Builder promises action
By Jim Bloch
When the owners of the St. Clair Inn purchased the old St. Clair Middle School on Sixth Street with the goal of building housing for Inn employees, some local residents feared that excessive partying might accompany the 64 apartments planned for the building, as well as increased traffic. They probably didn’t expect blight.
But blight is what they got as a first step toward workforce housing — and a bakery — and some residents are complaining.
“When is the city going to take care of the blight over on Eighth Street?” asked resident John Shinske at the Nov. 18 city council meeting. “I see now that they’re trying to cover it up.”
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Shinske made similar complaints before the council in early September.
Since then, contractors installed green fabric screens on the fencing along the west side of former parking lot behind the school, designed to block some of the view of the random construction materials and clutter. But the area in general “appears to look worse that it did in early September.
“This is a single-family residential neighborhood,” said Shinske, “where you can’t have that kind of stuff. We have the code enforcer going and telling people that they can only keep their travel trailers in their driveways for two weeks… But here we’ve got a whole city block that’s going to blight and it’s residential… What’s happening to our city? That’s what I want to know.”
At the council’s regular meeting on Dec. 2, Mayor Bill Cedar offered an answer to Shinske.
“Last week, there was a question about the middle school and what was going on there, so I contacted Danny Brennan of Westhaven Builders,” said Mayor Bill Cedar.
Cedar read Brennan’s response: “We’re working to get it cleaned up and consolidated to one corner before the snow flies. We understand it’s an issue and we’re working to get it taken care of. “
“(Building official) D. Boulier and I talk about this everything day and we’re not going to sleep on it,” said Cedar.”They’ll have to do something a little different over there.”
“Has it been addressed since the last time you spoke to him?” asked council member Tom McCartney.
“I went by there today and actually it looks a little tidier over there,” said Cedar. “I saw a couple guys over there moving stuff around.”
On Dec. 4, there were two men working in the lot and reorganizing some material with a big forklift truck.
“What are the steps we take?” asked council member Jon Watt. “Do we write a letter of warning? Is that the process?”
“Yeah,” said Cedar. “We’re trying to be nice first.”
In September, the city declared the school, built in 1921, a brownfield redevelopment district and approved a tax break for the property.
In addition to workforce housing, owner Jeff Katofsky plans to build a bakery in the old school to serve the St. Clair Inn, the planned Starbucks across from the inn, and the Harrington Inn in Port Huron, which Katofsky also owns.
Brownfields refer to properties that need new investments to be brought up to their market potential. The properties may be contaminated by industrial chemicals, or have a historical significance that cannot be exploited without more development, or may be functionally obsolete, which is the case of the middle school.
Because the schools don’t have to pay property tax, which is based on market value, the city had to establish values for property before Katofsky bought it. The city assessed the value of the land at about $224,000 and the building at $252,000.
Under the tax break, that value will be frozen for 10 years and Katofsky will pay taxes on it. The new value created as the project proceeds — the efficiency apartments, the new bakery, as well as other enhancements — will be exempt from property tax for a decade.St. Clair County Metropolitan Planning has estimated that Katofsky’s group will spend $3,750,200-$4.3 million on the project. Over the length of the tax break, Katofsky will save about $1.5 million.