Vacancies on BH Planning Commission are being felt

Development of the former Harbor Center building in Benton Harbor, on the left, could potentially be delayed if the Benton Harbor Planning Commission can’t get enough members to show up next Tuesday to approve minutes from May that are needed so the developers can apply for financial incentives from the state. Cornerstone Alliance is selling the building to Cressy Commercial Real Estate.

BENTON HARBOR — Two vacancies on the Benton Harbor Planning Commission need to be filled soon so commissioners can do their work, Chairman Lee Reed said Thursday after canceling a special meeting due to the lack of a quorum.

He said commissioners have been unable to take care of business since June because not enough of the nine commissioners have been in attendance. Besides Reed, the other three commissioners at the meeting were Vice Chairman Richard Hensel and Commissioners Eddie Marshall and Raymond McGee. Five members are needed to conduct business.

Some of the commissioners were absent Thursday due to being ill or at a funeral.

“We have to get this vacancy thing straightened out because if we can’t function, that means there’s a part of the city that’s dysfunctional, and we have too many important things coming up,” Reed said.

The only item on Thursday’s agenda was the approval of minutes from the May 14 special meeting, which included commissioners fixing inaccurate property lines for the former Harbor Center building at 126 Pipestone St. and Cornerstone Alliance’s headquarters at 80 W. Main St.

Certified copies of those minutes are needed so state officials can consider a plan to turn the former Harbor Center building into 14 apartments with two commercial spaces on the ground floor, Reed said.

Cornerstone is selling the 20,000-square-foot building to Cressy Commercial Real Estate, which is applying for financial incentives through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) in Lansing to make rehabilitating the building feasible. MEDC’s next monthly meeting is Aug. 15.

City commissioners already approved a 12-year Obsolete Property Rehabilitation District and Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Exemption Certificate for the project in March. The certificate would freeze property taxes for 12 years if it is approved by the state.

Greg Vaughn, chief operating officer/vice president of business development with Cornerstone, said state officials have already given preliminary approval for the project.

“All that’s left is for the state to give its final approval,” he said when contacted by phone after the meeting. “The developers are concerned that it’s taking this long. ... We want to get this wrapped up in a timely manner.”

Reed said the planning commission’s next regular meeting is at 1 p.m. Tuesday – two days before the MEDC meeting. He said he’s confident that there will be a quorum at that meeting.

If not, Vaughn said the project will be pushed to MEDC’s September agenda. But he said he hopes that doesn’t happen.

“Any time you deal with developers, they want to get things moving,” he said.

Reed said also on Tuesday’s planning commission agenda is the election of officers, which couldn’t be done in July due to a lack of a quorum.

In addition, commissioners are expected to consider:

• A temporary moratorium on signs

• A review of attendance requirements on the planning commission and

• The next step for the master plan.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege