeland said. The sign will require a zoning variance, but proposed down-directed lighting appears to meet township requirements to reduce light pollution.

"They said they have done quite a few things that we have asked for," Vreeland said. "I'm looking forward to getting into the detailed review and seeing what's new from version one to version two."

Terry Boyd, of Gourdie-Fraser Inc., a consultant for lead developer Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc., of Cincinnati, said there's nothing new or unique in the latest submittal. Instead, it's a continuation of 2004 work that answers township concerns.

The new site plan calls for a store of more than 190,000 square feet with an attached garden center of almost 24,000 square feet. The parking lot includes 1,117 spaces.

In 2004, Acme voters swept the entire township board from office over the then-board's support of the Meijer project. A flood of lawsuits followed, as well as Meijer's secret, illegal campaigns to overturn a temporary moratorium on so-called "big-box stores" in 2005 and its support for a township board recall in 2007.

Meijer subsequently paid more than $190,000 in fines and costs to the Secretary of State for its campaign law violations and about $4.2 million to settle malicious prosecution lawsuits filed by current and former township officials.

Township trustees Ron Hardin, Frank Zarafoniti and Erick Takayama all received $300,000 settlements from Meijer, as did planning commissioner Bob Carstens. Hardin also serves on the planning commission.

The Village resubmitted a version of the original 2004 plans on Aug. 31, 2009, after lawsuits were resolved. But concerns over traffic impacts on the road network and other issues surfaced in initial meetings with the developers, Kladder said.

The development group decided it needed to rework its traffic study, a move that appeared to slow the review process.

Acme planning consultants and legal staff now will study the site plan, as will Grand Traverse County's road commission and the Michigan Department of Transportation.

MDOT officials told Vreeland it would take a minimum of 30 days to complete their review, but she thinks that's optimistic.

"I expect it will take up to two months to get all the feedback, talk with the applicants and see where we are at," Vreeland said. "At this time I'd like to aim for a February preliminary meeting with the planning commission."