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  • Kevin Elliott

Planning rejects therapy clinic inside RARA

A request for a proposed private medical office inside the existing Rochester Avon Recreation Authority (RARA) building that would house an orthopedic spine and therapy clinic was tabled indefinitely on Monday, October 2, by the Rochester Planning Commission, which said the request can't be accommodated under the property's current zoning designation.

Under the proposal, RARA in early September said it hoped to lease out some of its interior space at its facility at 480 E. Second Street in Rochester to a private medical provider for an orthopedic spine and sports therapy clinic. The request initially caught the attention of both Rochester and Rochester Hills city council members in September who questioned the appropriateness of a public entity leasing out space in its building to a private business.

While both city councils approved RARA's 2018 budget, which included projected income from the lease, RARA Director Ron Jewell said the budget could withstand an amendment in the event that the lease didn't move forward.

Rochester planning consultant Vidya Krishnan, with McKenna Associates, said that when the plans were initially reviewed that it was assumed that the clinic would only be providing services to RARA members and therefore could be considered an ancillary use to the principal recreation use to RARA. However, the applicant explained that the proposed use would be open to the general public, meaning the clinic would have a second primary use in the same building as RARA.

"We have reviewed the use proposed and found it to be not uncommon in community recreation facilities in other communities," Krishnan said. "However, since the use is open to the general public, it is no different than a medical office use, and would be considered a second principal use which is compatible with the main use, but not ancillary."

The issue, Krishnan said, is that the only clinics permitted in the industrial zoned property are psychiatric clinics, not medical offices. Further, she said special exception uses still don't permit medical clinics in the property, as currently zoned.

"At this time, I believe the orthopedic clinic is not permitted under the B-1 criteria as earlier thought," she said. "However, it is a compatible and reasonable use. If the planning commission should choose to do so, the option would be to consider a zoning text amendment to the I-1 district to allow the use to take place, as a complimentary and compatible use of the principal use on the site."

Planning commission member and city councilman Jeffrey Cuthbertson, noting that the RARA's facility primary use is permitted in the zoning district under a special exception, said the idea of having two principal permitted uses that are inconsistent with the industrial zoning designation appears to be out of character with the zoning plans.

"Perhaps this isn't zoned right as industrial, and as we move forward with the master plan, we change it then," he said. "But it seems like we are straining to find uses."

Commission member and Rochester Mayor Cathy Daldin said she agreed. "I'm fine with it staying this way," she said. "We keep trying to find ways to make people fit for everyone that comes in here. It's difficult."

Rochester Deputy city manager and planning and economic development director Nik Banda said the city can relay the information to the applicant that it appears they are unable to follow the city's current ordinance under the application as presented.

Under the current master plan, the property is recommended to be zoned as multi-family residential zoning. The current industrial zoning allows the recreation use under a special exception, but does not permit medical offices under a special exception.

City attorney Jeff Kragt said tabling the proposal allows the applicant to ask for the application to be withdrawn or to come back in November and make a pitch to the commission as to why they believe the use should be permitted. If they are denied, the applicant may then request the matter to be taken up with the city's zoning board of appeals.

The commission voted unanimously to table the request for a site plan and special exception approval.

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