Costco plans put on hold until Pittsfield Township master plan changes set vision for area
Costco’s effort to build a store in Pittsfield Township continues, with store officials fine-tuning their development plans based on reaction received during Thursday’s first public meeting on the proposal.
However, a clearer timeline for the proposed development also took shape: The popular warehouse club will have to wait until the township completes its master plan revisions before it can seek a final vote.
Paula Gardner | AnnArbor.com
Officials estimate the master plan process will end in January 2011, clearing the way for Costco to seek its approvals afterward.
“Costco understands our timeline,” Planning Commission Chairman Matthew Payne said. “Our postponement was not a surprise to them.”
The reason, officials said, is the store’s proposed location on Ellsworth between South State and Airport Boulevard is centered in an area that’s prime for redevelopment — particularly after Costco, if approved, raises the area’s commercial profile.
“The current landscape may not be the landscape in the future,” said Commissioner Amy Longcore.
That, they said, means Costco’s proposal gives the township a unique opportunity to shape the future direction of the State and Ellsworth area as it weighs the single proposal.
Jack Frank, Costco’s vice president for real estate development, said he recognized the store was a catalyst for the township's future development.
“We’d like to be the economic engine that drives your redevelopment efforts,” he said. “The (projects) that follow us will emulate the look that we establish.”
Costco had filed a request to rezone 17 acres on Ellsworth Road, now occupied by nine office buildings.
The Planning Commission, at its meeting Thursday, voted to postpone that request. Costco officials will continue to discuss plans with staff, and when the master plan process is complete, the store will resubmit plans in a different format: A planned unit development.
The move means no decision will be made on the store until early 2011 at the earliest, despite the intense interest in the plan from residents.
About 45 people sat in the audience Thursday, listening to township planner Paul Montagno give a staff report before Costco representatives outlined the principles of the company and specifics of the upscale warehouse club’s designs for 17 acres on Ellsworth Road.
During the public hearing portion of the meeting, 11 people spoke. Most were in favor of the store.
Mike Reed, who lives about one mile west of the proposed store, described the site as an “old, tired environment.”
He continued: “I hope you’ll allow this development. It’s an opportunity to jumpstart the revitalization of that whole (area)."
Another reason cited was the new jobs the store would bring. Frank said about 230 people would be hired, about half full-time. The average starting wage is $11.50 per hour, he said, with most earning $19-$20 per hour. Most employees also are eligible for benefits, he added.
Exposure for nearby businesses was noted by Larry Osterling, president of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, and Androulla Youssef, part of the partnership that owns the former Chi-Chi’s on South State, recently reopened as Passports Restaurant and Lounge.
“This will be a plus to the community,” Youssef said. “I’m here to support the project in the strongest possible fashion.”
But some speakers also urged caution due to traffic and environmental concerns.
Resident Andy Lawrence said he was a fan of Costco, but as a nearby homeowner, he valued having office space as a buffer to the higher-intensity commercial corner.
“If it’s too big for Zeeb Road,” he said, referring to the store’s failed effort to build in Scio Township several years ago, “it’s too big for Ellsworth.”
Other speakers encouraged the store to pursue sustainable construction and wanted details on traffic mitigation.
“This is going to be the gateway to Pittsfield Township,” said Kathie Mahn.
Store officials had met earlier Thursday with the Washtenaw County Road Commission, according to officials, as they try to finalize a plan for road improvements near the store.
After ongoing discussions with the road commission and Ann Arbor area officials, all parties now agree on the projections for how traffic would be distributed on the various roads after a store is built, officials said.
“We have recommended various improvements in the general area,” Costco consultant Ted Johnson said. “ We do intend to make traffic improvements to the adjacent roadways by this site.”
Payne said after the meeting that specific solutions haven't been outlined, but they could include a roundabout and improvements to traffic flow at State and Airport.
“We’re very positive about Costco, but concerned about traffic on State and Ellsworth,” he said. “We’re not just looking at how (the building) looks. We’re doing everything we possibly can for Costco to help expand that road network to improve traffic flow.”
During their reaction to the plans, planning commissioners also spoke about non-motorized traffic patterns and the desire to make the area walkable. Sidewalks and building scale were focal points.
Planning commissioners also raised some concerns and questions about the proposal.
Planning Commissioner Ann Harris said she was hoping for something “more creative,” with more sustainable attributes. She also wanted assurances the store would seek local vendors.
“I was disappointed when I saw the layout. It’s a parking lot with a big building on it. I was expecting something a little grander in terms of improvements to the area,” said Planning Commissioner Christopher Wall.
Frank accepted the reactions, saying it was up to the development team to better outline how it had made its decisions and to present more options — including the pursuit of “urban flair.”
The design of the building that Costco presented is contemporary, but Frank said the drawings that accompanied the plans lacked a “richness of detail” for commissioners to get the sense of how the finished product would look on the site with the full landscaping.
“We hear you and we will come back,” he said. “We want to exceed your expectations.”
Meanwhile, commissioners stressed that while they’re considering Costco for a specific site, the impact of the decision on this store extends to the future of the township corridor.
More development is likely to follow the store to the area, they said. Speedway is rebuilding its store, three smaller retail developments have been approved at the corner, and possibilities for more redevelopment is possible among older buildings.
“Costco is setting the stage,” Payne said. “It’s important that we get a good site plan, and a good look and feel to Costco. The architecture there will have an impact on the other development that would go in there, and we’ll want it to match (Costco’s) standards.”
Proposed Pittsfield Township Costco store details:
- The size is 148,500 square feet, including a tire changing facility.
- The main entrance is at the northwest corner.
- Carts would be stored under a canopy along the north edge of the building.
- The gas station at the northeast portion of the property — set back from the road to preserve trees — will only be a 3-island fueling station with no other retail sales.
- 728 parking spaces, divided into islands with two trees and groundcover on each.
- Stormwater retention will be in an underground vault, with a small outdoor area on the eastern edge of the property.
- A sidewalk will be found on 3.5 sides; the topography of the remaining area won’t allow it.
- Construction materials will be energy efficient, including light-colored, textured metal panels.
- Landscaping will screen the parking area from the road and sidewalks.
Paula Gardner is Business News Director of AnnArbor.com, and she's covered development in Ann Arbor since 2003. Contact her at 734-623-2586 or by email. Sign up for the weekly Business Review newsletter, distributed every Thursday, here.