Planning Commission postpones decision on former La Salette school project

By: Mike Koury, | Woodward Talk | Published July 12, 2017

BERKLEY — The Berkley Planning Commission continued talks regarding a redevelopment project proposed for the site of the former Our Lady of La Salette School, but made no decisions at its June 27 meeting.

Original plans for the project, located at 2600 Harvard Road, included three parts: apartments in the three-floor school building, a new four-floor apartment building with parking located a grade below it, and eight townhouses.

It consisted of 143 units that would have been studio apartments, studio apartments with a den, one-bedroom apartments, one-bedroom apartments with a den, two-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom apartments with a den.

Amenities ranging from a fitness room, a yoga room, an aerobics room, a club room, business rooms, meeting areas and a rooftop deck also were in the original plan.

During the meeting, President of Urban Properties Inc. Bennett Terebelo brought up the concerns aired during the first discussion of the project April 25 and how Urban Properties made changes to its plan to accommodate those issues.

One concern was the 20-foot setback of the new apartment building and how it would be too close to the western boundaries of the property and in close visual proximity to existing homes. The change to the plan now is to make it a 40-foot setback and move the building farther from Oxford Road.

Issues such as landscaping and parking also were addressed. Terebelo said that more landscaping would be added. As for parking, he said that the new plan would provide a “ratio equivalent to not less than 1.8 units at all times, and in reality on all days, not less than two spaces per unit will be available for parking.”

“We heard from you that the proposed new construction apartment building was too high and that the rooftop deck could result in excessive noise,” he said. “Our proposed solution: At the suggestion of the Planning Commission, we’ve removed one story of apartments and the rooftop deck from the building, reducing both the height and the density, thereby eliminating potential noise issues and lessening the density in the western portion of the project by 22 units, and reducing overall the density of the project by seven units.”

Terebelo added that in response to concerns about there being no ownership by residents in the project, Urban Properties would offer the eight townhomes for sale.

“The remainder of the project will be at-market-rate rentals, providing for the city a much-needed housing component that it currently lacks,” he said.

Even with the changes proposed by the developer, resident after resident walked to the podium to voice opposition to the project.
Brandon Alger said the property on Harvard is the largest and most desirable piece of undeveloped property in Berkley, and the opportunity to put something there that highlights the desirability and charm of the city is huge.

“What’s being proposed here?” he said. “Are we getting something like the mixed-use development that we see in the west village in Detroit? Maybe something like the office and residential development we see moving forward in downtown Royal Oak?

“We’re getting the reuse of an obsolete school, with a box of apartments being placed over the backyards of my neighbors on Oxford and Kipling,” Alger said.

While Alger said the project would fit nicely in other cities, in its current state, it is not a desirable development and would be a detriment to the neighborhood.

“I want redevelopment here,” he said. “I think we all want redevelopment here. We just want the right redevelopment. We want something attractive, something we’re proud to see in our neighborhood, and an overbuilt, unattractive apartment complex with zero commercial use, zero office space and a total of 5.8 percent of the units being townhomes is not a variety of use, nor is it something I’m thrilled to have in my neighborhood.”

At the end of a five-hour meeting, the commission decided to postpone making a decision until its July 25 meeting, with Commissioner Dean Smith commenting that he feels more information needs to be reviewed before approving or denying the project.

“There’s still a lot of issues at hand,” he said. “Many of the comments related to parking. I’m not sure that the community itself understands the value of an easement that goes into another property. How that actually does protect the ability to retain parking spots. I haven’t heard back yet from the developers on how they’re going to control the number of vehicles that their tenants own. At this point in time, I don’t want to close the door on something that could be a good thing.”