By Susan Carroll
More than a year after a fire obliterated the Lake Orion Pet Centre on Jan. 28, 2017, the site remains a remnant of its former self.
The corner of Anderson and Flint streets is a constant reminder of the loss, as the wreckage remained untouched until June 14.
The fire took six hours for fire crews to completely extinguish, with firefighters from Orion Township’s four fire stations and the Lake Orion Police Department responding to the emergency.
“I’m sure this town will come together and embrace one of our small business owners,” said Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh at the time. “I know we’ll come together and help them get back into business.”
The police department even set up a GoFundMe account to help the Pet Centre owners and the tenants who lived upstairs in the building and lost their homes and possessions.
But the building stood untouched until the summer when demolition of the Pet Centre commenced on June 14, with the cleanup completed within a few days – just in time for the Lake Orion Lions Club Jubilee on June 17.
However, since then, the corner of Flint and Anderson streets has become an eyesore and a potential hazard for the community.
And people are still asking what will become of the unsightly foundation and hole in the ground that remains and is surrounded by a rickety flexible orange fence that strains to stay erect during the elements – not capable of barring intruders from trespassing.
It is the owners’ responsibility to make sure that the property is secure. And to make the property secure, a fence needed to be installed around the perimeter of the property.
“We were trying to work with them to see if they wanted the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to install it and charge it back to them. We had to work with them because they are used to being business owners and not dealing with property issues ” said Mario Ortega, village planning and zoning coordinator.
The owners ended up putting up the fence themselves and not going through the village.
To date, the property remains dormant, void of any activity in the lively Village of Lake Orion.
So, what is taking so long?
“The property owners were having difficulty reaching a settlement with the insurance company but this has now been settled and building momentum is about to increase,” said Ortega.
The lack of forward movement on the Pet Center property was discussed at the Nov. 2017 DDA meeting. To date, there has not been significant progress between the village, the DDA and the property owners on when construction will start – if at all.
Owner Sharon Scharr opened the business 51 years ago in 1965 with her mother, Betty McNeil. The Lake Orion Veterinarian Hospital was in the front of the building at that time. Scharr, along with her daughter Jane Hyatt, became the owners of the property when McNeil passed away.
The Lake Orion Review reached out multiple times to the property owners, who declined to comment.
A post on the Lake Orion Pet Centre’s Facebook page, posted after the fire, reads: “We would like to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. All animals are safe and have been transported to Lake Orion Veterinarian Clinic on M24. If you have any questions, please contact us via Facebook.”
In June, Narsh said the owners want to rebuild, and that the building will likely have commercial space in the lower level and that the upper level would be residential.
The owners are still exploring their options, he said. “They’re doing the best they can to navigate the process,” Narsh said. “This is all new to them. Both owners are committed to rebuilding and want a vibrant business in the village.”
At issue now is the lack of construction progress. The owners need to submit a site plan for approval and secure a building permit. The site plan needs to be dimensionally accurate and include specific information required by the village.
“They have discussed doing something very similar to the building that was there before. But they need to submit the documents. They are working with an architect, but they mainly focused on what was on the building itself,” said Ortega.
“They submitted building plans drawn up by an architect but failed to submit the required site plan. Even though it may look very similar to what was there before, they need a site plan so it can go on record, so we know exactly what they will be doing,” he said.
Obtaining a site plan requires the property owners to have a site survey completed through a private company. Ortega said he heard that was completed but has not received anything official to that effect.
Once the survey is complete, that data is given to the architect. At that point, the architect will do the site plan and submit it to the village.
When Ortega receives the site plan from the architect, he will advise the owners if they need more data or if any changes need to be made before it gets submitted to the village planner.
The village’s planner verifies that all ordinance requirements for a site plan are met, checking for deficiencies and key items, verifying minimum requirements are met.
A review letter is drawn up and the plan will be submitted to the planning commission and placed on their agenda. If minimum conditions are not met, the owners will need to make the changes or corrections and the plan will go back to their architect for those revisions.
Once the revisions are met, the site plan will be submitted to the planning commission and placed on their agenda. Once on the agenda, the owners can also apply for a building permit, which will allow them to start construction, if approved.
“We would like this to be on the planning commission’s meeting on Feb. 5. We were pushing for it to be in January but they didn’t have the information,” Ortega said. “We are trying to push them along – it has been a year.”
Once in front of the planning commission, the site plan will either be accepted, and the Pet Centre owners can move forward with rebuilding; or, if the planning commission determines there is insufficient information, want more detail or ask for changes, the owners will need to complete that and then return back to the planning commission at a future meeting.
As of Monday, the Pet Centre has not been added to the planning commission’s Feb. 5 agenda.
The property remains untouched, a shadow of its former self, for a while longer.
See page 11 for the story