DeNooyer dealership seeks brownfield credits from Benton Township

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — A Kalamazoo car dealer is seeking help from the Berrien County Brownfield Redevelopment Authority for some unexpected costs attached to a Benton Township property.

In the process of buying township property along M-139, DeNooyer Automotive Group LLC paid to have some environmental assessments done on the land, which once housed a gas station. Contaminants were found, and DeNooyer is looking to recapture some of the assessment costs through the county’s brownfield authority.

Because the county needs the local government’s joint approval, Berrien County Community Development Director Dan Fette was at Benton Township’s board meeting Tuesday.

Trustees agreed to place the property in the brownfield plan just as they did the purchase agreement with DeNooyer: unanimously.

Fette said while the Berrien County Board of Commissioners has not approved the brownfield, the Brownfield Authority had.

“We will have a public hearing on Dec. 1, at which it is anticipated to be approved,” Fette told trustees. “DeNooyer has taken additional environmental investigations and have to prepare something called a due care plan.”

By placing the property in the brownfield plan, DeNooyer would be given tax incremental finance reimbursement to cover some of the environmental costs to redevelop the commercial property along M-139.

Fette said the brownfield would cover DeNooyer’s costs of no more than $39,500, while the township will be repaid for no more than $75,000 it incurred from land preparation costs.

Fette said it will take some time for the Kalamazoo car dealer and the township to receive returns because DeNooyer does not have a specific redevelopment plan for the site.

“Right now they intend to just close on the purchase and continue to explore their options,” Fette said. “…Worse case scenario, reimbursing these costs could take up to 25 years, but I doubt that would happen. As they start putting down pavement and building structures, we’re going to see the reimbursement process accelerate.”

To account for that, the county put provisions into the brownfield plan.

Once DeNooyer submits a redevelopment plan to the township, they can come back to the county’s brownfield to amend the plan to include additional development costs they may have.

“They’re purchasing a pretty large property from you and investing a lot of money. I doubt they’re going to want that property sitting there vacant for very long,” Fette said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next year you didn’t have a better idea of what they are planning.”

Redeveloping 10 acres

The property in question has two parcels that total about 10 acres on the west side of M-139 and south of I-94.

The smaller of two parcels, numbered as 2488 M-139, contained a gas station for nearly 40 years. The township acquired the parcel of land from the county after it was foreclosed on for unpaid property taxes.

The larger of the two parcels at 2860 M-139, had a hotel on it until the township demolished it in 2014. The township was given the parcel as a donation from Wells Fargo after the hotel was foreclosed on over the owner’s unpaid mortgage.

Todd DeNooyer, general manager of DeNooyer Chevrolet in Kalamazoo, said these actions are just precautionary and do not confirm what they intend to do with the Benton Township property.

“I followed the lead of our real estate attorney,” DeNooyer said Tuesday. “If we do want to redevelopment it, we have nothing specific in mind. We’re just trying to weigh our options and identify the contaminations.”

In August, DeNooyer hired an engineering firm to conduct a Phase I environmental site assessment of the property.

The investigation found that the smaller of two parcels that formerly contained leaking underground storage tanks has contaminated materials that also migrated into the neighboring property. The investigation also revealed the known contamination occurred before either the township and DeNooyer became owners of the site.

Trustees first approved the sale agreement with DeNooyer Automotive for the property during a July board meeting.

The agreed upon price is still for $390,000. The original asking price was $400,000. The property was listed for a year and half before the township got an offer close to the asking price.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 16, 2016)

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