Senior housing on old Sparrow site moves forward – Greenville Daily News

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Ionia City Councilman Gordon Kelley, left, asks a question during discussion about city policies at the Sept. 7 council meeting, while members Jeff Winters and John Milewski listen. — DN Photo | Karen Bota

IONIA — A proposed rental housing development for seniors is one step closer to construction, but the public will have another chance to weigh in before that happens.

The Ionia City Council conducted the first reading of Ordinance No. 557, which would amend the zoning chapter of the city code by creating Chapter 1273: AC Development Planned Unit Development (PUD) District, at its meeting last week. The site at 533 E. Washington St. previously served as the former Sparrow Ionia Hospital parking lot and helipad.

Council members also set a public hearing to receive comments on the proposed ordinance at their next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 5 at City Hall.

City Manager Precia Garland said AC Development principals Greg Cook and Dan Avery purchased the property and plan to build 12 market-rate apartments, with four units in three buildings, for residents 55 and older.

The Ionia Planning Commission held a hearing to accept public comment on a final site plan and rezoning application for the development at its August meeting. Planners voted to recommend approval of Ordinance No. 557 to the City Council, contingent on several corrections in the plans and council’s approval to create the PUD, Garland said.

The area is presently zoned R-1, which would only permit seven single family homes on the site. A planned unit development, or PUD, designation offers some flexibility in land use development within a particular zoned area.

“This couldn’t be done without a PUD due to setback uses, primarily,” Garland said. “The density is well below what we envision for this area.”

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Ionia City Manager Precia Garland provides information to council members at the Sept. 7 Ionia City Council meeting. — DN Photo | Karen Bota

After Sparrow Hospital moved to South State Road, the area was rezoned from B-1 Neighborhood Business to R-1 Residential to ensure that the site wasn’t used for commercial purposes, Garland explained in her report. The city’s master plan envisioned this sub-area being used for residential purposes through a PUD, as long as density did not exceed 10 units per acre.

The city’s planning consultant, Brad Kotrba, told the Planning Commission in August the development’s proposed four buildings, each with three attached single family homes, on 4.17 acres works out to .3 homes per acre, far below the maximum density recommended in the city’s master plan for that area.

Garland said Cook and Avery, who were in the audience at the City Council meeting, would like to start construction this fall so the development can be completed by 2022.

Mayor Dan Balice called the location “a good spot for development” and said he liked the fact that “local people” were doing it.

Good luck, fellas,” Balice told them. “We’ve talked about this for years — we need to have something like this when people want to move out of their house. It’s nice for the neighborhood and will clean up a former parking lot and helicopter pad. It’s now ripe for something like this.”

Policies on memorials, cemeteries added

The City Council also approved two policies: 2-011 Placing Memorials in City Parks and Open Space, and 2-012 Oak Hill Cemetery Operations, both to be added to the Public Works section of the city’s policy manual.

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Ionia Mayor Dan Balice, right, makes a comment at the Ionia City Council meeting Sept. 7. — DN Photo | Karen Bota

Garland said the city has received requests recently to place memorials in town, one of these in the downtown area.

“We felt the need to establish policy in how we handle these requests, whether it is for a plaque, a bench, or a tree,” she said. “We want to be consistent, and while recognizing someone to make sure we benefit the city as well.”

The policy outlines the standards, criteria and options for placement of memorials. It also provides an application and a process for the city to review such requests. Memorial requests will be coordinated through the parks and recreation department director and the city manager.

“The placement of memorials, and having some mechanism for dealing with that, is a really good idea,” Balice said.

The second policy proposes maintenance and operations standards, information on how to access burial records, rules for limited interments, general rules for monuments, markers and plantings, and rules for cemetery public access and use.

Garland admitted that this policy provided “a learning” experience for her: how the city came to own it and that a portion of it is in Easton Township.

“Our cemetery is quite old, not active, and there are no known lots for sale, so it is in perpetual care mode,” Garland said. “If someone has the ability to prove they own a lot by deed, and wishes to place cremains, we do have rules. … We may have occasional cremains, so we need to have a policy.”

Garland said in the early 1900s, there were “robust records” for burials. All those records were destroyed in a fire in City Hall.

“There has been painstaking work by local historians to determine who is buried where. Numerous graves are unmarked, but we’re pretty sure they are all occupied,” she said.

Ionia resident Marilyn Webster compiled the list, which is available at online. A printed copy is available for review in the finance department at City Hall.

Given the cemetery’s age, fragility of existing comments and incomplete record of gravesites, the cemetery has no new sites for sale and is closed to new interments “with very limited exceptions regarding cremains,” the policy states.

“Things eventually erode and decay, and there are no vaults,” said Garland. “We’re very much in a maintenance-only mode.”

Balice noted that the cemetery land is “a little soft, a little wet, and used to be overgrown,” but the city does a good job keeping it mowed now.

“There’s some history up there,” Balice said, mentioning Ionia’s founder, Samuel Dexter, who is buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. “Until I read this (policy), I didn’t know we weren’t burying anything. I appreciate that.”

In Other Matters …

The Ionia City Council approved:

• Ordinance No. 555, which repealed Chapter 1267 Ionia Spring PUD from the city’s Planning and Zoning Code, and rezoned Lot 7 of the Orchard View Industrial Park, located at 520 Apple Tree Drive, from Ionia Springs PUD to I-1 Light Industrial District.

“The Ionia Springs PUD was a development that was approved but didn’t move forward,” City Manager Precia Garland explained. The contract was terminated in December 2006.

• Ordinance No. 556, which repealed Chapter 802 Licensing in General in the business regulations and tax code of city ordinances. Other permitting processes, such as zoning permits, sign permits and building permits are in place to regulate new business establishments, and business licensing “adds no further value,” she said.

In addition, the chapter contained “vague provisions involving the judgment of the director of Public Safety as to the ‘good moral character’ of a business owner prior to issuance of a license, and contraindication of ‘good morals’ as the basis of cause for termination of the license,” Garland noted — both of which could be challenged if ever relied on as a basis for action.