ONAWAY - The former Art Van Furniture store in Onaway will be rezoned to allow a nearby manufacturer to use it for light industry, and a former hospital could be rezoned and turned into apartments in the future.
Onaway City Commissioners unanimously agreed to rezone the 31-acre furniture store property for light manufacturing Thursday, a day after the city's planning commission recommended the same, City Manager Joe Hefele said. This means Moran Iron Works can use the furniture store for storage, welding and potentially as a trade school.
Art Van's chairman announced in April the store would close. City officials and other business owners worried what kind of impact it would have on the community, and Hefele said he wondered whether the building would sit empty and fall into disrepair.
"It was a very sad day when we saw that building become vacant," Hefele said. "It was an equally exciting day to see that it's going to be utilized again. It takes up a big chunk of our business district, and the fact that it's Moran Iron Works, which is a major employer and pillar of the greater Onaway community... makes it very exciting."
The zoning change, effective Oct. 26, allows for storage and light industry, both of which must take place in an enclosed structure, Hefele said. A provision allows for outside storage with a special use permit.
Owner Tom Moran and Marilyn Kapp, MIW Public Relations Officer, were in the audience, and explained to commissioners what they hope to do with the property, Kapp said. The company currently has three welding instructors training its new hires, and starting a trade school would ensure MIW and other businesses in the state have a qualified workforce. The school could eventually train other skills.
To open a trade school, the property's zoning classification would need to allow manufacturing, Kapp said. Business plans for the trade school are still in the works, but other employers in the state are already expressing interest.
"We have such a great work ethic in Northeast Michigan, and in Northern Michigan," she said. "We just need to put some skill to that."
Thursday's vote was the last step required to change the city's zoning laws, Hefele said. The Planning Commission had to hold a public hearing, post notice in the local newspaper and mail every property owner, renter or leaseholder within 300 feet of the affected land.
This is the same process needed to realize a proposal by Mark Pruchnicki, who wants to turn the former hospital near the Spruce Street and North Veterans Drive intersection into as many as 16 apartments, Hefele said. Pruchnicki explained his intention to commissioners in a letter, and the city is working to arrange meetings with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Michigan State Housing Development Authority. These and other agencies may have funding Pruchnicki could use to renovate the building, which most recently housed a Boysville of Michigan location. City commissioners will bring it up again at their Nov. 4 meeting.
If he's successful, Pruchnicki's proposal could help alleviate a need for housing in Onaway, made more pressing by the influx of Moran Iron Works employees as the company expands, Hefele said.
A message left for Pruchnicki was not returned by press time.
In other business, commissioners set this year's Trick-or-Treat hours on Halloween as 5-7:30 p.m. on Oct. 31, with leaf and brush pick-up week starting Nov. 4.