News Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Douglas eyes uses for old plant site

By Scott Sullivan
Editor
What’s new with 200 Blue Star Hwy., apart from the parcel that once housed Douglas’s largest private employer/taxpayer now marking 10 years vacant?
City council met Monday with its Brownfield Redevelopment Authority to discuss contract planners’ latest conceptual design for the south Douglas gateway property.
Based on 667 responses to a Dec. 1-24 survey, consultant Williams & Works drafted a design featuring a mixed use of specialized commercial shops and small-scale apartments. (See nearby graphic.)
A Dec. 19 public open house, attended by some 30 citizens, furnished further insights.
The proposal, Williams says, addresses the top three uses respondents favored for the 7.2-acre site: attainable housing, places to eat and drink, and sites to gather.
Less-popular survey options were for blends of a hotel/conference center, mixed use and townhomes; and a large-scale entertainment user (e.g. movie theater), maker space, townhomes or live/use units.

Signature Site
If progress rehabbing the lot appears glacial, there’s a reason.
“The target property,” the city’s work plan, articulated by cleanup consultant PM Environmental, reads, “was first developed as a fallow orchard with two small structures as early as 1938.
By the 1940s, the property was redeveloped to house an industrial plant serving Chase Manufacturing, whose work included plating, buffing, zinc die casting, metal forming, stamping, phosphatizing and painting metal parts.
One unwelcome outcome was finding trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination that exceeded state potability criteria in surrounding groundwater. Worse, that underground plume had migrated offsite at least 1,600 feet northwest.
Steps thereafter were taken to contain its spread, but some level of TCE — once used as a de-greasing agent — likely still lies in various concentrations under privately-owned, mostly-vacant land west of the now-razed ex-150,300-square foot plant.
Later findings of PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls, commonly used in industrial and consumer products until being determined carcinogenic in 1976 — added to the toxic mix, not to mention length of the cleanup process and eventual final cost.
From 1976 to 2014, 200 Blue Star was owned and occupied by Holland- based Haworth Inc., which used the facility to manufacture furniture. No site contamination has been attributed to the firm.
Douglas acquired the site from Haworth in 2019 for $100,000, well under its estimated value, in return for assuming cleanup responsibilities. The city, unlike a private entity, is eligible for state and federal grants to advance such work.
Cleanup efforts continue crucial. After a failed 2021 application, Douglas in May 2022 won a $500,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield grant to remove PCBs, with federal funds released upon meeting set conditions. The city has pledged a $500,000 match,
Monday’s meeting was the latest step towards that end. Williams presented a plan showing 46 to 92 living units, 18,000 square feet of commercial space, 184 parking spaces, a half-acre linear park, 142+ trees and 0.7 acres of reforested buffers.
“Balance is the key,” the consultant wrote in its concept narrative, towards “filling the need for housing but respecting the commercial nature of Blue Star Highway.”
The design “provides ample greenspace while acknowledging the need for gray elements such as buildings, drives and sidewalks; including sufficient parking but embracing the walkable nature of the community.”
It also addresses “the desire for public spaces that provide public benefits while realizing that the property needs to have taxable value to help complete the contamination cleanup.
“Positioned in an ideal location near downtown, recreational assets, schools and employers, the residential component has the potential to draw more long-term residents to the Douglas community,” it says.
Finding unity in democracy is no more given than, later, a buyer/developer. A sampling of December survey responses:

  • I’d like to see the development focused on the needs of the community, rather than commercial potential. With an aging population, having an indoor fitness/recreation center would provide important benefits that the community doesn’t have.
  • A hotel will bring more year-round economic benefit to the city. Would love a rooftop feature, open-air amphitheater with music or festival opportunity, and ice rink or county skiing in winter.
  • Need affordable housing (apartments) for service-related employees, with the incorporation of outdoor playscape for children. Integrate the Blue Star bike trail into property. Foster ad-hoc activities such as an outdoor performance space that could be used for impromptu music, movies, dance, etc.
  • Affordable housing: tiny homes/apartments or senior living with lots of open spaces. What about mixed use like outdoor movies in summer or ice-skating area in winter?
  • Would like to see housing that accommodates seniors.
  • Consider outdoor space use in winter: fireplace/pit? Abundant electrical outlets for holiday lights. Music venue: draw people from outside the immediate area.
  • What about a Douglas recreational center: indoor paddleball courts, basketball, kids pool … No conference center.
  • PhysicaI fitness options for the community and tourists, e.g. a fitness center/gym, with indoor pool.
  • Thanks for this opportunity to give feedback!

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