ESCANABA — After years of planning, redesigns, and discussion, the Escanaba Planning Commission approved a site plan for a controversial effort to revamp the House of Ludington into senior housing during a special meeting Tuesday.
The site plan approved by the commission is a required part of a request for tax credits from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), which, if approved, will be used to offset the costs of the $8 million construction project.
“We actually have 38 units that we fit in here, which is a little more than the other attempts at using this, which helps it work. I mean, this project is right on the edge of being workable or not workable and that’s why these tax credits are so important,” said Barry Polsin, who serves as the project’s architect.
Past attempts at converting the historic building for senior housing have been met with resistance from many in the community and have ultimately failed for various reasons, including issues with site plans and a lack of tax credit approval from MSHDA. In 2015, the property’s owners, Edward and Suzell Eisenberger attempted to sell the property to developer Excel Realty Group of Ohio for conversion to senior housing. MSHDA denied two tax credit requests for the project under Excel Realty Group.
An October 2016 tax credit application under a different developer, LC Consultants, was also denied. The multi-million-dollar project was resubmitted in April 2017 and failed a second time.
Now the project is in the hands of Home Renewal Systems of Farmington Hills, Mich., which will purchase the property from the Eisenbergers if the development moves forward.
However, concerns from past attempts were still on the minds of the planning commission and neighboring Escanaba residents during the public hearing on the site plan Tuesday. Commissioners raised concerns over adequate parking, traffic flow, and appropriate fencing to block neighbors from nuisance lights from parking cars.
Unlike past site plans that were rejected by the commission, the new plan for the property meets all of the parking space requirements set out by city ordinance without requiring tenants to park on the street by creating two separate lots with accesses on Ludington Street, 1st Avenue North, and through an alley. However, concerns have been raised some spaces were too close to a fence along one property line; that traffic leaving the parking lot onto Ludington Street were only allowed to turn east; and the traffic flow forced many residents to enter and leave through the alley, which can be difficult to travel in winter.
While Polsin admitted the parking spaces were tight, he noted the spaces were a foot wider than traditional parking and argued the additional space would leave enough space for residents to leave their vehicles without striking a planned six-foot vinyl fence. He also noted many seniors who live in housing units like the one proposed do not have vehicles at all, those that do generally have smaller vehicles, and the residents would be assigned spaces.
As for traffic flow, Polsin was willing to modify curbing on the entrance located on Ludington Street to allow for residents to turn in either direction. He also said the developer would be paving a portion of the alley adjacent to a parking lot entrance when utility work is done for the project.
There were few concerns from the planning commission about the building itself, however, major changes are in store for the hotel and restaurant. Some of the additions made to the building over the years will be removed, exposing more exterior walls and windows for the 38 units. In addition to some of the building’s additions, gone will be the iconic elevator — which will be replaced with a new elevator for tenants inside the building. The restaurant will also cease operations when the development occurs.
“The exterior of the building will be a complete restoration. So the tower, all of the elements that everyone has loved through all of its time, we’re going to restore,” said Polson.
With the changes to the Ludington Street exit allowing both east and westbound travel, the commission unanimously approved the site plan, pending a required utility plan be submitted to the city.