Old Orion High School building property is zoned residential
By Megan Kelley
The Ehman Center, long vacant and the site of the original Orion High School, has found itself up for sale again.
The site, located at 55 Elizabeth St. in downtown Lake Orion, is currently owned by Christian Mills, who purchased the property with Kellie McDonald, Todd Garris and Scott Garretson at public auction for $45,000 in April of 2014 after it had been foreclosed on by Michigan Land Bank.
The group formed Legacy Partners and purchased the property with plans to create both residential and commercial space.
The Lake Orion Review could not reach Christian Mills for comment.
The historic building has been a fixture of the community for decades as a school building and housing several before- and after- school activities, as well as other organizations.
The 25 classroom school was built in 1927 for approximately $170,000 and housed kindergarten through twelfth grade students before becoming solely a high school. The school was considered one of the finest in the state, but by 1952 enrollment had grown so much that it was evident the district was in need of another high school, according to a Lake Orion Review article from 1957.
In this district restructuring, the Ehman Center became a Junior High School, and a new Lake Orion High School was built at 455 E. Scripps Rd. That building is now known as the Community Education Resource Center (CERC).
While the site’s current owners purchased the property with big plans to create both commercial and residential space, that development never occurred and the building remained vacant, private property.
The residentially zoned property has long evaded development, causing the building to become what some call an eyesore and what others call pure history.
Legacy Partners are not the first to run into issues regarding the current zoning of the property.
In 2001, the building was purchased by Wendy Patton for $100,000 from Lake Orion Community Schools. Patton had wanted to renovate the building and turn it into office space, however she could not receive permission for proper zoning from the village, according to a Lake Orion Review article from November 2006.
While attempting to rezone the area, the building was home to the Lake Orion Boys and Girls Club and was a Christian School and Love INC’s furniture store and clothing ministry.
After being unable to achieve her original plan due to zoning issues, Patton attempted to donate it to a charitable organization, according to a July 2014 article from The Lake Orion Review.
The building was eventually auctioned off to Deborah Moceri for $52,500 in 2008. Moceri expressed interest in creating a community cultural center while preserving the building, according to a Lake Orion Review article from October 2008.
“Bottom line is the zoning is not quite right for development to happen,” said Lake Orion DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone. “It’s a historical building that is currently zoned residential, so in order for anything to happen they would have to tear it down, which people wouldn’t like.”
Getting the area rezoned is not currently on the site’s master plan but is a part of the village’s ultimate goals, said Village Manager Joe Young.
Should the village take the steps to rezone, the site would likely be rezoned as multiple family residential in the hopes of maintaining some of the history of the building, Young said.
In the past, Main Street of Oakland County (MSOC) created renovation and redevelopment renderings of the site, LaLone said.
Once the zoning changes are made and there is a buyer interested in the property the MSOC recommends they acquire a Planned Unit Development (PUD).
The PUD would require a public meeting before development and meetings every time the original plan is changed.
This method would allow surrounding neighborhoods and residents to not only be aware of the process as it happens but they will be able to weigh in on development decisions.
The historic 40,000 square foot, 3.06-acre property has 25 classrooms and a full gymnasium. It listed on www.team-core.com/55_elizabeth.html at $1.2 million with land contract terms available.