The unsellable houses of Bell Street, part two

A few days ago, I posted a story here about the recent re-zoning of a neighborhood southeast of the intersection of Spring and Huron, and how, as a result, at least one homeowner on Bell Street, Erin Snyder, was finding it difficult to sell her property. [The southern stretch of Bell Street had been re-zoned “PMD” (Production, Manufacturing, Distribution) in 2014.] Well, I’ve just been contacted by Teresa Gillotti, who was Ypsilanti’s lead planner during the time when this area was re-zoned, and she’s asked me to pass along the following explanation as to why this neighborhood, which is located near the City’s old landfill, was re-zoned.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 4.35.31 PM

[Above are the houses along Bell Street that have recently been re-zoned as PMD.]

Many of you will recall that the City was working with a company called SunDurance to try and get a DTE solar array located on the site of the City’s old landfill. Well, the potential for development on the landfill site allowed the City to apply for and receive grant funds to do some environmental investigation.

This was a big step. Records on the landfill are scant. It was privately run for a number of years and run by the City prior to being closed, I believe in the 1960s. This was prior to state regulations to how to close landfills, so the City just blocked the entrance, and the landfill grew over into the semi-forested, brushy area near the I-94 West Huron off-ramp we know today. [This is also where the digital billboard that you can see from I-94 is today.]

After receiving the grant, the City contracted with an environmental firm to determine the boundaries of the landfill (not as clear after development of I-94 ramps) and to find out more about what contamination is on the site, and to what extent it might be an issue to the adjacent Bell/Kramer neighborhood.

Erin has a fairly good sense of the results. There are direct contamination concerns if someone were to go on site and spend time digging in the dirt, primarily due to high lead and other heavy metals present. There is some methane build-up in the center of the site (small, but not unexpected). Furthermore, there is some evidence of contaminant leaching moving southeast. I’ll stop there, as I’m not an environmental expert, and I’m going by memory. [I don’t have copies of the files provided by the consultant.]

I personally was relieved that there were low levels of contamination directly adjacent to the neighborhood, and no indication that these contaminants were moving toward the neighborhood, which, generally speaking, is on higher ground than the landfill. Erin is right that, if there were wells being used for water, there would be an issue, but luckily that’s not the case, as the neighborhood is on public water and sewer.

After the results and interpretation were provided the City, we notified neighbors, the MDEQ, etc, as required by law. A few residents came in to talk more about what we learned. The project with DTE fell through, and no additional testing was done that I am aware or.

Many of you were also involved in the Shape Ypsi Master Plan (2013) and resulting city-wide rezoning (2014). The website for the project is still up – and for those of you interested in reviewing minutes and such – the Shape Ypsi site can give you a feel for the schedule and meeting dates. Minutes of the public meetings of the Planning Commission and City Council meetings related to the rezoning can also be found on the city’s website. I bring this up because the Bell/Kramer rezoning was part of a broader city-wide rezoning, which was in response to the approval of the Shape Ypsi master plan. It was not a standalone rezoning in response to testing results on the landfill.

Focusing in on the Bell/Kramer neighborhood – the 1998 Master Plan suggested that the zoning could move to industrial uses if warranted due to its location adjacent to the largest industrial properties in the City, but zoning was R2 – one and two-family residential at that time, and prior to the rezoning.

As part of the Shape Ypsi plan, additional conversations arose about the challenges of residential in the Bell/Kramer neighborhood. There were fairly regular tax foreclosures and vacancies. There was a blight issue ultimately resulting in the condemnation of a property, demolition of a dangerous building, and an extensive cleanup. The neighborhood is also cut off by a busy Huron Rd., Spring Street, and the giant parking lot to the east. As a result, residential did not resonate as a successful long-term use in the area, and we looked into potential alternatives.

It was suggested that more commercial options be considered on Huron and Spring, and that some interior properties be changed to the PMD mentioned previously, matching that of the landfill and adjacent industrial area to the east. These changes would provide more options for redevelopment long-term, and hopefully the expansion of these corridors as well. As also noted, this allows for non-conforming uses to continue indefinitely, but this can pose challenges for resale in some cases, particularly related to insurance.

As with all the changes in the 2014 proposed rezoning – letters were sent out if properties would experience a zoning change, indicating the proposed change, date of the public hearing, etc. The first Planning Commission Public Hearing was one of the largest meetings I attended in City Council chambers, with standing room only. Residents and property owners came out to find out was happening and weigh in on their take on things. Changes were made based on this feedback, and at all subsequent meetings.

In thinking back on this, I don’t recall that we heard from any Bell/Kramer residents. And that is standing out to me as a potential failure in outreach on my part, even as notice was provided. I take responsibility for that, and, Erin, if it’s helpful to you to meet and talk more about any of this, I would be happy to.

This Shape Ypsi process was all a big undertaking, and while the staff, consultants, Planning Commission and City Council worked to be thoughtful, conscientious and forward thinking, I would never say that it’s perfect. It can’t be – both the master plan and zoning ordinance are living documents. If something is not working due to market conditions, change in community mores, general appropriateness or any other reason – it can be revisited.

This may not provide a lot of solace, but I did want to provide background and access to information on the rezoning at the least.

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[The southernmost part of Bell Street, where Erin Synder lives, is labeled at “East Street” in the above excerpt from the City’s current zoning map. (According to Snyder, “East Street was the name when Clarkesville Sub was originally platted.”) The areas indicated in grey are those now designated PMD.]

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  1. Erin
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    I appreciate Teresa’s thoughtful response, and background about the situation. While I was aware of and interested in Shape Ypsi’s planning phase, I wasn’t able to attend any of the informational meetings (I often teach in the evening). And, as I said before – I didn’t realize that my neighborhood was up for re-zoning. I found out after the fact in a letter I recieved from the city.

    I do wonder how many other residential streets in the city were re-zoned to a non-residential district. I’ve poked around a bit it the past to look for the prior version of the city’s zoning map, but I haven’t yet found a copy.

    I also wonder why the city chose not to include a provision to allow the re-building of a non-conforming structure if it were to be destroyed. If they had done so, none of the homeowners on the street would have an issue with selling, mortgaging, or getting insured for their properties. I do understand that the city would want to allow for a broader range property uses in my area. However, not only has the Ypsilanti Housing Commission redeveloped several apartment units at the north end of Bell Street, two of the foreclosed properties on Bell Street have new owners, and substantial improvements have been made to both of those properties as well. Finally, the condemned building on Kramer Street which required demolition and cleanup is not included in the PMD zoning district – it’s zoned General Corridor, which allows for two-family and multiple-family dwellings. It’s also still vacant. While the city might like to see new development of a more commercial nature in my neigborhood, from my point of view it doesn’t seem terribly useful to erode the residential tax payer base already owning property in the area.

  2. kjc
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    so planners said hey, this area isn’t a great place for people to live. let’s plan for no residential. but there were already people LIVING THERE. and in fact people have always lived in not great places near freeways and abandoned industrial sites. the market plans for that shit. apparently planners knew what was coming in ways the residents didn’t. and now, where the rubber hits the road, people are being unfairly affected. unfairness is everybody’s responsibility.

    so i’m glad it’s a living document and can be changed.

  3. Mr. X
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you for taking the time to respond, Teresa. I’m glad to know that our zoning map is a living document and that the people in this neighborhood have the ability to appeal the decision.

  4. Fenny Leins
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    This neighborhood is pretty cool. I had my eye on 115 Bell street when it was for sale last year and liked its rural feel with instant highway access. Although both exits are onto busy roads, nobody drives through the area unless they live here…well, except for me when I was checking the area out.

  5. Pete Murdock on Facebook
    Posted November 3, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink



    The City of Ypsilanti, Economic Development Department, will hold a meeting with the Bell/Kramer Neighborhood to discuss zoning, environmental conditions, and neighborhood issues with City staff and available council members on November 3, 2016 at 6:00 p.m. at WCC – Harriet Street Center (332 Harriet).

    The City invites all citizens to attend this meeting or to send written comments to the City of Ypsilanti, Community & Economic Development Department, One South Huron Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197. For further information, please call 734-483-9646 or email Nan Schuette,

    The City of Ypsilanti will provide necessary auxiliary aids and services, such as signers for people with hearing disabilities or audio tapes of printed materials for people with vision disabilities, upon two days’ notice to the City of Ypsilanti. Those requiring these aids or services should contact the City of Ypsilanti at:

    City Clerk’s Office One South Huron Street Ypsilanti, Michigan 48197
    (734) 483-1100

  6. Erin
    Posted November 15, 2016 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

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