Royal Oak panel kills plans for jewelry store, pawn shop

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — The city's planning commission rejected plans Tuesday night for a jewelry store and loan business on Woodward after hearing from dozens of residents who objected to the proposal.

The panel rejected a special land use request from Zeidman’s Jewelry and Loan in a 4-2 vote, with Mayor Michael Fournier and city Commissioner Sharlan Douglas the lone yes votes. 

For nearly two hours Tuesday evening, the city planning commission heard about 20 residents object to the proposed business, along with recorded comments from 23 others who had voiced their opposition last week. The planning commission also received 54 emails that raised objections ranging from the location's proximity to a church, park, and residences to a lack of parking spaces for customers and employees.

Approval from the city planning commission would have set the stage for zoning board distance variances for the developer

A former city attorney, Charles Semchena, told the planning commission it had a duty to reject a special land use request if the petitioner did not qualify for it. Resident Richard Murphy cautioned, “When you invite a business like that it could mean more trouble for city.” Still another resident said if a pawn shop is really desired, “put it downtown next the police station.”

In general, residents, some passionately, overwhelmingly rejected the need for the business and encouraged the planning commission to vote ‘no” on a special land use.

Dennis Cowan, a former Royal Oak mayor and an attorney for Zeidman, spoke to the company’s long history of doing business in Metro Detroit.

He said items pawned are traditionally personal valuables like jewelry and watches, “not televisions and lawnmowers…” Cowan took exception with some of the criticisms raised, which he said were not based on “fact but on fear.”

“We believe we meet every criteria to be considered by the planning board (for special land use),” said Cowan. “… We have several letters of support, a petition with 42 signatures of residents and business owners … We have letters from police in Southfield and Detroit where other Zeidman operations are located … complimentary letters of how they do business.”

Cowan said the 15 spaces adjacent to the building are adequate and arrangements would be made so employees would not use them or park in the neighborhood. He stressed security or crime is not an issue because as a jewelry store, the structure will be more secure and safer than most businesses.

Diminished property values are a nonissue, Cowan said, because other outlets have not negatively impacted nearby businesses or residences.

“But between Normandy and 14 Mile Road there are four vacant storefronts and an Art Van store, which is closing,” he said. “That affects property values.”

Cowan noted some objectors had made negative comments regarding the people who might patronize the store.

“They are Royal Oakers, from Berkley, Sterling Heights etc.,” Cowan said. “They are not undesirable people.”

Douglas defended the proposed business, saying it's a retail store that would fit in with similar businesses along Woodward Avenue. She said city officials have seen nice-looking interior designs for the store and said it would provide loans only on expensive jewelry.

"This is a jewelry store," she said. "People keep calling it a pawn shop."

Fournier, who seconded Douglas' motion to approve a special land use for the site, said the project was being wrongly characterized by "misinformation."

Issues with the remote process and a technical problem recovering comments from residents delayed consideration of the project until Tuesday night, but some residents spoke out against the planned business in interviews ahead of the meeting.

“I’m not too excited about it,” said Pastor Laurence Wood of Emmanuel Bethel Church, which has been on the west side of Woodward directly across from the site since 1964.

A proposed pawnshop would be near Pioneer Park and Emmanuel Bethel Church along Woodward in Royal Oak.

“I don’t know how it might impact the area but, personally, I would rather (see) some traditional businesses. And if you aren’t going to follow your own ordinances, why have them?”

Under current ordinances, a special land use permit must be approved by the planning commission for an adult business or pawnshop. The proposed business must be harmonious with the city's master plan, be an improvement and not change the essential character of the area or be disturbing to existing uses.

It also must be no less than 1,000 feet from a school, library, park, playground, licensed day care or religious institution and no less than 150 feet from a residential zoning district.

The property is 235 feet from Pioneer Park and 500 feet from Wood’s church. It is also separated from a single-family residential unit by a 20-foot-wide public alley — variances would have been required for the project to go forward.

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