HOWARD CITY — After learning more details about a proposal to build high-end apartments above a local restaurant, most of the Howard City Village Council now supports the idea.
The council voted 4-2 in favor of the proposal at a special meeting Wednesday night. The move was a reversal of a 6-1 vote against the proposal last month.
Frank Zamarippa opened Latitudes Roadhouse and Steelhead Tavern in 2003 in a historic downtown building which formerly housed the Howard City Hotel more than a century ago.
As his restaurant effort continues to be successful, Zamarippa is now working on a plan for the upstairs of his business — high-end apartments, funded in part by a rental rehabilitation grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).
In June, the council heard from Marilyn Smith, a MSDHA housing consultant, about the grant requirements and apartment proposal. In July, the council held a public hearing and then voted 6-1 against the proposal.
Council members Jodi Cummings, Max Gondre, Tom Harris, Eleanor Marek, Ken Thomas and Janice Williams all voted “no,” with Village President S. Michael Scott casting the lone vote in favor of the idea.
The issue was revisited at the Aug. 18 village council meeting and Wednesday’s special meeting was then scheduled to learn more from both Smith and Zamarippa.
According to MSHDA, the rental rehab program “provides quality, safe and affordable rental housing in vibrant places by granting financial resources to our local and statewide partners.” MSHDA conditions require $40,000 must go into each new unit and a 25 percent leverage on the grant is required by Zamarippa.
According to Smith, the new units are required to be rented to low-income people for the first five years of the grant, but after those five years are up — or after a low-income renter moves out of one of the units — Zamarippa can rent to whomever he chooses.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Gondre questioned whether the village would incur any costs if Zamarippa is approved for the apartment grant.
“There is no cost to the village,” Smith said. “Absolutely zero.”
Marek questioned why Zamarippa is not required to make the apartments handicap-accessible like the Housing & Urban Development (HUD) program. Smith said the rental rehabilitation grant and HUD are two completely different programs.
Cummings questioned whether parking would be an issue, but Zamarippa said he is confident he has plenty of room and options for parking. Apartment tenants would have a separate entrance apart from the restaurant entrance as well.
Multiple business owners and residents voiced their support for Zamarippa’s plan.
“I’m in support of it because I see he’s putting money into our community and these people (future tenants) could become viable members of our community,” said Paige Denslow of Droski Insurance.
Kindel & Co. owner Christian Kindel agreed, as did Bob Peterman, who owns Howard City Auto Clinic. Peterman said he has seen his own business dramatically suffer due to other businesses closing or leaving town.
“It’s something that I’ve needed for quite awhile because it’s going to bring people in and more people means more traffic,” he said. “I’m all for it.”
David Germain is a longtime Howard City official and business owner who now resides in Reynolds Township. He noted many of the village’s improvements over the years were due to grants and local people who take a progressive attitude.
“Downtown businesses are critical to Howard City’s survival,” he said. “I think it’s the council’s responsibility to keep personal agendas out of any decisions made tonight. I think you should jump at this opportunity.”
Germain’s comments were met with enthusiastic applause from most of the two dozen or so people in attendance.
Scott, who has been the lone council member to support Zamarippa’s proposal, said he sees multiple positives coming out of the new apartments, including improving a historic building, increasing the village’s tax base, adding more water and sewer customers and increasing local revenue sharing.
“Every little bit helps,” he noted.
In the end, the council voted 4-2 to approve the rental rehabilitation grant. Gondre, Harris, Scott and Williams voted “yes” while Cummings and Marek voted “no.”
Councilman Tom Harris was absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
Zamarippa was pleased with the outcome of the vote. He will now work toward obtaining grant approval from the state.
“I’m trying to attract customers and good-paying clientele,” he said of his goals. “If I can get some young professionals in here, that would be great.”
The next regular village council meeting is 7 p.m. Sept. 15.