Plans to transform the historic Hoyt-Ford school, which overlooks Mill Pond at 600 W. Michigan Ave., from an office into a micro-distillery and tasting room have hit a wall.
Although no vote was held Monday, Saline City Council didn’t show much interest in amending an historic easement it has on the property, which would likely be required to rezone the property. Two days later, the city’s planning commission voted against Chris and Trish Molloy’s request to rezone the parcel from professional business to central business. The Molloys had previously outlined their plan to open Mill Pond Spirits, a microdistillery and tasting room.
Their plan faced several bureaucratic obstacles.
For one, years ago, when the property was rezoned for professional business, the Molloys granted the city a historic easement on the property, giving the city some control of the parcel. Secondly, rezoning is required -- and many neighbors weren’t keen on their plans.
In addition, the Department of the Interior might also take issue with any changes on the site, since it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On Monday night, with two councillors Linda TerHaar and Jack Ceo absent, Mayor Brian Marl could not find much support for this enthusiasm about the project. Terri Sibo-Koenig, chair of the Saline Historic Commission, spoke to council about the commission’s review of the proposal. Council had previously asked the commission to review how amendments to the easement might affect the historic character of the buildings and the site. According to Sibo-Koenig, the commission found several ways the proposal might affect the historic character of the site, including modification of the exterior surfaces, possible addition of a chain-link fence, and possible cutting of trees. Perhaps the biggest alteration might come from any plans to relocate a garage to create parking.
“We had a very lengthy and thoughtful discussion and we feel confident we’ve reached out to the experts and gotten good answers. The Historic District Commission is governed by ordinance and Secretary of the Interior Standards. We are very careful to be respectful of those things,” Sibo-Koenig said. “We know this is an important topic with a lot of pros and cons. We hope we captured that for you.”
Councillor Girbach said he was opposed to amending the city’s historic easement on the building. The easement was signed in 2002, when the property was zone professional business. The easement references the zoning and would need to be amended if the zoning is amended. “When the document was developed and we moved to professional business zoning, we felt it was a way to provide financial incentive for the building owners and preserve the property without disturbing the residential neighbors,” Girbach said.
Councillor Christen Mitchell, who serves on the HDC, said it was a tough situation. She said she likes the Mill Pond Spirits idea, but said had too many questions about how the use would impact the historic character of the property.
“I can’t support changing the easement right now. Too much is unknown. And the residents, fro whom we work, are not happy with this change,” Mitchell said.
Councillor Janet Dillon also said she was not supportive of changing the easement.
Councillor Heidi McClelland said she had no strong opinion, either way.
That left Mayor Marl, who has been supportive of the project, on an island. And even Marl didn’t speak in absolute support of the project. Marl said he was “in the middle.” He said his plan would have been to convene a working group of HDC members and councillors to “strike a balance and make amendments, that preserved features while allowing new and exciting business” to thrive.
Marl said he hoped council would vote on the issue at the Sept. 16 meeting, when the full council should be in attendance.
The proposal was dealt another blow Wednesday when planning commission voted against recommending the rezoning to council. Council could still take up the matter and go against the planning commission’s recommendation.