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Detroit board upholds denial on asphalt mixing facility on former Farmer Jack HQ site

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Board of Zoning Appeals voted Tuesday to uphold a previous decision denying approval for a controversial asphalt mixing facility on the city's northwest side.

The board voted unanimously in rejecting the appeal from the Detroit Asphalt Company, siding with the previous decision of Detroit's Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department which denied the proposal for the facility on Nov. 30.

The request, made by Pontiac-based Asphalt Specialists Inc., sought to establish a high-impact manufacturing or processing facility that was expected to take up 25 acres of a 43-acre site.

Detroit Asphalt Company proposed to acquire the land at 12155 Southfield Service Dr., which is classified as an intensive industrial district in the city's District 7, for the development of an asphalt mixing plant. Detroit's Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the plan.

Detroit Asphalt Company proposed to acquire the land at 12155 Southfield Service Dr., which is classified as an intensive industrial district in the city's District 7. The site was formerly home to the headquarters of the Farmer Jack supermarket chain.

All buildings on the site have been demolished except one, Zoning Inspector April Purofoy said during the meeting.

The company intended to have 50-foot silos housing aggregate and an asphalt mixer on the northwest corner of the site. It had expected more than 100 trucks daily to ship the asphalt. 

BSEED held a public hearing on Nov. 3 where the Wayne County Department of Environmental Health recommended denying the project because it was too close in proximity to a southern residential neighborhood. BSEED received about 200 emails of opposition and three letters of support. 

Community members said the asphalt mixing plant would have a negative impact on quality of life and objected to the noise heavy truck traffic would cause.

Aggregates used for asphalt mixtures could be crushed rock, sand, gravel or slags that when emitted, is a source of air pollution, especially in hot weather.

Jayda Philson, manager of BSEED's Zoning Division, said the agency denied the project based on illegal truck storage at the site, minimum screening around the site and the planning development department's determination that the proposal was not in compliance with the city's Master Plan. 

"Even with marijuana, we have a requirement of 1,000 feet away from residential areas and this mixer is only 800 feet away from the neighborhood. Now, this is not a requirement (for construction) but we have other sensitive uses that require it for fumes and odors," Philson said.

Asphalt Services Inc. has been in business since 1984 and intends to expand the business to Detroit where asphalt is needed, the company's attorney, Lawrence Walker told the board.

Walker said there is only one asphalt company based in southwest Detroit, and asphalt is being purchased from plants in the suburbs at a higher price.

"Times have changed. This is not a 1980s asphalt model. Asphalt must be in close proximity to the work it's needed for," he said. "This is in line with the governor's intention to 'fix the damn roads' and the president's intention to improve Detroit's infrastructure."

In a written petition by Asphalt Services Inc., owners said BSEED may have misunderstood the project during its initial denial of the plan. The company said it's entering into a contract with an owner of the land, who is housing hundreds of leased vehicles without a permit.

The company clarified there is no southern residential community bordering the land they are attempting to acquire; however, there is a neighborhood eastbound to which they intend to plant 60 spruce that are expected to grow 7-8 feet tall within three years. They also proposed a 6-foot-tall fence and a stormwater buffer between the residential neighborhood.

"This plan was designed to be the greenest asphalt facility in the state of Michigan," the company wrote. "We have purposely designed this project not only with our immediate neighbors in mind but with environmental future steps."

More than a dozen people spoke in opposition to the plan ahead of the vote saying those who are asthmatic and live in the 5,500-household Grandmont Rosedale neighborhood could suffer. 

Chelsea Salame, economic development manager of the Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation, spoke in opposition to the plan.

"We do not believe it will be an asset to the community nor would it be a benefit in any way," Salame said.

A 28-year resident of Grandmont Rosedale told the board, "800 feet is a distance of a short jog. Please uphold the position."

Walker said there is no proof of emission hazards related to the type of manufacturing.

"There are emissions, just like the type that come out of the tailpipe of your car, but in this case, there are no harmful emissions," Walker said. "They complain of the future smell but the smell now is a nearby garbage dump."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_