Citing concerns with the image of the West Bloomfield "downtown" area at the Northwestern Highway and Orchard Lake Road intersection, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied a request from Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit on Tuesday night.
The ZBA had been asked to grant an exception from the law that would have required Goodwill, categorized by the township as a secondhand store, to be located more than 750 feet from another "serious objectionable use" — in this case, a tattoo studio.
Residents turned out Tuesday in support of and against the request, which was voted down 4-1. Robert Sher cast the only vote in support of Goodwill.
Goodwill's Director of Donated Goods, Jeffrey Ukrainec, said Goodwill is not interested in other vacant properties in West Bloomfield, due in part to the "footprint" of the vacancy that Goodwill seeks in all possible openings in the area. As Ukrainec told the board, Goodwill seeks "free standing" or "endcap" structures in strip malls, which, he explained, allows for safety and expediency for donors.
The nonprofit, which re-entered the thrift store market in Canton about a year and a half ago, dealt with four months of public debate in Dearborn to gain a permit to open a store in a vacant building in the west downtown area there before it being granted in April.
"We’re disappointed that we don’t get that opportunity to come to West Bloomfield because in Canton we are a benefit to the community and to the neighbors and that’s evident by the support we’ve gotten from the neighbors and the business community there," Ukrainec said. "We hope that someday there's a location in West Bloomfield which will meet our goals."
However, several board members commented that they voted down the request with the belief that there are other locations in West Bloomfield that could meet Goodwill's needs. Chair David Ray Robertson referenced Chroma Tattoo as well as several "less-than-desirable businesses" along northbound Northwestern in Farmington Hills in suggesting Goodwill look elsewhere in town.
"If I was someone who lived in that immediate area, I could see myself being in opposition to more and more regulated uses coming in," Robertson said.
"When an area starts gets concentrated with less-than-desirable businesses or ventures or what it be, they seem to draw in more (of that type). I think that the citizens in that area have a right to expect us to uphold the ordinances that we have had on the books going back to 1966. Those are the ordinances that helped guide them to making in some cases, the biggest decision of their lives."
ZBA member Cherie Van Vliet said she believes the expected volume of 75,000 people to visit Goodwill at that location annually would make it a "destination."
"That particular area is meant for smaller businesses and I didn't feel Goodwill was a smaller business. Yes, we are here to look at granting or denying the use variances, but in looking at that, we have an obligation to look at some of the other points," she said.
The matter had been tabled April 19 after Mike Robin, longtime owner of the Robin's Nest shopping center in West Bloomfield just northwest of the site, said all 13 of his tenants signed a petition against the move over concerns of unfair competition and congestion.
The clothing boutique in the center would "probably be shut down within a few months," due to the contrast in size with Goodwill, according to Robin, despite the past presence of Dunham's Sports at the site directly next door, to the northwest. That site has been vacant for several years.
Longtime West Bloomfield area developer Bluma Siegal spoke out against Goodwill on Tuesday. "I think bringing Goodwill in changes the image and because it's the entrance to West Bloomfield, it's certainly not the image I'd like to see," Siegal said.
However, 10-year resident Gary Eisenberg said that in the interest of personal safety, a regulated use would be better than another vacancy. "Empty buildings create blight and create circumstances where people might be afraid to walk out at night," he said. "If Goodwill is not approved, to have two empty storefronts there, is way more blight-ing."
A West Bloomfield Patch poll published April 19 indicated 72 percent of 66 poll voters supported the idea of Goodwill filling the vacancy.