Rezoning request denied for site of former Fred Bear Archery plant

Grayling city planners nixed a plan to allow a proposed industrial manufacturing facility to go into a building previously used for manufacturing products.
Following a public hearing held on Tuesday, May 21, the Grayling City Planning Commission turned down a conditional use request to rezone land located near downtown Grayling.
A joint venture between Jay Bird Manufacturing Co. and Industrial Finishing is affiliated with the $400 million Arauco North American particle board plant, located on 4 Mile Road in Grayling Charter Township.
The proposed site for the project was 5671 M-72 West, where the former Fred Bear Archery plant was located. The property is currently owned by Bill Gannon.
The proposed venture involved bringing particle board manufactured by Arauco, cutting it to size, nailing it together and cutting a groove in the boards used as packaging and distribution units for Arauco.
“That is the basis of our manufacturering,” said  Jason Ballard, the owner Jay Bird Manufacturing Co. 
All of the sawdust would have been collected by bag houses, which separates  out the sawdust from other materials. Up to 10 cubic yards of sawdust would have been generated per day, and would then be put into Gaylord boxes and shipped back to Arauco to make particle board.
“It keeps it from having to go to the landfill, and it’s going back into the remanufacturing of the product,” Ballard said.
About a half of a dozen people were on hand at the planning meeting commission’s meeting to  express their opposition to the rezoning request.
Matt and Christine LaFontaine, the owners of two auto dealerships in the community and now the MLA Auto Spa, believe  the property should remain as a site for commercial and residential growth.
“Just the overall use of that property as an industrial use to us would be a deterrent on the future growth of that property,” Matt said.
Kimberly Hatfield, a Grayling City Council Person in attendance at the meeting, said she had concerns about potential contamination of the nearby AuSable River. 
“I have a hard time seeing that piece of property used for something that I personally feel as a Graying native should be out on Industrial Drive,” she said.
Grayling Mayor Heather Forbes, a member on the planning commission, said she was concerned about the release of chemicals used in the manufacturing of the particle board.
“There is a genuine concern there,” she said.
Grayling Planning Commission Chairman Jon Williamson, who is also a sergeant for the Grayling Fire Department, said firefighters have tested boards made by Arauco that did start on fire. 
Williamson, however, said the main concern with cutting the particle board would be the fine powder, which might cause a flash fire.
“I don’t know how it acts when it’s cut into dust,” Williamson said. 
Tom Steffen, who owns the building at 108 E. Michigan Avenue, which he is planning on redeveloping into five-story multi-use structure, said he wanted the jobs  for the community, but does not  want an industrial facility near the downtown  business district.
“Most of our plans revolve around a downtown that is going to walkable and it’s not going to be involved with a factory setting,” Steffen said.
Pete Hahn, of Industrial Finishing, tried to convince city residents and city planners that there would be no  affluent, waste stream or release orf air particles from the facility.
“What you have now is a vacant warehouse, which has been empty for several years, and will likely be a vacant warehouse for several more years,” Hahn said.
Ballard said the business partners have been eying other possibilities in the community, but could only address them while the 12-month lease for the proposed facility was in place.
“If this fails, we’re going to be months before we can get a building in the ground and get started,” he said.
Ballard said he understood the concerns of citizens and planners, stating that his facilities in the south are located near the Hot Springs National Park.
“I understand your concerns and I respect them,” he said. “We’re going to keep it contained within the four walls of this building, and make product for them, and that’s it.”
The Grayling Planning Commission’s two options were to recommend the Grayling City Council consider the rezoning request from commercial to industrial or deny the request from moving forward.
City planners did not cite a reason for denying the request. However, the rezoning would have had been necessary to ensure that the property develops in such a way that it protects the surrounding neighborhood and was clearly in the public interest as conditions planning commission members reviewed before making their decision.
The Bear Archery plant opened in Grayling in 1947. The plant employed hundreds of Crawford County residents. In 1976, the employees produced a record number of 360,000   bows.
The facility closed when  the Bear Archery plant was moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1978. 
Erich Podjaske, the zoning and economic development director for the City of Grayling, said the zoning for the property has been commercial for the six years he has worked for the city. He was unaware if the zoning was different when the Bear Archery was operating.

Crawford County Avalanche

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Grayling, MI 49738

Phone: 989-348-6811
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