Two weeks after a contentious public hearing on the subject of removing a Sunday hours restriction on the Coolidge Court strip mall, East Lansing’s Planning Commission voted unanimously last night to recommend City Council allow Sunday operations there.
The Commission has more specifically recommended to Council that Sunday hours be allowed but limited from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Located at the southeast corner of Coolidge Road and Lake Lansing Road, Coolidge Court – owned by real estate broker Van Martin under the name of Marcorr Properties, LLC – has been under the restriction prohibiting tenant businesses from opening Sundays since the site was developed in 1986.
At that time, the hours restriction was put in as a condition of site plan approval by Council as a way to appease residents living in the Pinecrest neighborhood behind the strip mall. Martin built the project with that condition in place and has tried several times over the years to have it removed.
As described in material provided with the agenda and previously noted by Commissioner Chris Wolf, there are three other sites around the city with a similar juxtaposition of retail and single-family zoning. But none include restrictions on days of operation.
Only one of the three, 1427 W. Saginaw St. (just east of Frandor) has restrictions on hours of operations: businesses there cannot be open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., and any deliveries, shipments or trash pickups, etc., must be done between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.
For the Planning Commission’s June 24 meeting, several nearby homeowners sent in letters and spoke on the matter of Coolidge Court, most in opposition to allowing Sunday hours. Several also raised concerns about being awakened by services like trash pick-up, snowplowing, and mowing.
The draft recommendation in Wednesday’s agenda packet was to allow Sunday business.
At last night’s meeting, Commissioner Wolf proposed instead allowing Sunday hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., to reflect a recent communication from George Brookover, the attorney representing Marcorr in the matter.
Brookover said that if businesses like law firms and architectural firms are to move into the strip mall, they need to be able to be in operation whenever the people there need to work.
At this time, five businesses operate there: Country Stitches, Wild Birds Unlimited, Baryames Cleaners, Goodwill, and Donna’s Nails. Four storefronts are empty.
“I think it’s time to remove the restriction,” Wolf said, making the motion to recommend the change to Council.
Wolf said he recognized the “unique situation” of having a strip mall immediately adjacent to single-family homes, but he thought it was time to allow Sunday hours.
Commissioner Cynthia Williams agreed. She said she had lived on Ramblewood Drive (in that exact area) when the project was constructed and said she was “baffled” by the original opposition to Sunday hours.
Commissioner Jeff Kusler agreed, and said the commission should go further – not restricting the Sunday hours at all – because “if we’re going to remove the restrictions, we should remove the restrictions.”
Commissioner John Cahill concurred with Kusler. He said he is sensitive to the potential impact neighbors fear, but doesn’t see any real benefit from any limit on Sunday hours.
But Kathleen Boyle, the Commission’s Vice Chair, wanted to support limited Sunday hours.
She said that while Kusler and Cahill made fair points about the restrictive nature not present for other businesses, this debate involves restrictions agreed to at the outset to appease residents. With that as a beginning point, she said, a compromise like Wolf’s made sense.
“It goes a long way to not completely abandoning restrictions,” Boyle said of Wolf’s proposed Sunday hours limits.
After a 5-3 vote approving Wolf’s first amendment to limit the Sunday hours from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. – with Cahill, Kusler and Commissioner Dana Watson voting against – the commission moved to Wolf’s second amendment to the recommendation.
Wolf proposed changing a recommended restriction prohibiting snow plowing from 7 p.m. to 10 a.m. to include more services like trash pickup and landscaping. The restriction on plowing from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. — the condition Wolf sought to expand — has been in effect since the original development.
Kusler again opposed more restrictions. He said he was sympathetic to Brookover.
According to Brookover, restrictions on things like trash pickup and snowplowing would be a moot point for his client because in 34 years, he said, there’s never been a complaint to the City about it.
“We simply ask for the Sunday hours,” Brookover said, looking to avoid more restrictions.
The second proposed condition amendment failed, 2-6, with just Wolf and Boyle voting in favor of it.
The matter will now come before the City Council, which has the final say on the matter.
Note: After publication this article was amended to correct the staff recommendation (staff in fact recommended Sunday hours without specifying restrictions, and we had said they recommended 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.). We also clarified material about the three other sites identified by Commissioner Wolf.