The Dowagiac Planning Commission approved request from Matt Wilkins to rezone the property occupied by the former Lincoln School building Monday night. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)
The Dowagiac Planning Commission approved request from Matt Wilkins to rezone the property occupied by the former Lincoln School building Monday night. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

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Dowagiac planning commission approves rezoning of Lincoln School property

Published 8:00am Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Dowagiac Planning Commission approved a resolution to rezone the property occupied by the former Lincoln School building, which could become a new apartment complex.

The commission signed off on the rezoning request from Matt Wilkins, of Three Rivers, who is interested in purchasing the property, located at 407 E. Division St., from the current owners. The request was to turn the lot from a R-2 Medium Density District to a R-3 Multi Family District.

Wilkins is interested in turning the former school building’s old classrooms into a six-unit apartment complex, with each of the approximately 900 square foot units having room for four people, Wilkins said. This is the first of three possible phases of construction Wilkins has in mind for the property, he said.

“There’s a gymnasium and administration offices there as well,” Wilkins said. “There’s no real plans for those at this point, other than doing something with them in the future.”

Smaller accessory rooms in the old school building could be converted into storage space for tenets to place bicycles and other possessions, Wilkins said. He is still determining what the possible rent fees could be for the units, estimating around $850 a month.

“We haven’t decided yet what we’re going to put into the units, as far as cost in counter tops or crown molding,” Wilkins said. “That hasn’t been determined 100 percent yet either.”

Wilkins is also still determining whether to hire a landlord to oversee the property, he said. They will conduct background checks on possible tenets, and have devised a set of rules for them to follow.

“We’ve had apartments sit empty two, three, five months because there were no tenets that we’ve wanted to rent to,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins and his family have owned and maintained rental property in the past, including a four-apartment complex he currently oversees in Three Rivers. Him and his wife, Dianna, became interested in the property after two of their friends, who live in Dowagiac, told them of the vacant building.

“I think the building itself is a good starting point,” Wilkins said. “It’s in good shape, so that’s a plus.”

Despite the number of apartments already present in the city, Wilkins believes that Dowagiac is underserved in terms of larger apartments for families, he said.

Built in 1950, Lincoln School was used for a variety of functions for the Dowagiac Union School District, including elementary school and adult education. The district transferred ownership to the city in 2003, which maintained it as a community center for a number of years before selling it to Encore Dance for studio space. Encore ended operations in the building in 2013.

“I feel very confortable with Mr. Wilkins and his vision for that property and for the advantage of the neighborhood,” said Mayor Don Lyons. “I think it’s a good move forward.”

With passage by the planning commission, the rezoning request will move ahead for final approval by the Dowagiac City Council, who plan to vote on it during their meeting next week, said City Manager Kevin Anderson.

 

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