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Maumee: Mall plan still rife with issues

A shopping list of issues must be checked off before plans are approved for the proposed Mall at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, but the developer is adamant that construction will begin in the coming weeks.

Louis Bucksbaum, senior vice president for General Growth Properties, Inc., said the mall project is on track for the scheduled November, 2002, opening date. Groundbreaking will take place this summer, he said.

However, Maumee has not given the green light for the project to proceed and, at Mr. Bucksbaum's request, the municipal planning commission last night again delayed its public hearing on the application for the shopping center's permit.

“Our goal was to complete all the outstanding issues before going back in front of the commission,” Mr. Bucksbaum stated in a letter to the city. Unfortunately, he stated, the continuance is needed because a city board postponed a meeting on the developer's request for variances on parking and loading dock space.

Maumee's administrative board was to consider the request July 11, but the meeting was postponed until Aug. 8 because of a lack of a quorum.

The planning commission last night agreed to continue its public hearing to 7 p.m. Aug. 27. The commission opened the public hearing on the mall's permit during its May meeting. The hearing was continued until June, but General Growth asked for a continuance until July.

With several issues pending, the site plan is “not approvable,” according to John Jezak, city administrator, who cited “major hurdles for the applicant to surmount.”

Chicago-based General Growth revealed plans in February to build the Toledo area's largest shopping center, a two-story, 1.2-million-square-foot mall near the U.S. 23/I-475 interchange with U.S. 24.

At the time, Mr. Bucksbaum said construction could begin in June if plans were given quick approval.

Since then, General Growth has had dozens of meetings with a variety of local and county officials to discuss items ranging from roadway improvements to parking spaces.

Based on the developer's calculations, the mall would be shy 1,100 parking spaces if the variance is granted, but the mall could be short as many as 3,000 spaces based on other calculations under review, Mr. Jezak said.

If the variance is rejected, the developer would be left with some tough choices, including building a parking garage, reducing the mall's size, or buying more land for parking spaces, he said.

Mr. Jezak, who described the mall project as an “incredibly complex project,” said those options “must be exhausted before a variance could be entertained.”

In addition, there is discrepancy now in the size of the mall. The developer was showing plans for a 1.2-million-square-foot mall, but “now, all of a sudden, it's 30 per cent larger,” Mr. Jezak said.

The site plan before the planning commission shows the total mall area at 1,269,819 square feet. The plan before the administrative board is 1,340,073 square feet and has a gross buildable area of 1,615,963 square feet.

Mr. Bucksbaum did not return calls seeking comment on the variances, the other unresolved issues, and whether the continuance of the public hearing would delay the timetable.

The proposed mall is under mounting opposition from area residents who are concerned about traffic, urban sprawl, noise, pollution, and other potential problems. Several hundred residents in Maumee, Waterville, Whitehouse, and Monclova Township have signed petitions opposing the shopping center.

Maumee council has been presented with petitions signed by about 520 Maumee residents who oppose any attempt by the city to grant tax abatement to mall developers.

Dave Westrick, one of the organizers of the stop-the-mall campaign, said he would like to see the mall project stall out and eventually fizzle out completely.

Earlier this year, the developer told city officials that the “drop-dead date for opening doors to customers” is November, 2002, and work must begin by July to meet that deadline.

When plans were announced in February, Mr. Bucksbaum said the mall would be similar to General Growth's RiverTown Crossings mall near Grand Rapids, Mich.

Once plans were approved, it took two years to build the RiverTown mall, said Ken Krombeen, city manager for Grandville, Mich.

After Maumee's planning commission concludes its hearing, a recommendation on the permit application will be made, then forwarded to city council.

Other issues need to be addressed as well before construction work begins, including the developer's anticipated request for financial aid for infrastructure work near the site, such as for water and sewer lines and road improvements.

During the planning commission's meeting in May, Mr. Bucksbaum said the mall would not be built unless a property tax abatement was granted. No formal request for the tax incentive has been submitted to the city by the developer, Mr. Jezak said.

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