Public gets look at latest plans for BTR Phase 2

The final public presentation of Phase 2 of the Business Technology and Research Park being developed on the property known as Colony Farm Orchard drew about 30 community members who wanted to see if their ideas had been incorporated and concerns addressed in plans for the business park.

BTR Phase 2 will be developed at the northwest corner of Drake Road and Parkview Avenue, next to U.S. 131 in Oshtemo Township. Work on the development is to begin in the fall of 2016 and be completed by February 2017.

Representatives of the two firms Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber and O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock, & Associates spelled out the goals of the project that had emerged from sessions with an advisory committee and two previous public meetings. 

They had been asked to draw up a stormwater management plan that would protect Asylum Lake across Drake Road from the pollutants in runoff from new development, protect the natural areas of the Colony Farm Orchard, create a walkable and harmonious site, and plan a natural development that would comply with Oshtemo Township's zoning ordinance.

Ken Peregon of O’Boyle, Cowell, Blalock, & Associates described the landscape and natural elements of the plan and Ryan Musch of Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber handled the civil engineering aspects of the proposed design for the site. Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber's Jennifer Waugh moderated the meeting.

Plans call for about 31 acres of the 51-acre site to be developed. Another 17.5 acres would be dedicated natural area. The natural area together with site setbacks that will not be built on as required by township ordinance will mean nearly half the site will be open space. 

Along the east side of the property, next to Drake Road, a 100-foot buffer zone is proposed. A larger green space that extends 450 feet from the property line, would be on the north end of the property. It abuts land controlled by the WMU Foundation. Through the larger green space, a crushed stone walkway is planned. The area also would provide protection for a threatened variety of orchid growing there, Lesser Ladies Tresses

The road at the entrance of the property, which will become a Kalamazoo County Road, is designed with a curve that mimics the sweeping aspects of the roadway in the first BTR Park. Berms with oak trees will be put in at the entrances. 

Plans call for the oak trees to be planted in a grid pattern as a reminder of the fruit trees that once grew on the property. But members of the community asked for those plans to be reconsidered since oaks don't naturally grow in a grid pattern. Further, planners indicated they were trying to recreate the oak savannah that is being cultivated in Asylum Lake Preserve. Audience members pointed out there actually are few trees in an oak savannah. 

A 10-foot wide path through the eastern buffer zone would connect on its northern end to a bike lane on Drake Road, and on the southern end, to a bike lane on Parkview Avenue. 

An existing stone water tower on the property will be dismantled and its base will become a gathering area with interpretive signs that informs visitors of the background of the property.

Buildings would go up on four- to 10-acre sites, though sites could be larger if requested. To control the stormwater, a stormwater management basin and a rain garden described as a native wet meadow would be put in place. 

The Phase 2 plan for the BTR Park will also be used to seek certification under the Sustainable SITES Initiative, which sets standards for an ecologically resilient community in the same way LEED certification  provides standards for green buildings.

Initially, WMU will be responsible for maintaining the open areas of the development, however, as the property is built up each property owner will be responsible for maintaining it in proportion to the amount of the development their business occupies.  

The maintenance requirements would be included in a condominium agreement and made clear to business owners as they explore locating in the business park.  A number of the questions posed to the architect and engineer in a question and answer session after the presentation centered on whether there would be enough teeth in the condominium agreement and deed restrictions to assure the property would be properly maintained. 

Lauri Holmes, of Asylum Lake Preservation Association, questioned how well the property would be maintained if the businesses moving into the park have their headquarters thousands of miles from Kalamazoo. She further questioned whether businesses that are bottom line driven would have the dedication it takes to properly maintain the property.

Others asked where the teeth would come from to enforce maintenance provisions if it became necessary and whether that maintenance would be done by those who understand the property or by "ABC Lawn Service."

Bob Miller, WMU's associate vice president for community outreach, said businesses that locate in the park would know going in what the maintenance requirements are and since they will have a significant financial investment in the park they will want it to be maintained properly. He also suggested that Oshtemo Township could enforce maintenance of the property if it became necessary. He pointed out it could be 20 to 30 years before WMU no longer has a role in maintaining the property.

One resident asked that the new business park and the Asylum Lake property to the east across Drake Road be managed as a whole so that problems could be identified before correcting them becomes "very, very expensive." 

Another indicated that the property was being improved to the extent that it would attract more wildlife than it does now, which may call for the exploration of ways to keep animals and traffic separated. 

Ultimately, however, the most contentious objections to the development seemed to have been resolved.

"I really like this design," said Dr. Claus Globig. "More power to you." 

Others were resolved, but slightly less enthusiastic. "It's about as much as I could have hoped for that 50 percent is not going to be developed," one resident said. "It's hard to take a position on these plans though when what you are saying is 'Just trust us.' We would like to have more than just a "Just trust us.'"
As Asylum Lake Preservation Association President Donna Tellam said after the meeting, "There are a lot of unanswered questions." 

Kathy Jennings is managing editor of Southwest Michigan's Second Wave. She is a freelance writer and editor.
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