Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Federal Screw Works is hot topic at Planning Commission Meeting

Last night, the Planning Commission meeting included a public hearing for the rezoning of the Federal Screw Works property. Developer Rene Papo of Magellan Properties presented his revised site plan which includes 2-story buildings, with businesses on the lower level, and residential on the upper level. The meeting was attended by many local residents and business owners, including myself.

Living on Main St.
As you may know, I live on Main St. It's a great location and we love being in the heart of the city, walking downtown, having local stores nearby and easy access to the highway. Most of the time, I am able to simply pull out of my driveway like a normal person and am on my way. But there are times when traffic is heavy and it takes a good 5 minutes or so before I can pull out. Traffic gets backed up all the way from the railroad tracks downtown to past Pierce Park (near Old US 12). After living here for a number of years, I have this system down pat and know which times of day I need to allow extra time for this.

One of the proposed tenants for this new development is a drive-thru bank. As I not-so-patiently waited to pulled out of my driveway this afternoon to pick up my daughter from school, it made me sick to think how hellish Main St. will be if there is a continuous line of cars waiting to turn in or out of the bank. Besides, aren't we trying to promote Chelsea as a walkable community?

Part of the charm of Chelsea is the historic homes on Main St. on the approach to downtown. Visitors and passersby have daydreams of the people living in those cute little houses strolling to the cute little downtown to mail a letter or stop for ice cream. Well, that daydream is a reality for residents that live on Main, Pierce, Lincoln, Congdon, Summit, etc. A drive-thru bank will be dangerous to pedestrians, and make the already very congested traffic on Main St. a nightmarish inconvenience for residents and visitors. And what about the emergency traffic headed to Chelsea Community Hospital, whose entrance is across the street from the FSW location?

Other tenants of the proposed site might include a restaurant, office and medical buildings and residential apartments. Magellan also developed the "Chelsea Courtyard" strip mall where Blockbuster, Divine Java, the Dollar Store and others are located, as well as Dexter's new Busch's and surrounding stores. Here is their current plan for the FSW site:

The Historical Preservation Part of It
As you have undoubtedly read in the paper, there is a group in Chelsea who are strongly urging the city planning commission and the developers to save part of the FSW building. The Federal Screw Works has fascinating story spanning nearly 100 years. If you'd like to read more about it, you might want to check out Federal Screw Works page on ArborWiki.

When most people think of the building, they see the large factory that has FEDERAL SCREW WORKS on the front. Well, that's not what the preservationists are talking about. It's the painted brick building on the north side of the property that the Citizens for FSW are trying to save, along with another small brick building that faces Congdon St. near the Chelsea Center for the Arts.

From what I could tell at the meeting last night, it does not sound like the developers are open to the idea of saving this building. That is a shame, and for what it's worth, I strongly believe that extra time or costs on their part would come back to them 3-fold in new business gained from publicity and community good will. Wouldn't every small town want a developer who could preserve some of our history and character AND provide a great new place?

My Thoughts
The most important thing to me is that this new space fits in well with the residential community. This is not the place for a strip mall or office building park. This area has historic homes filled with families who have lived here for generations, or moved here because we fell in love with the town. Our property values, our summer strolls downtown, our daily commutes and our every day well being pretty much depend on what goes into this new development.

If you live or work on Main St. or anywhere near downtown, or even if you ever drive on Main St., or visit businesses or organizations near that area (Faith In Action, Chelsea Center for the Arts, Chelsea Community Hospital, Cottage Inn Pizza, etc.) these decisions will affect you. Not to sound like an alarmist, but if you have an opinion on this subject, now is the time to speak up.

We don't have the authority to make decisions about the FSW development, but we do have the ability to communicate with the Planning Commission -- and they make the decisions. The Planning Commission's next meeting is a working session, but the public can attend. If you want your voice to be hear, I suggest contacting a member of the PC or writing a letter for their consideration, and then attend the next meeting to see what happens.



julies whimsies on a rose said...

I agree with you completely, Leslie. This proposed plan for Federal Screw Works rubs me the wrong way. Chelsea is slowly losing its small town character. I live on Summit St. and Grant. This would put this new Papo development almost in my backyard. The strip malls Papo erected are hideous and out-of-place already. I, too, am tired of Main St. traffic. I cross Main St. almost every day at the Middle St. intersection. There is so much traffic on Main St. that the light allows only a few cars to cross Main St. at a time. I'm sure this was timed to allow a smoother flow of traffic down Main St. There are lots of cyclists and pedestrians put at risk. The same thing could happen with the Screw works property if they add a bank with a drive through. I believe that will make for more traffic on the back streets of Chelsea...Congdon, Grant, and Summit. This puts pedestrians in more danger...particularly children. I'm not sure you know the Papo guy's background or not...How he came into his money etc. I won't say this in public (I don't want to face a potential lawsuit). If you would like to know, send me an e-mail. This town is also becoming dangerously over-built. There are new additions going up all the time now. There is an addition being built, as we speak on Grant St. I'm not sure how many homes are being built...But it will affect the schools, infinitum. We have a neighbor who is a realtor and has planted three houses on one block..the ugliest of which is the house across the street from me. The owners said they were going to sell it...but it soon became a rental. Chelsea's over-developing seemed to have started when the town became the chi-chi place to live. Our taxes keep going up. The foreclosure problems have hit Chelsea hard. You cannot drive down any street in Chelsea without seeing houses for sale. We were going to put our house up for sale and move out in the country. However, our home that appraised just 2 years ago at 200K, is now valued at 129K. So what IS up with all of this over-building? I don't get it. Now I've vented and feel a lot better.

Sgt. Wolverine said...

Wow. I feel bad for the site's neighbors. I was hoping the new development would make the site blend into the area, but it looks to me like the proposed development is going to do just the opposite.

Sarah said...

A drive-through bank? Seriously?? That's the best they could come up with? I really hope this development doesn't just turn into a collection of the same old strip mall crap much like the building where the Blockbuster is.

Leslie, I don't know how you do it, living on Main St. You have my sympathy. The traffic on Main seems to get worse all the time. I've started taking Old US 12 to Taylor and Lincoln to get back to my house on Garfield rather than deal with the backup on Main.

And Julie, I think I know which house is yours. I agree that the blue rental house is totally out of character with the neighborhood. Same with the brown box that's three doors down from me. And even with all the houses for sale in town, houses that have been sitting on the market for a year or more (like my next-door neighbors), someone think it's a good idea to put up YET ANOTHER stupid subdivision development? I wish that land had been preserved for a park or something instead of being wasted on more ugly cookie-cutter houses. Yeah, I'm so going to love listening to the sound of construction all summer.

I wonder how long it will be before that other big lot across the street from you gets turned into a subdivision. Probably as soon as the old woman who lives there passes away.

I run a lot around town and I have to use the crosswalks at the traffic lights downtown to get across Main because it is impossible to cross at any of the streets without a traffic light. The traffic is a constant stream in both directions. It's light enough early in the mornings now that I am going to start running at dawn instead. I should not have any traffic problems at 6:00 in the morning.

julies whimsies on a rose said...

Yes, you are absolutely correct, Sgt. julie

Leslie said...

Actually, I love living on Main St. for a lot of reasons. It has it's disadvantages at time, but for the most part it's a great neighborhood and there are more positives than negatives.

Part of what makes Chelsea a great town to live in is that the residents take part in their own community. I grew up in a much larger city, and I don't think I ever even knew what the mayor's name was, much less have the opportunity to talk to him or her. Just yesterday, I ran into Chelsea's mayor and we had a friendly chat about dogs and Frisbees. This is an approachable government who cares about what residents and businesses are telling them.

I'm really glad this post is getting some comments! I think it's definitely something worth talking about.

julies whimsies on a rose said...

I grew up in Indianapolis....also a large city. This is truly a wonderful little town. I want to see it stay that way. Some change is good for any city...but the unbridled growth that is being allowed in this town is hurting Chelsea. But our lovely little town does also come with it's own problems. Those can be changed with everyone's help.