By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Insufficient parking and concern over precedence led the Zoning Board of Appeals to deny a rezoning request and parking variance for a proposed private social club on Allen Road at the Nov. 21 ZBA meeting.
Melvindale resident Nabil Omer bought the former E & F Auto Supply building, 18608 Allen Road, hoping to turn it into a private billiard and arcade game hall for children, but needed a zoning change from C-1 General Shopping district to C-2 General Commercial district, and a variance reducing the number of required on-site parking spots, which the board denied.
Ron Olinn, owner of the nearby Dollar Depot, 18550 Allen Road, said that when the parking lot for the nearby Slovene American Club, 18616 Allen Road, fills up, it overflows to E & F Auto Supply, then the adjacent doctor’s office, and then his parking lot.
“That only happens about four or five times a year, which really isn’t too bad,” Olinn said.
Attorney Tarek M. Baydoun said the building is 250 feet away from a property with desired C-2 zoning.
“It’s not like you are going from industrial to a commercial use,” Baydoun said.
He said the owner has been approach by a non-profit religious organization interested in the building.
“If you don’t want that to happen, which may cause a parking issue, which you are not going to be able to regulate because the federal law is so strict on that,” Baydoun said, “it sounds to me like maybe you should consider this.”
The ZBA heard comments from the floor from Building Inspector Jim Hamel, residents, and City Councilmen Carl Louvett and Dave Cybulski, then denied both the zoning change and the requested parking variance.
On both issues, board member John Barnett voted yes, with board members Jeremy Ladd, Dennis Walker and John Resac voting no.
Omer, who was disappointed by the ZBA decision, said he was worried about how disappointed his sons were about the plans for private billiard and arcade game center being denied.
“My kids, they are almost going to cry about it,” he said. “We tried.”
He said he might give the building to a mosque.
“I don’t want to sell it,” Omer said. “I’ll just give it to a non-profit. I tried to give it to my kids, my brother’s kids, but (the ZBA) didn’t want to help me.”
Omer said he already has a business in Detroit, and does not want to use the building to start a second business.
Baydoun said his client was disappointed, and they would have liked an outcome in their favor.
“We would have liked to see a more positive message,” he said. “No one was rude or negative, but it does kind of send a message that they are not going to be as flexible on certain things. I think that was a little unfortunate. I don’t think that was anyone’s intention.”
Baydoun said that communities struggle with development all the time.
“I think it is important that everyone keep an open mind, and listen to good ideas, and make their opinions freely known,” he said.
He said the idea was to have a place where their children could congregate, and once the building is paid off, you have carrying costs – taxes, utilities and upkeep.
It would not be a fraternal organization or a society, he said. He said they would focus on minors, to provide recreational activities within walking distances. He said the fathers would take turns supervising the children.
While Omer was the sole owner, others joined him as investors in purchasing the building.
Baydoun said purchasing the building was by itself a sound investment, but they did not enter into it with the misimpression that their intended usage would be allowed and accommodated by a zoning change.
“They have been offered money from a mosque, a religious institution, and if you look up some of these cases, the Religious Institutional Land Protection Act, anybody can open a religious institution, and do all of the things I just mentioned,” Baydoun said.
He said if the building was like a YMCA, and affiliated with a religious institution, what they have proposed could open.
“They would have to grant a variance by law, and if they didn’t, we could probably get a summary judgment in a couple of months from a federal court judge,” he said. “I didn’t want to take that kind of approach, because I don’t want people to feel we are taking an adversarial approach, because they are really not, and they really did not want to take that approach. I am just speaking as a land use attorney, and I was trying to shed some light on how that might have went.”
Baydoun said zoning challenges are part of the growing pains of a city, and it is better to have issues than for none to exist.
He said the nearby Slovene American Club, to which they have been compared, changed as its population did. When members had families with younger children, there were more youth activities, but as its population aged, its activities shifted, and the hall was used more for bingo and for rentals to support the building’s upkeep.
He said Omer’s building was similar in that it was a place to congregate, and it was not meant to be a religious, but a cultural group.
“The Slovene Club is just further along in the age of a new immigrant population,” he said.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)