BELDING — After nearly a year of being disgruntled by a decision by the Belding City Council, Dan Blunt, owner of Belding Tank Technologies, says he can finally move on.
During a meeting last Thursday at the Pere Marquette Depot in Belding, Blunt was heard before the Zoning Board of Appeals on a nonuse variance request filed by Blunt on behalf of his company.
The variance was filed in dispute of a ruling in February 2013, in which the city council considered an amendment that would have allowed the Planning Commission to waive the requirement of sidewalks based on certain standards.
Belding Tank Technologies recently expanded its manufacturing and assembly buildings, which Blunt said offered more employment.
“It’s created some more jobs for us and has created an opportunity for more growth down the road,” Blunt said.
But according to a city ordinance, by expanding, the business was required to also install sidewalks on the property.
The ordinance reads: “Sidewalks shall be constructed on all sides of the property abutting a public street in accordance with city standards.”
The city council decided not to adopt the amendment to the ordinance, which left Belding Tank Technologies seeking a variance as a last resort.
After an hour-long meeting, the four members of the board voted 3-1 in favor of Blunt’s variance, thus allowing him to forego installing sidewalks along abutting city streets on his property at 200 Gooding St.
“I’m relieved,” Blunt said after the ruling. “I’m glad to put it behind me and get on to some productive business. We have a lot planned for the future.”
According to Blunt, Belding Tank Technologies, which manufactures fiberglass storage tanks, currently employs 68 workers and has operated in Belding for 44 years.
Thursday’s ruling didn’t come lightly, as board members discussed the topic in great detail after listening to a presentation from Blunt’s attorney, Chris Meyer, and Blunt himself.
Meyer was required to demonstrate that Belding Tank Technologies had met six requirements for the variance to be approved, ranging from showing “extraordinary circumstances” to proving that the variance wouldn’t negatively affect area neighbors and businesses.
Located in the city’s industrial park, Meyer said the addition of sidewalks on the property, estimated to cost Belding Tank Technologies $40,000 to $50,000, would have served a “negative purpose.”
“The purpose of the ordinance is to create a community that could be easily accessible to pedestrians,” Meyer said. “But this is an industrial district on the very edge of town on a dead-end street. It would be a negative purpose to have pedestrians in that kind of area.”
Meyer continued, stating that the idea that residents would need to walk throughout an industrial park is an illusion.
“People don’t go out of their homes and walk around industrial parks,” he said. “People walk around their neighborhoods, or downtown to walk from business to business. Given what’s going on at this property, there are very large loads coming in and out and you probably wouldn’t want people walking on foot.”
For Blunt, being forced to install sidewalks “didn’t make sense,” as he stated that the nearest sidewalk in the industrial park was an eighth of a mile away from his business, on the corner of York and Merrick streets.
Blunt added that forcing this particular ordinance was preventing other businesses from expanding.
“I know the sidewalk issue is putting expansions of other industrial companies right in our backyard on hold,” Blunt said. “They aren’t going to add on to their building if they have to put a sidewalk in. Is that my problem? No. But it does take away from the tax base of the city. It takes away revenue. It’s not a win-win situation for anybody.”
After Blunt and Meyer were finished speaking and public comment was received, board members then deliberated the details of the case.
Board member Michelle Cooper stated she didn’t understand the point of having pedestrians walking in an industrial district.
“In my mind’s eye, it makes no sense to promote foot traffic in an industrially zoned area,” Cooper said. “I, as a business owner wouldn’t want to promote foot traffic into my business as I’m hauling cargo in and out.”
Cooper also stated that Belding Tank Technologies did enough to show that all six conditions needed to approve a variance had been met.
“As I see this, none of the six standards have not been met, from the city’s perspective,” she said. “Three of the standards have been clearly met and three of the standards have been partially met, with a request for additional discussion. I think Mr. Meyer has provided us with clearly convincing arguments.”
Opposed to the variance, and the one member who voted down the variance, was Mayor Ron Gunderson.
“One of my thoughts about this is, we have to start somewhere with these sidewalks,” Gunderson said. “I don’t know how, as a city, we could ever keep people out of industrial park.”
Gunderson said part of his walking path runs through the industrial park, with is just west of the city’s Lightning Bend Park, and said often times when he drives to the park he finds that residents must walk or bike in the road.
“There’s a rustic city park there and now we have a disc golf course there,” he said. “We have people walking and riding bikes in the road to get there and that is a concern to me. It becomes a health safety and welfare issue for the city. That’s one of the things that I think we need to look at.”
According to the city’s master plan, one of the main goals of the city is to make Belding a “sidewalk-linked community.”
“That includes everything, we’re talking downtown parks, schools and other facilities,” Gunderson said.
But Cooper said she didn’t understand how forcing Belding Tank Technologies to construct sidewalks would connect a community when the nearest sidewalk is an eighth of a mile away.
“Ron, as you stated, the purpose was to make this easily accessible to pedestrians and have a linkable community, but what are we linking to?”
“As I’ve said, we’ve got to start somewhere,” Gunderson responded.
For board member Robert Thompson, the idea of forcing any business in an industrial park to have sidewalks seems “unnecessary.”
“I’ve been in probably 2,000 industrial parks and I might have seen half a dozen industrial parks that had sidewalks of any kind,” Thompson said. “You just don’t see it. To me, when we talk about an industrial park having sidewalks …. It just doesn’t seem like common sense to me.”
Thompson said he felt the city was getting in the way of business expansion.
“I think this right here, I just don’t see the logic behind it,” he said. “Maybe (the sidewalks) could tie it into something in the future, but I’m more worried about making the city grow a little bit, worrying about doing things now, to market this city. We need to quit cutting bate and start fishing.”
Gunderson closed his comments by stating he still believes the sidewalks should be implemented, but apologized for the process that Belding Tank Technologies was forced to go through.
“I appreciate the businesses here in town,” he said. “This has been a long, drawn-out process, and I want to apologize for that.”