Major Office Complex Approved for Rural DeWitt

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Amid an almost entirely rural landscape in DeWitt Township lies land now slated to host as much as 750,000 square feet of office space for Delta Township-based Auto-Owners Insurance.

The DeWitt Township Board of Trustees approved a zoning change making way for the development Monday night. The development as approved would come in two phases: One in 2010, another possible in 2016.

Some in the area aren't welcoming their likely new neighbor.

"My main concern is the massive change of the chracter that will accompany this project," John Arnsman said.

Arnsman says he's concerned about how roads surrounding the land might be expanded as the area develops.

The land in question is about 300 acres, extending from Stoll Road up toward I-69. The major entrances for the development are planned for DeWitt or Clark roads because of their proximity to the freeway.

If a second phase is developed, a service road could be built out to Stoll Road.

Loretta Spinrad with the DeWitt Area Community Alliance says the development is something the township needs.

"People don't want higher taxes, but you have to understand, In order to keep your tax rates down, you have to get revenue from various sources," Spinrad said.

That includes commercial developments, she says, like the one planned by Auto-Owners.

A company vice president says the insurer's current Delta Township headquarters leaves no room to expand, but Stuart Birn says the company hasn't decided whether to vacate its enormous corporate campus there. If it does, it could leave Delta Township with hundreds of thousands of square feet of vacant office space.

"They don't feel that they're going to pick and leave," Delta Township Manager Richard Watkins said.

Watkins says Auto-Owners has led him to believe the process will be more long-term. But he says the township has to consider the idea that the buildings will become vacant -- buildings that, given their freeway acess and visibility could be attractive to other businesses.

"But it's an awful big building," Watkins said. "Sometimes those are difficult to get a large user."

A difficult task Delta Township may face in the next 10 years.