Developer interested in Ridgewood property

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published October 13, 2017

WARREN — It has been about 10 years since the former Ridgewood Elementary School on Racine Road was demolished. Now there is a chance the property might be sold to become a new subdivision.

The Ridgewood property — now an empty field surrounded by houses — is located on the north side of Racine, approximately 150 feet east of Dover Avenue, north of 12 Mile Road and west of Schoenherr Road. Warren Woods Public Schools owns the property and is financially responsible for its maintenance.

In recent months, the Warren Woods Board of Education has sent out a request for proposals, or RFP, to develop single-family homes on the property. WWPS Superintendent Stacey Denewith-Fici said there were several reasons why school officials decided to put the property on the market.

“We believe the sale will increase the property values of existing homes in the area,” she said.

School officials also believe a new subdivision with new families moving in will expand the tax base in the neighborhood, which will extend the school debt tax burden among more taxpayers, thus reducing individual homeowner’s costs. Denewith-Fici also said district officials think selling the property will allow the school board to bring more money into the district to benefit the students.

The property has not yet been sold, although a developer is reportedly interested. The preliminary plan review for the “site condominium subdivision” came before the Warren Planning Commission at its Aug. 21 and Sept. 25 meetings for approval. It has been tabled to the Oct. 23 meeting.

Although the project has been described as a “site condominium subdivision,” the plan is not to develop condominiums, but to build single-family homes, Denewith-Fici said. The Ridgewood area is a 23-lot single-family site condominium development.

According to the unofficial minutes of the Aug. 21 and Sept. 25 Planning Commission meetings, Salvatore DiMercurio is the developer and was represented by Craig Duckwitz, of the Shelby Township-based engineering firm of Anderson, Eckstein and Westrick, at both meetings.

“Under the proposal, there are approximately 8,000-square-foot lots, and while this is called a condominium, it’s going to look and smell exactly like a residential subdivision,” Duckwitz stated, according to the unofficial minutes. “The lot is the condominium; your yard and everything is part of the condominium. They are approximately 8,000-square-foot lots, 60 feet wide and 132 or so feet deep. They are going to be single-family brick home ranches. The colonials will be a brick first floor and sided on the second floor, but all (of the) first floor will be brick.”

The site shall comply with the stormwater ordinance pretreatment, and detention may be required, according to the unofficial minutes. Duckwitz has reportedly retired since the last meeting. Attempts to reach by telephone the individual who has taken over the project from Duckwitz were unsuccessful.

The possibility of a new subdivision is causing concerns among several residents who live within the property’s vicinity. They are circulating a petition in an effort to keep the project from moving forward.

Susan Smiley, whose house backs up to the field, doesn’t feel a new subdivision is “the right kind of development” and would rather see the area used as a park, nature center, walking space or community garden.

“I think we need to keep the green spaces we have,” Smiley said. “There is no park within walking distance in the neighborhood.”

According to Smiley, people still use the empty lot for playing with their dogs and “kicking around a soccer ball.”

“Even though it is an empty field, people are out there,” she said.

Smiley, who has lived in the Ridgewood neighborhood for 20 years, also is concerned about possible drainage into her backyard if new construction occurs. She said that when the Ridgewood building was there, she and several other neighbors had issues with backyard flooding, which subsided when the building was torn down. Smiley is concerned that the flooding will return if houses are built.

Danielle Bare, who lives on Eiffel Avenue, has  also been vocal about her disapproval of the site condominium plan. Bare said her two children, ages 7 and 12, frequently play in the field and go on treasure hunts.

“We have barbecues and use the field to kick around a football,” she said. “(The field) is still well-used even though it’s not physically a park. We would love to see it become a park with playground equipment. Some folks were saying make a nice walking trail around it.”

Smiley and Bare also feel that residents still have a lot of unanswered questions about the proposal, and are worried that the houses might not sell or that the project will be left unfinished. 

“We don’t feel like we’ve gotten any good answers,” Bare said.

The Ridgewood School was built in 1959. Once it closed as a school, it was used in a variety of capacities, including the city of Warren’s fitness center and the Warren Woods School Age Child Care program.

According to Denewith-Fici, when voters approved a $47 million bond issue in 2004 to support the renovation of the district’s facilities, that included the Ridgewood facility. However, during the initial bond issue construction phase in the spring of 2005, school officials realized that the planned renovations at Ridgewood would not have been sufficient enough to make the use of the building worthwhile. 

“It was approximated at that time that Ridgewood School would require nearly $1 million in infrastructure renovations to meet various state inspection requirements,” Denewith-Fici said.

Between that and significant cuts in revenue for schools from the state of Michigan, the district approved the discontinuance of Ridgewood School and its eventual demolition, which began in August 2007. The district continued to maintain the property via landscaping and provided upkeep with a fence and electricity.