By Scott Sullivan
Douglas City Council took next steps Monday towards razing and cleaning up the former Haworth plant property, conveying 7.11 acres the city acquired at 200 Blue Star Hwy. this spring from the furniture manufacturer to its new Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (BRA).
The city plans to demolish the 156,900-square-foot factory on it, clean up contaminants left by past occupants and combine the parcel with neighbor ones into a 75-acre development including affordable family housing and more uses.
The Michigan Brownfield Redevelopment Program — operated through the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, formerly Department of Environmental Quality — targets properties complicated by the presence of contamination. It provides grants, loans, tax increment financing and free site assessment to assist their cleanup.
“Whereas the council,” reads Monday’s resolution, “has determined that the remediation of environmental contaminants and removal of existing structures will provide the city a significant opportunity to direct and/or undertake redevelopment of the Haworth property, dramatically alter the visual appeal and aesthetics of this segment of the Blue Star corridor, provide continuity and compatibility with surrounding land uses and the opportunity for growth consistent with the city master plan and long-term interests and future development, and
“Whereas the council is of the opinion that (this) revitalization and redevelopment is an appropriate activity of the BRA and it is in the public interest that the city convey the property for that purpose …”
Thereby, paraphrasing from here, it does so.
The BRA — which consists of consists of council appointees Suzanne Dixon, mayor pro-tem Greg Harvath, former mayor Matt Balmer, former councilman Bob Sapita and soon-to-retire city manager Bill LeFevere (Rich LaBombard was hired last week to succeed him) — is charged with maintaining the property as an unoccupied building with utilities discontinued or disconnected and helping Douglas seek Brownfield funding.
The city and Haworth struck a donation agreement March 29 whereby Douglas paid $100,000 and signed off on paperwork that allows the Holland-based furniture maker to apply for a tax write-off on the difference between that and the land’s assessed value, last gauged by the city at $200,000.
The parcel’s last listed $1.7-million asking price did not account for who did the cleanup.
The factory sits on land zoned commercial but has been grandfathered-in industrial use since the 1940s. Metal manufacturing operations there included plating, buffing, zinc dye casting, phosphatizing and painting metal parts.
Haworth announced plans in fall 2012 to close the facility, which then employed 110 workers and was Douglas’ largest taxpayer, phasing out operations there to consolidate in a new plant. Its last workers here departed in 2014.
Releases of trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent left in the ground by Chase Manufacturing when it occupied the plant from 1965 to 1971, have long caused environmental concerns there. These were compounded by discovery two years ago of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) also onsite.
The city has a memorandum of understanding with developer Dave Barker to pursue a public-private project on Barker’s 50.34-acre former Miro Golf Course land adjacent to the plant west of Ferry Street, at 16.84 adjacent southwest acres the city bought for $196,600 in 2015 from the Joseph Migas Trust Fund.
“Douglas and the Saugatuck Public Schools have identified needs for diverse family housing,” Barker told The Commercial Record. “We’re an aging community. Affordable housing for younger families can help maintain the local labor force, fill our schools and help keep Douglas-Saugatuck vibrant and dynamic.
Barker foresees a scalable, 20-year-plus 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 house, many of them smaller, apartments; live/work units … what zoning and changing markets will allow.
“My goal is to work with as many locals investors, builders, realtors and more as possible,” Barker continued.
“That’s a key part: investing in ourselves,” he said.