Sturgis City Commission discusses apartment proposal, contamination cleanup

Sean McMickle from Spire Development in Ohio discusses a proposed 50-unit affordable housing apartment complex for Sturgis. The firm is seeking tax credit consideration, a competitive process at the state level, to move forward with the project. (Dan Cherry for Watershed Voice)

The Sturgis City Commission had a full plate of agenda items Wednesday, hearing a report on underground contamination cleanup progress and reopening the door on a proposed affordable housing apartment complex.

Sean McMickle, a vice president of development with Ohio-based Spire Development and Spire Consulting in central Ohio, reiterated the company’s interest in developing a 50-unit apartment complex — St Joseph Street Lofts — at 303 St. Joseph St., near the intersection of Clay Street. 

McMickle asked for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) consideration through the city of Sturgis. Spire Development is seeking funding through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority’s (MSHDA) low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) program for the project.

Three years ago, the developer pursued a near-identical project at what is known locally as the former Paramount Furniture Company lot. The project’s forward motion was stalled due to being unable to receive funding from highly competitive state programs. The paperwork approved by the city in turn lapsed.

LIHTC housing developments can only rent units to individuals or families with low to moderate incomes and rent for the units is capped at levels tied to income. The  LIHTC program competitively awards tax credits to affordable housing projects based on a number of factors.   

Part of the application process for LIHTC tax credits is for the developer to buy the property, present a site plan review, and have a PILOT agreement set up. The establishment of a PILOT is done through city ordinance, where the property of a qualifying project is exempted from taxes and a PILOT established in its place. The tax credit proceeds help fund the construction project.

The Paramount property is drawing no tax dollars currently and is owned by the city economic development corporation. Recently, the criteria for LIHTC funding through MSHDA has changed, greatly increasing the probability of a project being awarded this year. Because of the change in criteria, Spire has renewed efforts to develop the St. Joseph Street Lofts project.

The project manager tied to the development is KMG Prestige, McMickle said, with the architect to be Berardi and Partners of Columbus, Ohio. Pending an award of funding, Spire would then seek competitive bids on securing a general contractor.

Most of the units in the proposed complex will be one- or two-bedroom apartments, with approximately 10 of them designed to be three bedrooms. Amenities as discussed Wednesday would include an outdoor playground, an onsite manager’s office, electric vehicle chargers and in-unit washers and dryers.

Spire’s application with MSHDA is due December 1, with funding allocations announced in April. If Spire is awarded allocations, groundbreaking would be set for next summer and construction completion to follow 15 to 18 months later in the winter of 2025-26.

The Lofts at Milnes Plaza in Coldwater is a Spire project in the region, built in 2021.

Following the presentation, the commission considered a first reading of an ordinance that is drafted to accommodate the development.

Contamination cleanup

An update on underground contamination on the west side of Sturgis was also presented during Wednesday’s city commission meeting.

Scott Lang, a consultant with Environmental Resources Management, said work continues with the Kirsch Municipal Well Field Superfund site. Remediation of underground contaminants that leached from the former Kirsch manufacturing property is ongoing, with progress being made in most areas, but with a troublesome spot remaining. 

Trichloroethylene, or TCE, was discovered in the 1980s when chemicals spread on farmland reacted with the permeated soil. Two groundwater processing wells were installed in the 1990s, one near Prospect and Hatch streets and the other along North Centerville Road near International Way.

While the processing wells have made significant headway over the years, one area near Progress Street has not diminished to minimal levels, Lang said.

A “bullseye” patch on the south side of Kirsch Municipal Airport records a TCE level of 120 micrograms per liter, while nearby areas are in the 15 to 20 range or negligible. Environmentally acceptable levels are 5 micrograms per liter or less. The original contamination level in some areas was more than 10,000.

“We’ve made some pretty good strides,” Lang said, although work carries on to reduce or eliminate the aquifer-level contaminants.

Lang asked the commission to allow for easements for up to three locations to make borings on the north and south side of Progress Street, between the south side of the airport and a set of railroad tracks. The borings would be eight inches across and 260 feet deep, allowing remediation teams to get a better reading of contamination and to what extent it is affecting the ground.

The area of contamination has shifted from east to west over the years due to the layout of the underground water runoff network, Lang said.

The work is being done in conjunction with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

In 2021, more than 80,000 pounds of trichloroethylene, or TCE, had been removed, and more than 26 billion gallons of water had been treated, Lang said at a previous meeting.

TCE is treated through a vapor-phase process, and disposal of the absorbing carbon used takes place offsite.

In other business…

  • The city commission also unanimously approved a request from the organizers of the farmers’ market in Sturgis to move from the Tractor Supply Co. parking lot on Centerville Road to Oaklawn Park starting next year. The market has been in the TSC lot for the past eight seasons, and was looking for a more suitable location and environment.
  • The commission also interviewed two candidates for the opening Precinct 2 seat. Current commissioner Brandon Kinsey is stepping down to focus more on family and career obligations. He was appointed to the position in 2021.

    Candidate Alan Albarran is an office manager for utlity company KLS Underground, and is active member of the St. Joseph County Republican Party. Rodger Moyer is semi-retired and is pastor of Litchfield Congregational Church in Hillsdale County, and is chaplain of Thurston Woods Village, a retirement community facility, in Sturgis. 

    Both candidates were interviewed for approximately 20 minutes to answer questions from commissioners and Mayor Jeff Mullins on their background and desire to serve. They were also given an opportunity to ask questions of city officials.

    A third candidate, Dan Boring, withdrew from consideration.

    The commission will select Kinsey’s replacement at the next meeting October 25.

Dan Cherry is a freelance journalist for Watershed Voice.