Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 14, 2010

Meijer moves to reduce Acme store design

BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY

TRAVERSE CITY -- A proposed Meijer store in Acme Township will sport a smaller design, possibly similar to a remodeled store in metro Detroit.

Developers for the proposed Village at Grand Traverse project cited the poor economy when they told township officials in recent meetings of plans to reduce the overall density of commercial development on the 182-acre Village site on M-72 east of Lautner Road.

The anchor tenant, Meijer Inc., will use a different store prototype that is about 10,000 feet smaller than a 207,364-square-foot store proposed in 2004.

A Meijer store near Waterford in Oakland County is the example most often discussed by developers from Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate Inc. of Cincinnati, said Sharon Vreeland, Acme Township manager.

"It's a little more of a downtown feel with not just a flat, expansive wall," Vreeland said. "Even though it's still a big place you get a feeling of a smaller place, and that's what we're looking for and what they are looking for, according to their own design guidelines."

Anderson Real Estate officials did not return messages left over two days both at their office and on their cell phones. Meijer officials and Steve Smith, managing partner for The Village at Grand Traverse LLC, also did not return messages.

In a Feb. 24 letter to the township, JR Anderson, vice president of Anderson Real Estate, asked Acme officials to start an informal process to work on a "less dense Village at Grand Traverse project."

Developers restarted a project initially approved in 2004 following five years of lawsuits, an unsuccessful recall effort that involved illegal campaign activity funded by Meijer, and plenty of political acrimony over previous development plans for The Village property and another nearby Meijer-owned site.

Denny Rohn, president of Concerned Citizens of Acme Township, a group that filed the initial lawsuit against the project in 2004, said she's not surprised developers want to go smaller.

"The market never looked like it would support what they originally proposed and now it certainly doesn't," Rohn said. "The whole absurdity of the original plan was its size, so a reduction would be good."

Anderson Real Estate resubmitted the original 2004 site plan in September 2009 for its grocery and general merchandise store with an attached 24,600-square-foot garden center and 1,130 parking spaces on nearly 22 acres.

Planning commission Chairman Matthew Vermetten, an attorney who often represents developers, said commissioners are reviewing many of the same issues that went unresolved six or seven years ago.

"If I put my developer's hat on I'd be pretty frustrated with the delays, but if I put my planning commission hat on it's going the way it was mapped out, with staff fly-specking everything before it comes to the planning commission," Vermetten said. "In the long run this will be the best use of everybody's time."

Acme's initial review completed in December outlined several shortcomings in the proposal. Developers and township officials met in February and March to discuss changes, including reducing the overall project amid a new traffic study.

The township could use traffic impact numbers from the new development to reject future phases, Vreeland said.

"So it's a big deal to demonstrate that the traffic can be handled appropriately," Vreeland said. "We are talking some potential traffic generation at complete build-out that would be pretty difficult to deal with."

The traffic study likely won't be complete until May and the township hasn't yet received the newest plans to review. Vreeland suspects the project won't be ready for a public hearing until early to mid-summer.