By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – A number of challenges remain between idea and realization of a medical complex again doing business on the former Riverside Hospital grounds on West Jefferson, but last week’s unanimous approval of a site plan marked the most significant step taken in years.
“Everyone is glad that something is happening,” City Administrator Jim Wagner said of unanimous approval during the City Council meeting March 21.
A preliminary site plan for the Riverside Wellness Center affecting 2171 W. Jefferson Ave. and adjacent parcels next will be reviewed by the city’s planning commission, likely within the next 30 to 60 days.
Now under development by NAMA Management LLC on behalf of property owner Dr. Iqbal Nasir, the long contested and problematic acreage could begin phase one of its redevelopment this year.
City approval of rezoning the properties to a Planned Urban Development would overcome what Wagner said had been an administrative hurdle that had been self-imposed. The property has been under potential development ever since Nasir purchased the grounds and facilities from Henry Ford Health Systems in 2009. Approval in 2011 for the site to qualify as a brownfield redevelopment project had inadvertently imposed deed restrictions that prevented progress.
“They’d approved a plan that couldn’t go forward,” Wagner said.
At times “the conversation had been heated,” Wagner said of subsequent stalls and delays. The plan – of medical offices in the smaller, western buildings and a care facility setting up in the former hospital – sat idle and the property subject to resident appeals to have the buildings demolished.
Instead Wagner said the rezoning as a PUD should clear the way for the first phase of an anticipated four-phase, four-year plan to begin with occupancy of the medical offices.
Wagner said city officials, developers and engineers are each approaching the final approval cautiously for a project that both the city and developers hope to see realized.
“We’re taking the time and being careful,” Wagner said. “We want to make sure there’s no more legal blockages so we can move forward. We don’t want to negatively impact the neighbors in any way.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)