Farmington planning commissioners got a first look Monday at plans to bring a Tropical Smoothie Cafe to the World Wide Center, located at Grand River and Whitacre.
Architect Scott Monchnik said the restaurant will occupy a new 1700-square-foot building on the east end of the parking lot. The proposal also includes a new facade on the main building, roof replacement, a new monument sign, and parking lot repairs.
The owner submitted plans to revitalize the center in 2014, but approvals expired. Monchnik said that adding the outlot will allow the owner to secure financing and hopefully lead to a “new tenant mix and new life can be instilled into the existing project.”
“It’s an older building, an older development,” Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen said. “There’s been a need for building maintenance for some time.”
Commissioner Cathi Waun asked why outbuilding was placed on the east side, which is closer to the residential street and adjacent Panera Bread. Monchnik said the lease for the tenant on the west side did not allow for placement there.
Commissioner David Gronbach noted the poor condition of parking lot and the lack of a landscaping plan to address removal of trees from the boulevard along Grand River.
“The existing trees are old and very, very full, which makes it a little bit hard to see the center,” Monchnik said, adding that new trees will be planted in the parking lot islands.
Gronbach also commented on narrow sidewalks and the lack of handicap access ramps. Christiansen said older strip malls were built in different times, to different standards. Bumping out the sidewalk would require reconfiguring the parking lot.
“That can limit the owner’s willingness to do some of these things, so we have to work together,” he said.
Christiansen said plans show a shortage of parking spaces overall and stacking spaces for the drive-through window. The city is also working with the owner to improve a screening wall that separates the back of the building from the neighborhood and to provide trash enclosures.
Commissioner Steve Majoros noted the “ton of cost” in the proposed improvements and asked what would keep the owner from just putting up the outbuilding.
“The guarantee you have is through the permit process and the financial guarantees that are provided,” Christiansen said. “If there’s nothing done… properties have a responsibility to follow the property maintenance code, and we have to follow up with code enforcement.”
Comments from the Planning Commission meeting will be worked into a revised site plan. Before final review, the proponent must request the variance on parking requirements; Christiansen expects that to happen at the July Zoning Board of Appeals meeting.