By Scott Sullivan
Douglas City Council Monday formalized creation of a Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to pursue grants to help clean up the former Haworth site and pursue longer-range development of 75 acres west of Blue Star Highway between Ferry Street and Wiley Road.
Council appointed mayor pro-tem Greg Harvath, city manager Bill LeFevere, former mayor Matt Balmer and former councilman Bob Sapita to serve on the new authority, which will set to work writing bylaws.
Douglas has a memorandum of understanding with developer Dave Barker to tackle a project that would level the 156,900-square-foot former factory and provide family housing, among other uses, on three adjacent parcels.
Step one, with Brownfield assistance, would see razing the plant at 200 Blue Star Hwy. and addressing trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent left in the 7.11 acres underneath it by Chase Manufacturing, which occupied the building from 1965 to 1971.
The larger vision includes family housing and more on Barker’s 50.34-acre former Miro Golf Course land adjacent to the plant west of Ferry Street, and 16.84 adjacent southwest acres the city bought for $196,600 in 2013 from the Joseph Migas Trust Fund.
The ex-Haworth plant, last listed for $1.7 million, sits on land zoned commercial but has had grandfathered-in industrial use since the 1940s. The furniture maker announced plans in fall 2012 to close the facility, which then employed 110 workers and was Douglas’ largest taxpayer, phasing out metal fabrication and powder paint processing operations to consolidate in a newer plant. Its last workers here departed in 2014.
Geerlings Development Co. of Zeeland agreed in late 2015 to buy the site pending environmental assessments and receiving funding for needed mitigation, envisioning a high-tech firm with local ties moving in, more business-incubator-type tenants and possible post-secondary educational offerings in the building.
A subsequent discovery of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a stable contaminant also onsite, prompted the city to up its state grant and loan requests. Geerlings’ interest cooled as the clean-up price tag grew.
Enter Barker two years later, known here most recently as project manager for the Dunegrass development on the 130-acre former Presbyterian Camps fronting Lake Michigan in Saugatuck.
Barker some 25 years earlier helped develop Wilderness Ridge and Summer Grove subdivisions in Douglas. His mid-1990s effort to develop 250 homes on his Miro holdings was approved by the city but derailed by environmental and public concerns thereafter.
“Haworth has been generous working with the city,” said LeFevere, noting the firm and Douglas had a “donation agreement” by which the purchase would not be free but price mitigated considerably by the city addressing environmental issues on the property.
The Michigan Brownfield Redevelopment Program, operated through the Department of Environmental Qua-lity, targets properties complicated by the presence or perception of contamination.
It provides grants, loans, tax increment financing and free site assessment to help revitalize such parcels.
“Douglas and the Saugatuck Public Schools have identified needs for diverse family housing,” said Barker. “We’re an aging community. Affordable housing for younger families can help maintain the local labor force, fill our schools and keep Douglas-Sauga-tuck vibrant and dynamic.
“I’m talking with environmental firms, land planners, cleanup and marketing specialists,” he went on. “Where government money is lacking I’m prepared to seek private capital.”
Barker foresees a scalable, 20-plus-year project involving shared public and private green spaces, recreational facilities; public water, roads and sewers; paved paths; a campus for active retirement, assisted living and medical care facilities; single and detached houses, many of them smaller; apartments; live/work units … what zoning and changing markets will allow.
“My goal is to work with as many local investors, builders, realtors and more as possible,” Barker continued.
“That’s a key part: investing in ourselves,” he said.