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Proposed development near Asylum Lake Preserve sparks controversy in Kalamazoo

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Drive & Shine President and CEO Haji Tehrani says he hopes to build a car wash and indoor retail on his property near Stadium and Drake. He said the car wash would be similar to his recently opened Drive & Shine on West Main Road in Kalamazoo. (WWMT/Newschannel 3)

The future of an 18.5 acre property just north of Asylum Lake Preserve could look very different in the coming months, depending on the decisions made at an upcoming Kalamazoo Planning Commission meeting.

Haji Tehrani, the president and CEO of Drive and Shine, a car wash company, owns the land. He said he wants to build a car wash and retail area on the plot. The land is currently zoned as residential and is designated as a Natural Feature Protection (NFP). The designation is meant to protect certain natural areas, and places strict limitations on developers.

Tehrani requested the Kalamazoo Planning Commission change the zoning designation from residential to commercial and remove the majority of the NFP designation from the property. He said doing so would align with the future land development portion of the city’s 2025 Master Plan, a plan he said he was shown by city staff before purchasing the land.

While Tehrani said he purchased the land intending to develop it commercially, critics said such development would have negative impacts on Asylum Lake Preserve.

A group of concerned citizens and community groups banded together in hopes of stopping the development.

Environmental Concerns

At least two petitions are looking to stop the proposed rezoning and NFP removal on Tehrani’s land. Together the petitions had 463 signatures by the end of Thursday, Jan. 9, 2019.

The Oakland Drive-Winchell Neighborhood Association, who are fighting the rezoning, filed a statement to the Kalamazoo Planning Commission, writing in part:

"This public nature preserve provides essential outdoor recreation for three nearby neighborhoods (ODWN, Parkview Hills, and the Oakwood Neighborhood), as well as provides outdoor recreational and educational experiences for all city residents. Because a nature preserve’s goal is to preserve our natural systems it is important to recognize that these systems extend onto the adjacent properties, and what happens on them is critical to the short-term health and the long-term viability of the ALP as well as the surrounding neighborhoods."

Donna Tellam, a board member and former president of the Asylum Lake Preserve Association, called the 274 acres a treasure.

“It’s to be revered by everyone that lives in the city itself,” Tellam said. “It’s a very important issue.”

She said heavy commercial development of the land would be detrimental to the preserve. She was especially concerned about impacts from water from the proposed car wash, worried that it would seep into the ground or make its way to the lake.

Tehrani said he planned to be a good environmental neighbor, in part by treating used water on-site. He said doing so is part of city and state regulations.

“Every drop of water from our facility, it doesn’t matter what part of the facility it’s in, gets treated in a series of tanks that we have on our own property, and from there it goes into the sewer” he said. “It’s physically impossible for it to make it into the lake or any stream.”

Tellam said the water treatment did not soothe her concerns.

“There’s no way that some of that will not spill over or leak or have seepage into the water systems, or the water table below and into Asylum Lake,” she said. “There’s no way.”

Tellam said she would not be as concerned if the land were to be developed for light residential use.

Master Plan Designations

Tehrani said before purchasing the land, his team conducted a pre-purchase investigation on the property, which included talking to city staff and looking at the Kalamazoo Master Plan.

The plan, which serves as a vision for Kalamazoo through 2025, designates Tehrani’s property as commercial zoning, with only a section of the property slated as NFP land. Of the 18.5 acres he owns, Tehrani said that portion of the property accounts for the southern-most three acres closest to the lake.

However, the city later designated all of Tehrani’s land as NFP. He said that is the point of contention for his project.

According to the commission agenda, city staff are recommending that planning commissioners approve the rezoning request, but deny the removal of the land’s NFP designation.

“Our argument is going to be that only the southern portion of this property should stay in the NFP and not the rest of it, because it was originally that way from the master plan that was presented to us before we bought the property back in 2017,” he said.

He said if his requests were to be denied, the land would become a huge financial burden.

“We bought this property with the intention of not having it as a residential property,” he said. “The location of this land, with everything all the way around it being commercial, that would seem very unusual that you wouldn’t follow through with your master plan and keep it as commercial.”

The Kalamazoo Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing over the matter at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14, 2019, in the City Commission Chambers at Kalamazoo City Hall.