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| 2 min | by Doug Marrin |

Artist rendering of The Encore’s renovation of the Copeland School property

If last night’s meeting of the Dexter Planning Commission was a stage, The Encore would have won a Tony Award for their plans to renovate the Copeland School building into a performing arts center.

Specifically, the Encore has been seeking two things from the Planning Commission: 1) Conditional rezoning of the Copeland property from residential to Village Commercial to allow for the adaptive reuse, and 2) Special land use permit allowing adaptive reuse of a building larger than 10,000 sq. ft. The Copeland building is 22,040 sq. ft.

“I do want to say that I really appreciate the effort they put into this in responding to our inquiries over the last couple of months,” said commission member Marni Schmid. “It was extremely helpful in assessing this project from a more complete vision.”

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The requests first appeared on the Commission’s agenda in April. After a public hearing, the Commissioners discussed Encore’s plans and postponed the requests after handing out recommendations to the theatre to address a handful of concerns, parking being chief among them. Encore returned in May but was ill-prepared with an incomplete plan which ruffled some members of the commission. Rather than refusing the requests, however, the commission voted once again to postpone a decision in order to give Encore a chance to clarify and vet the necessary details of their plans.

“I think they did an outstanding job of addressing our concerns,” said commission member Karen Roberts during the discussion.

Jason Van Ryn of Nederveld, the engineering firm for Encore, also told the Commission, “I feel like we’ve adequately addressed a lot of the concerns that the Planning Commission had in the last meeting. We’ve added quite a bit of information to the submittal package … a lot of information on parking, which I know is a concern, and landscaping.”

Dexter Community Development Manager Michelle Aniol walked the Commission through the eight areas of concern from the last two meetings explaining how all areas have been resolved. Among other things, the auditorium will seat 250 people with a staff of 70 more per production. Performances will be capped at 150 per year. “In (the City) Staff’s opinion, they have satisfactorily addressed the concerns cited for postponement at the last two meetings.”

Having clarified exactly how many people could be on site for a performance in turn clarified parking needs, perhaps the biggest stickler in the past two meetings. In addition to available parking on the Copeland property and developed parking spots along Main St., The Encore has also worked out an agreement with St. Andrews United Church of Christ to use their parking lot for patrons on performance nights.

With more than enough parking for the theatre’s needs in these three areas, “No Parking” will be posted along the side streets of Hudson, Edison, and Fourth which surround the property. The impact of parking along the shoulder of these roads was a major concern of the Commission in regard to its effect on the immediate neighborhood.

The Commission voted unanimously to grant the rezoning request. It also voted unanimously in favor of the special land use with the stipulation that The Encore’s bar closes before 11:00 pm out of consideration for the surrounding neighborhood.

The two requests are now passed on to the Dexter City Council with the Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve them.

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