Thursday, September 23, 2021

Romulus Trade Center is OK’d by city council

The first reading of plans for a new, multi-million dollar trade center were approved by members of the Romulus City Council this month.

The new, 171-acre development is planned along the south side of Smith Road, the east side of Vining Road and north of Wick Road and is the second proposal for the site proposed to city officials by NorthPoint Development.

The initial plans presented months ago by the developer were rejected by council members prompting a video apology from NorthPoint owner and founder Brent Miles during the meeting Sept. 13. Miles said the new proposal was a “long journey over several months” with the city and that the plan “didn't start off in the best manner.”

He said he wanted to apologize for the failure of his development team to listen to the city and present a plan that would be acceptable to residents.

“We refreshed our entire team and came back to the community and listened. We've brought back a better, what I think is the best, plan which invests hundreds of millions of dollars” in the community.

The plan as presented to the council members received a unanimous vote of approval from planning commission members where study sessions and a public hearing sought public input on the proposed development. The developer projects that the new Romulus Trade Center will bring 1,180 jobs, another 629 construction jobs, $55 million in real property taxes and projects $38 million in tax revenue for the Romulus School District.

The new plan includes a provision for retail space in the center and NorthPoint Economic Development Manager John Sweeney said that the company had come to an agreement with Royal Farms to become the first retail outlet in the new project. He also said that the contract provided that Romulus residents have a two-week lead time and preference for employment opportunities throughout the site.

NorthPoint has added $2 million in landscaping to the plan including multiple sidewalks inside and at the entire perimeter of the development, connecting the area to several other parts of the city. The development currently includes the installation of 1,700 trees and 5,700 shrubs and decorative grasses at the site, all of which, Sweeney stressed, are in Phase One of the project.

“This isn't something we are going to do down the line. These infrastructure improvements and landscaping are part of Phase One, as is the retail operation, and will be done during the first part of the project,” he said.

The project, which will have a final reading for a second vote of the council next week, faces a $2 million penalty, along with city legal fees, should any of the provisions in the plan be violated.

One of the main concerns of both members of the planning commission and city council members was the impact of truck traffic on the area roads. NorthPoint funded a traffic impact study and paid for an engineering plan to keep trucks off local roads with the installation of three traffic signals for ingress and egress to the area. Trucks would be limited to one driveway and forced to make a left turn out of the project and travel a short distance to I-94 rather than use any of the surrounding roads, according to the current plan.   

Of the 171 acres of the planned development, 67 acres is dedicated to paths, sidewalks, and landscaping, Sweeney explained. Plans include a groundbreaking for the project next April and completion of Phase One by April of 2023.

Councilwoman Kathy Abdo expressed her concern that Royal Farms might include overnight parking for long-haul truckers as is the case at some locations. Sweeney said this facility would not have overnight parking, and that condition was a provision of the NorthPoint contract with Royal Farms.

Councilwoman Virginia Williams was critical of the plan noting that it included two small land parcels still owned by the city which had been put up for sale. She said she couldn't understand basing a plan on land the corporation didn't actually own. She was also critical of what she considered a lack of publicity regarding the proposed plan and repeatedly insisted the discussion and presentation should have been made at a study session as it took “more than an hour.”

Mayor LeRoy Burcroff reminded her that it is not unusual for the city to run these types of development plans concurrently with purchase plans for city property.

Councilwoman Celeste Roscoe, who acts as the council representative on the planning commission, explained that all the available means of public notice had been utilized.

“We don't want our residents impacted in any negative way,” she said, “but we can't leave this property undeveloped. We need to weigh the good with the bad.

“Rarely does everyone (on the planning commission) vote yes but they did on this. This was the best plan we've ever seen. We need to move forward.”

Councilwoman Vera Webb said that the city officials have “spent months and months and months with NorthPoint. If we do not put something in that vacant acreage, it will be another 30 years.” She added that NorthPoint had agreed to everything the city asked for, “and more.”

Williams cast the only no vote on the project which will return for council consideration Sept. 27.  Councilman William Wadsworth was excused from the meeting.