by Melissa Martin
April 7 zoning commission/public hearing
Several residents attended the April 7 meeting of the Hinckley Zoning Commission to express concern over the future of the former Hinckley Elementary School now that the school district announced its intentions to rezone the property.
Representatives of Highland Local School District proposed to sell the 6.8-acre Center Road campus late last year following the opening of the new Hinckley Elementary School on Ridge Road. Because the site is zoned residential, the school board has requested the township change the zoning to B-2 business, which would enable the school district to maximize profits from a sale of the property.
School board President Chris Wolny told the zoning commission that estimates show the value of the land and building will nearly triple if the site is rezoned.
“We are trying to get [the district] the most bang for its buck,” Wolny said, noting that the sale of the property would allow the district to offset a portion of the cost of building three new schools. The former Granger and Sharon elementary schools, which were also replaced in 2021, have been demolished.
Wolny said the property is more valuable to developers if the school building remains.
“Even in its current condition, it is significantly more valuable that the other two schools, but only if the property is rezoned,” Wolny said, adding the building can be repurposed, with possible uses being senior housing or a community senior center, among other alternatives.
The district expects to sell the property for approximately $1 million, school district officials said in March.
Zoning Commission Chair Marcus Fischer added that under the B-2 zoning classification, the property could also be used for offices, retail less than 12,000 square feet, banks, restaurants, taverns, bars, churches, libraries and medical office space.
King Road resident Richard Pearl said he believes the school district stands to benefit from rezoning, but the benefit to the township is questionable. He urged township officials to forego approval until the steering committee determines whether the township’s comprehensive plan needs to be updated.
“While residents have expressed a desire to develop the town center business district, they have not expressed a desire to expand the B-2 zoning district,” Pearl said, adding the lack of a written plan should be a reason to maintain the zoning as is.
Water, or the lack thereof, was also a reason residents listed for denying the school district’s request.
Center Road resident Steve Price reminded the commission that the school property, like his own, is serviced by wells, as municipal water is not available in the town center area. Though school officials said the well is healthy and capable of servicing the school’s need, how adequately it could serve a new use is uncertain.
“What’s going to happen to my shallow well if [the school] becomes a commercial site?” said Price, who lives in the home just east of the former school.
To allow more residents to ask questions and share their concerns before a ruling is made, the public hearing has been continued to the Thursday, May 5, meeting of the zoning commission. ∞