04-13-2017 Developers to build Dollar General in Hagar Township; Watervliet School District completi

Developers to build Dollar General in Hagar Township; Zoning Board of Appeals approve numerous variances

By Jon Bisnett

Developers Midwest V, LLC got a thumbs-up in the form of five small zoning variances from the Hagar Zoning Board of Appeals paving the way for Midwest to construct a new 9,000 square foot building to house a Dollar General retail store in northwest Hagar Township.

What a Difference Time Makes

DOLLAR GENERAL HEADED TO HAGAR… De-spite adamant local objection to a prior attempt at redevelop-ment and rezoning of the former Vitali’s Market, the Hagar Township Zoning Board of Ap-peals has given its unanimous approval to a series a variances requested by developer Mid-west V, LLC as they intend to demolish the existing structures located at 6230 and 6246 M-63 to make room for a newly con-structed building and parking lot to accommodate a Dollar General store. The now vacant parcels formerly housed a truck & auto parts shop and an ice cream store. (TCR photo by Jon Bisnett)

Developers first attempted to bring Dollar General to the area back in 2014 at the location of the former Vitali’s Market.

The market parcel, shuttered at the time, came with a laundry list of complications in terms of non-compliant zoning issues that had been grandfathered over the years.

In September of 2014 the Hagar Planning Commission voted 5-0 to approve rezoning for the project. It was later overturned by the full township board in reaction to a veritable firestorm of negative reaction by community members as over 70 residents packed the township hall.

The decision resulted in litigation, since settled, without public disclosure of the terms.

New approach

 The most recent proposal by Midwest V, LLC entails the purchase of two lots located at 6230 and 6246 M-63, demolishing the two structures and combining the lots to have one building with a parking lot. The property is already properly zoned for commercial use and has road frontage on M-63, West Hagar Shore and Central Avenue.

Jason Raleigh with AR Engineering from Kalamazoo, who is working with the developer, said the variances are to reduce the setback on Hagar Shore Road, reduce the setback along the M-63 side, reduction in the number of required parking spaces from 30 down to 24 in order to maximize the property.

Midwest V, LLC plans will lease Dollar General the 9,100 square foot building, said Midwest spokesperson Peter Oleszczuk with a 15-year lease, with further provision for an additional five 5-year extensions.

Community reaction

 One question arose from a resident in attendance at the public hearing as to what would happen if the Dollar General deal falls apart. Oleszczuk replied the area would have a new, good-sized building with great frontage on M-63 that can always be divided up and repurposed.

While a few voiced concerns about increased vehicle traffic, and possible effect on area property values, other residents welcomed the new business, preferring it over the unsightly vacant buildings that formerly housed an ice cream shop and a truck and auto parts house.

Recognizing the shape of the property posed difficulties for the developer, the HZBA voted unanimously to grant the variances.

Oleszczuk said the next step is to submit a site plan. There is no timeline yet for when the store may open.

Dollar General Corporation, NYSE: DG is an American owned chain of variety stores, founded in 1939, headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tennessee with annual revenue of $20.369 billion.

As of January 2016, Dollar General operates over 12,400 stores in 40 states, with plans to open an additional 1,000 in 2017, in the face of record major chain store closures.

DG stock rose 0.33% just one week ago with the announcement that it has reached an agreement with long time competitor Dollar Express LLC to acquire all 323 of its store locations. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

$1.7 million left over

Watervliet School District completing more projects with bond

proceeds from recent building improvements

By Annette Christie

Due to the lower cost of projects the Watervliet School Board will be able to complete additional facility improvements with the previous bond proceeds.  Superintendent Kevin Schooley told the board at their Monday, April 10 meeting that the staff, facilities committee, and the architectural engineers have reviewed a list of potential projects for the possibility of being included in the bond package and ensuring that they fall within the language of the original bond proposal.  Schooley said that the district has approximately $1.7 million remaining.

Some of the extended projects include replacing the gym floors at the North and South Elementary Schools (these are the original floors installed in 1954); an additional cooler for the kitchen area; adding more security cameras in areas needed in the middle and high schools; replacing the old heavy restroom doors for the students at the elementary schools; replacing 11 sinks at the elementary schools (originals); adding another classroom at the high school; upgrading the science labs; replacing additional lighting at the high school for better efficiency; upgrading the boys locker room at the high school; addressing the drainage problem at the North Elementary School; and replacing the exterior doors of the computer labs.

Schooley said that he has worked with the bond attorney to ensure that the projects discussed can be paid for with the bond proceeds.  He commented that this is a good problem to have, being able to complete additional improvements. “This will benefit this district for years and years to come,” Schooley said.

Schooley did address the need for an auxiliary gymnasium.  While he doesn’t argue that there is a capacity need for an additional gymnasium, Schooley said that with all of the other priority things needed as well, the district will have to look at other ways to address that issue.  The estimated cost of that project alone is $2.1 – $2.5 million.

The board did authorize funding out of its general fund, the replacement of the sound system at Panther Stadium.  Schooley pointed out, “We have this beautiful stadium but the sound system is just antiquated and pre-dates the new press box.”  The board looked at three cost estimates and authorized the replacement of the system in the amount up to $19,000.  School administration will work with the two lowest bid vendors to double check on the support and warranty of the equipment prior to awarding the bid.  It is anticipated that the work will be complete by 2017 graduation ceremony.

The board also approved transitioning to new accounting software, one that is supported locally by the Berrien RESA. The district will save on the implementation and the training of the new system by sharing with another district that is also transitioning.  The annual cost for the program is between $10 and $12 thousand.  The new software should be in place by October 2017.

After some discussion, the board did elect to continue being a “Schools of Choice” district.  Schooley said that the district currently has approximately 437 students that are Schools of Choice students or 30% of the population. The percentage of Schools of Choice students has remained steady over the last four years between 28 – 32%.  Even with choosing to continue, Schooley said that the number of available spots next year will be very low, in fact in grades 6-12, he doesn’t anticipate having any.

The board accepted, with regret, the retirement of Mary Kane, an elementary level teacher.  She has been with the district 24 years and will be retiring at the end of this year.  Schooley said, “She was immensely helpful when I started as a principal in 1998,” adding “She will be missed.”

High School Principal Brad Coon reviewed the list of upcoming spring events that would be of interest to the school board:

April 18 – National Honor Society Inductions, 6:30 p.m.

April 27 – SAC Academic Awards Luncheon, Lawton Community Center, 11:00 a.m.

April 29 – Prom

May 16 – Awards night starting at 5:30 p.m. (freshman, sophomore, junior) followed by Senior Awards at 7:00 p.m.

May 23 – Spring Band Concert, 7:00 p.m.

May 25 – Spring Choir Concert, 7:00 p.m.

May 26 – Seniors’ last day

May 31 – Baccalaureate & Banquet, 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium and cafe.

June 2 – Graduation, 6:30 p.m.

Reorganization begins at Watervliet City Hall; Manager makes hourly jobs salaried positions

By Annette Christie

The Watervliet City Commission got a taste for where the city manager wants to go with regard to the staffing at City Hall and its related duties.  City Manager Michael Uskiewicz presented several job changes within administration.

Uskiewicz recommended a revised job description for the city clerk position and a new job description for utility services revenue supervisor.  Both positions would be considered department heads and would report directly to the city manager.  The recommended salary for the positions is $38,000.

The clerk is responsible for the professional administration of city documents, records, elections and accounting.  She serves as the clerk to the city commission and as the custodian of official city records and public documents, performing certification and recording for the city on legal documents and other records.   In addition, the clerk performs some payroll functions, general ledger journal entries, purchasing duties, and personnel related issues.

The utility services revenue supervisor supervises the utility billing for the city including the quarterly analysis of all meter read accounts.  The position is responsible for overseeing, supervising and participating in the billing for utility services, planning, organizing and directing the billing activities including utility bills, and other miscellaneous fees and for preparing and maintaining related records and files.

Uskiewicz explained that with the approval of these job descriptions it will begin the process of streamlining the organization to meet the needs of the public. Uskiewicz said, “The two ladies who work in those positions are valuable, doing a wonderful job, and are cross training each other,” adding, “I am blessed to have them here and so is the city.”  Currently the two positions receive $16.50 an hour.  With them becoming salaried positions, overtime is being eliminated. The city commission voted unanimously to approve the job descriptions and the salaries as presented.  Commissioners Hehl and Muth were absent for the vote.

Uskiewicz then asked for the creation of a water resource manager.  The position would receive a salary of $48,444. He explained that approving the position would essentially approve the promotion of a seasoned veteran who has expertise in this area. Mayor Dave Brinker asked if Uskiewicz had a meeting with the water/sewer committee and asked about that recommendation. Commissioner Luke Strunk stated, “The feeling that I got from the water/sewer committee was that they were ok with this.”  Uskiewicz said the primary responsibility for this job will be the management of the water treatment facility and the systems pertaining to the water operation including testing, inspection, and daily plant monitoring of functions of the plant to assure compliance.  The position is salaried.  He said that the water resource manager will work with the director of public works and the remaining staff on city projects as needed.  “Primarily his focus will be the water plant and its systems,” Uskiewicz said.  Commissioners Bill Whitney and Rick Kinzler voted no on the motion; however, it passed.   Commissioners Hehl and Muth were absent for the vote.

Uskiewicz asked for the authority to post for the position of department of public works director.   He explained that they lost one of the employees back in February and was asking to fill the director position vs. hiring another laborer.  Commissioner Duane Cobb commented that they have been looking for a director for a long time. He said they had someone in there for a while and that didn’t work out so well so the person became a working foreman. Cobb said, “We do not have a director and we should.”

The position that Uskiewicz is wanting to post has a rate of $55,000. Brinker asked the city manager how he was going to budget for this to which he responded that with the $27,000 from the vacant laborer position and the creation of the water resources manager position coming out of public works and going under the water line, the city will have more than enough in the budget to cover hiring in that position.  The motion carried to post for the position.

Uskiewicz said that once they get these things in place, they can focus on the bigger picture.

The city commission also authorized rate increases for its police department.  The department currently has two full-time officers and the chief of police.  In addition there are two part-time officers and they are needing two more part-time police officers.  City commissioners authorized a starting wage for part-time officers at $15 an hour with the top wage after three years of $17 an hour.  They would increase the full-time salary to $36,400 with 5% increases for the second and third years of service and a top wage of $40,131 plus benefits.  The commission authorized the changes retroactive to January 1, 2017.

The city commission finalized the union contract for its public works department employees. Uskiewicz told the city commission that this has been a long time coming; he felt that the negotiations were a very good discussion with a lot of give and take.  He said that the contract that they had before them had already been ratified. He said there were a number of things that benefit the city in the contract and that in his 25 years of experience in negotiating union contracts that this was a good piece of work.  Brinker cautioned the city commission before the vote that some of the things that they were adamant about were not changed in this contract.  Cobb added that it was not all of the concerns. Brinker was the only no vote on the contract.

In other business, the city approved an agreement for continued skate park maintenance once it is up and running and had the first reading of a noise ordinance.

In their last order for business, they approve a request for Firefighters Association fundraiser on Saturday, June 10 in Flaherty Park.  Commissioner Whitney said he will work with Dave Coyle from Arclight Brewery for a brewer’s festival.  The event will be four hours long and include various brewers and food vendors. The association helps out many community members and events with the funds that it raises.  The vote from the city commission was necessary to alter their rules of not allowing alcohol in the park.  Commissioner Cobb voted no but the vote passed.

Clerk Dena Yow announced that there will be a “Meet the City Manager” Open House on Thursday, April 20 from 5 – 7 p.m. at Hawgsville Saloon, 365 N. Main Street in Watervliet.


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