2017-08-09 / Editorial

New building should reflect communities

Lapeer County is experiencing a building boom — particularly as it relates to new retail and commercial space. As a result many new projects are underway, or on the drawing boards, but without sufficient oversight by local planning boards our community runs the risk of becoming home to unattractive new stores and development.

One such example is the current tear the Dollar General corporation is on to build hundreds of new discount stores across the country — including here in Lapeer County where it would like to see one of its stores not more than 11 minutes from its next closest store. In Sunday’s edition of The County Press we reported the company has a store under construction in Almont, with additional plans for a store in Elba Township as well as Columbiaville.

We commend Almont officials who told the company if they wish to do business in their community they’re going to have to improve the appearance of their building. They weren’t going to allow the company to slap up one of its cookie-cutter prototype buildings that normally don’t call for much more than a glorified pole barn structure. Does it get the job done? Sure, but they’re not very attractive.

Whether it’s a discount dollar store operator, a pharmacy or a fast-food restaurant these companies typically hire a contractor that builds nothing else but their prescribed structures that usually are lacking in architecturally-stunning features. Their job is to build the structures as quickly as possible and then move on down the road to the next town to build another one, and another one and, well you get the picture. Generally these buildings aren’t going to win any awards for design and innovation.

While communities are eager to welcome new development for the tax space, for new jobs and shopping and dining options for their residents officials also have a responsibility to look out for the long-term interests of the communities — and aesthetics matter.

We don’t want our cities, villages and townships to be populated with buildings that do nothing to integrate local culture and history. A plain-Jane building in an otherwise quaint village surrounded by beautiful Victorian-style homes is going to stick out like a sore thumb and detract from the neighborhood.

Years ago when Rite-Aid came knocking on the door in Lapeer with interest to build a drive-thru pharmacy at the northwest corner of Genesee and Main Street (M-24), officials were vigilant the building had to include architectural features to blend in with the neighborhood. In a particular, with the stately homes in the area and the beautiful Marguerite deAngeli Library across the street. In the end the developer came around to include archways over the drug store windows and used brick of similar color to the library.

National retailers and restaurant operators would like nothing more than for local communities to offer little or no resistance to allow them to come in with their building styles and color schemes — no matter if they clash with existing norms or regard for history and place in time. While they may fuss a bit and suggest it’s unusual for them to have to alter their structures to conform with local ordinances or standards, they’re not likely going to walk away from a community their research has shown they can make money in. So let them squirm a bit, because the identity and character of a town are more important than the plans of a builder who wants to put up a store or restaurant in your town just as quick as possible and move on to the next.

They don’t have to live here, but we do. And so we implore local planning commissions and building departments to make sure new buildings destined for our Lapeer County comply with the look and feel of our communities. They’ve got one chance before they approve site plans to get it done right, or otherwise we have to live with less than flattering structures in the heart of our communities.

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