ALMONT — The long-vacant commercial building at the southwest corner of Main and St. Clair streets may soon have an occupant.
On Thursday, Jan. 10, the Almont Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted a variance to Dan Walker of Romeo, allowing him to create a 3-bedroom, single family apartment in a 1,200-square-foot space at the rear of the property at 102 S. Main St.
Walker is purchasing the corner property from the estate of the late Marty Clauw.
On Nov. 27, 2018, Walker, a 2005 Almont High School graduate, entered into an agreement with the late property owner’s representative, Daniel Clauw, contingent on granting of the variance.
The building is currently zoned C-1 (Central Business). The intent of the variance was “to have a less intensive use on the building’s second floor and to have more convenient access for more intense commercial use that is appropriate for the downtown area.”
The only potential hitch for issuance of the variance was the matter of parking spaces to be taken up by the new owner and apartment tenants.
DDA Director Kim Schall noted the parking lot behind the building is not intended for overnight parking, other than for one longtime resident who is handicapped. That issue was resolved to the satisfaction of the involved parties.
“We need housing in the village,” said Schall. “I’m just concerned that (other) business owners use that lot for clients and customers. The lot is also used for parking during (community) events.”
New owner’s plans
Walker says he intends to move his real estate office into the building’s upper level, while still considering options for the lower level.
Though he moved to Romeo some time ago, Walker’s connection with his former hometown remains strong. As evidence of his allegiance to the community, he returned to his alma mater this year to coach Almont football.
“This is where my heart is,” Walker says. “I have a lot of friends here and I want to be part of Almont’s future.
“I’m in this for the long haul,” he says. “I’m not looking to flip the property and go away. Given the growth coming this way, I view Almont as the next frontier.”
In the meantime, Walker expects to be spending considerable time making upgrades to the building in the coming months.
“It needs extensive work inside,” he says. “It’s going to take several months to bring things up to code.”
While currently only speculating, among the possibilities he envisions for the building’s lower level is a cafe-style eatery serving smoothies, sandwiches and healthy food options.
Walker says he’s been inspired by the success of the “Roots” barbeque, an eatery located directly across the street from his newly purchased building.
“I’m committed to helping turn Almont around,” says Walker. “I’m hoping this can be the beginning of something good for the community.”
ZBA Board member Dave Love said the requested variance was approved having met five specific standards.
They included: complying with the village’s allowance for mixed use on the building’s top floor; based on the idea that access for the residential apartment be located at the rear of the building to not cause an access issue; based on Walker’s statement that the building’s existing brick and mortar would make it difficult to make the first floor commercial and that the layout has little Main Street frontage; based on the village allowing for mixed use in the district; and based on the proposed use to provide direct access through the rear of the building and to maintain the character of a commercial front, while still providing access to the apartment unit.