by CYNTHIA KMETT
It’s been a year since John Baker of Brand Growth, Inc. first proposed putting an IHOP restaurant at the corner of Rochester Road and Urbancrest. While parking, or lack thereof, was the major reason for last fall’s delays. That question hasn’t completely faded from the concerns of the Troy Planning Commission.
Baker was back last Tuesday asking for a conditional rezoning of the land, with special use for a newly built Panda Express drive-thru eatery on the site of the former Mr. Pita. The IHOP will go into the empty retail center, which has been vacant for a decade. The building will be shortened to add more parking spaces.
While there seemed to be no objections to IHOP or Panda Express, some planners didn’t seem to believe the parking study done by Fleis & Vanderbrink and affirmed by the city’s traffic consultant, OHM. The site has 119 parking spaces when 155 are required. The parking study concluded that since IHOP’s peak hours end by 2 p.m. they would not have the heavy dinner traffic seen by other restaurants. The consultants had tracked peak traffic at three other Michigan IHOPs and noted this site would be just fine.
Karen Crusse said the planners thought that was true at other eateries, namely Starbucks at Crooks and Big Beaver, which never has any parking spaces available. Well, that’s somewhat caused by drivers seeing that the Einstein Bagel lot is crowded, and very difficult to maneuver, so they duck into Starbucks and walk next door.
Some complaints will be easy for Baker to remedy. The new lighting plan has already been submitted, and he said he would be happy to build any kind of dumpster the planners wanted, including a door to walk through so the gates would stay closed and slamming wouldn’t bother the neighbors. He will also tell whoever is hired to pick up the garbage that they can’t come between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Limited delivery hours will apply to food trucks, too.
Planners also don’t like Panda Express’s brand look. EIFS building material is not their favorite. They want the top quality materials Baker showed them for IHOP to be used on the Panda Express, and they’d like a better color match, too. That Baker will have to discuss with that owner.
And then there’s the question of drainage. Planners wanted to know why they hadn’t incorporated best practices for drainage, like rain gardens and bio swells? Planner Michael Hutson says the parking lot at his office is often flooded when there’s a heavy rain. He asked about permeable paving. Planner Tom Krent did observe that such paving stops working in a couple of years because it fills with dirt. Baker said he would look into these suggestions.
Perhaps the city engineers approved these drainage plans because there are very large sewers on Rochester Road capable of handing the rain.
Neighbors weren’t objecting to the restaurants, but did express serious concerns about traffic, as the eateries will be located just above the Rochester and Big Beaver intersection on the east side of Rochester. They said it’s very dangerous in evening rush hour to get in or out of Urbancrest. Plus, Urbancrest is a dead end street, so it takes those who might make a right turn out of the back parking lot nowhere. Proper signage and the right configuration of the drive really might fix that problem.
The planners have tabled IHOP again and Baker hopes to be back much faster than a year this time. If approved by the Planning Commission, this project still needs City Council approval, as it is conditional rezoning, which means that Brand Growth can’t just sell it to a gas station owner or dog kennel.