Outrage against the rezoning of Asylum Lake sparks change in the city’s plans, but Kalamazoo citizens urge us to keep paying attention


Credit: Chloe Rathbun

At the entrance of Asylum Lake on Drake Road, a Kalamazoo citizen spray painted the words “No Drive’N’Shine”. This is just one of many anti-carwash sentiments that many Kalamazoo citizens are expressing in recent weeks.

Chloe Rathbun, Staff Writer

If you’ve been on social media in the past few weeks, you’ve most likely seen one of your friends or family members sharing a post about the proposed Drive and Shine car wash on Asylum Lake Property.

Beginning in 2020, a representative from Drive and Shine requested the rezoning of a portion of the Asylum Lake preserve, located on the west side of Kalamazoo. Asylum Lake is a vast natural preserve that is home to hundreds of different species and an extremely popular green space in Kalamazoo for many members of the community.

Nonetheless, when the Kalamazoo community heard of this request for rezoning, many were outraged.

“The entire community is against this,” said social media environmental activist and Western Michigan University student, Noula Limberopoulos. 

The 2020 request was temporarily denied, but recently the rezoning was brought back into the public eye when city officials put the portion of land back on the rezoning list. Once again, the citizens of Kalamazoo expressed their anger at this. Several public meetings were held about the rezoning proposal and they all allowed time for members of the community to speak. 

“The city planner, Christina Anderson, was very generally going over the zoning proposal for an hour and a half,” said Limberopoulos. “Everyone was there to say something about Asylum Lake, there were a bunch of young people … and there were old people that were there that have been coming for a while, since this is an issue that has been coming up for years.”

The local city government has been fielding many complaints and comments from citizens over the past weeks. 

City Staff has received a number of comments from the community during the initial outreach and engagement phase of this project expressing concern with this proposed change,” said city planner Christina Anderson. 

Many of the concerns voiced by members of the community were along the same lines: water quality, habitat and greenspace loss. 

Environmental scientist and member of the Asylum Lake Policy and Management Council, Tyler Bassett, cites water quality as one of his and his team’s main concerns. 

“Once the water leaves the car wash, at some point, it will go into the storm drains and there is some potential for that to end up in the lake directly,” said Bassett, “and there’s going to be a lot more car traffic going down the street. There will be more runoff from extra traffic because it slopes right down to the lake. We’re really concerned about nutrients, oil and road salts.”

Norrix senior Tara Dean-Hall has been passionately speaking out against the rezoning of Asylum Lake and agrees with Bassett. 

“If the car wash is to be built, all of the runoff water from the wash, which would then be contaminated with innumerable amounts of chemicals, would end up draining into the preserve,” said Dean-Hall. “The effects of these chemicals would be vast and devastating.”

Car washes produce a number of potential pollutants and negative effects on the environment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Dirty water containing soap, detergents, residue from exhaust fumes, gasoline, heavy metals from rust and motor oils can wash off cars and flow directly to storm drains.”

Like Bassett said, a major concern of this runoff is the excessive nutrients entering the lake. Soaps contain nitrogen and phosphorus, which when put into an aquatic environment can cause a large algae bloom, blocking light from reaching the plants and fish below the algae. 

As written in an article on Carwash, Drive and Shine CEO Haji Tehrani stated in a meeting that “the carwash planned to take proper infrastructure precautions to prevent any run-off from the carwash if it were to be built with respect to the NFP [Natural Features Protection].” 

However, Bassett isn’t just concerned with the water quality of Asylum Lake. He is also worried about the effects of cutting down and destroying a section of an already reduced habitat. 

“As a general rule, a larger patch of habitat is more resilient and supports more biodiversity, and so, the wildlife that uses Asylum Lake as habitat, they don’t know where the boundaries that we maintain are,” said Bassett. “There’s already been a contraction of natural cover in the area, and every little bit counts.”

Asylum Lake is a crucial habitat for many species and a hub of biodiversity within a well-developed city. According to the Asylum Lake Preservation Association, the preserve is home to “455 plant species, 117 bird species, six varieties of frogs, six kinds of turtles, and an indefinite number of snakes, and of course, many white-tailed deer.” 

“It’s one of the only green spaces in Kalamazoo, and it’s so much more vast than any of the other nature areas. Most of the [other] paths are just drawn out between houses, [Asylum Lake] is an actual place with wildlife,” said Limberopoulos. 

On April 25, WWMT released an article, affirming that the Asylum Lake property has been taken off the rezoning list. To most, this would be considered a massive win. However, concerns regarding the actual construction of the Drive and Shine isn’t the only thing plaguing citizens. 

Along with the proposal to construct the Drive and Shine, Kalamazoo officials proposed removing the requirement for a special-use permit for car washes. 

“There’s an additional consideration that was sort of giving people concerns: a change to the ordinance saying that certain uses no longer need a special-use permit, one of those is car washes,” said Bassett. “Currently, it says car washes require a special use permit. It’s being proposed to strike that.”

The Stadium Drive property is currently zoned as a Community Commercial property, which as of a winter of 2023 ordinance, does not require a special use permit for use as a car wash. 

Mostly, car washes need a special-use permit because of environmental regulations. According to an article by Greg Bouhl, it’s extremely important for a car wash to properly manage their wasted water, since “failing to neutralize the contaminated water can lead to polluted groundwater.” 

“Technically, any sort of polluted stormwater that comes out of this hypothetical car wash would stay in the property, but that seems a little dicey. We’re not entirely confident that that’s how it’s going to go,” said Bassett.

The removal of the special-use permit heightens these concerns for Bassett. Without the legal regulations that come with a specialized permit, there’s a lot of worry that Drive and Shine won’t adhere to environmentally friendly practices with their water management, and that’s especially crucial in Asylum Lake. 

At this point in time, all the map and code changes remain proposed – no changes have been officially approved and will not be until late summer or early fall,” said Anderson. 

“Don’t take your eye off this right yet because there are still some things being proposed that we generally don’t support,” said Bassett.