Former Bingham school could become senior living complex

ALPENA — The Alpena Planning Commission has voted to rezone the property where the former Bingham School sits vacant so a developer can renovate the building to open a senior living complex.

The property is zoned for single family residences, but will be changed to a Planned Unit Development District to accommodate the construction of the new business.

Hope Network Affordable Living and Services intends to create 40 living units, but the Planning Commission limited it to 35 units and added some other requirements.

Planning and Development Director Adam Poll said the developer must change the preliminary designs for a planned addition to the former school to feature masonry and a flat roof to match the existing building. A six-foot privacy fence will also need to be constructed to separate the facility from its residential neighbors. A landscaping plan must also be completed prior to any construction.

Poll said it is likely the construction won’t begin until late next year, but added that finding a use for the vacant school is beneficial to the city, because it is often hard to find uses for empty school buildings.

“School systems don’t usually use old school buildings and build new to fit modern needs, and we have seen it time and time again that these older school buildings either sit vacant for many years or eventually get torn down,” Poll said. “Now, some developers are reusing them for housing needs.”

Parking for the facility was a sticking point, Poll said.

Though there will be 40 parking stalls on the property, Hope Network had requested to reserve some of the street parking next to the building. Poll said that request was denied. The zoning ordinance says there must be one parking stall for every four units of elderly housing and one space per employee on the largest shift.

Poll said there are only expected to be four employees and rarely would all of them be working concurrently, so the parking matter should not be an issue.

Once open, the new housing unit will provide living quarters for people 55 years old or older and will not provide assisted living services.

The Alpena Municipal Council must also sign off on the rezoning move at a future meeting.

The school has been empty since 2015, when Bigham Arts Academy closed after more than a decade.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached at 989-358-5689 at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ss_alpenanews.com.