Residents speak out against proposed development at MTC

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published May 17, 2017

 Farmington resident Janie Gundlach — whose lot line backs up to the MTC — has a picture of erosion at the river’s edge immediately below the Maxfield Training Center parking lot.

Farmington resident Janie Gundlach — whose lot line backs up to the MTC — has a picture of erosion at the river’s edge immediately below the Maxfield Training Center parking lot.

Photo provided by Janie Gundlach

FARMINGTON — Some residents want their voices to be heard loud and clear when it comes to what goes — or doesn’t go — at the Maxfield Training Center site, 33000 Thomas St.

During a May 8 Planning Commission meeting at City Hall, community members in a large crowd spoke out against a proposed $1.2 million, four-story, 189-unit apartment and townhome complex by Southfield-based AC Acquisitions. 

The Planning Commission decided to put the process on hold for the developer to address questions on the matter; a future date had yet to be determined by press time.

Farmington resident Janie Gundlach —whose lot line backs up to the MTC — said at the meeting that her historic district 1860s Victorian home does not mesh well with the proposed development.

“It does not fit character and design,” she said of the neighborhood. “The huge, bulky structure is totally out of scale with the site and crammed onto a 3-acre parcel of property. It is a shortsighted plan.”

She added in a statement after the meeting that as neighbors of the MTC, she appreciated the opportunity to give input on future development at the site. 

“The Planning Commission made the appropriate motion to postpone a decision on the proposed development until a more complete plan is submitted,” she said in her statement.

The original proposal, for about 163 apartments and seven townhomes, was approved unanimously during a Farmington Public Schools board meeting Sept. 20, 2016, after a request for proposals returned five proposals.

The MTC property is 10 acres divided into the two parcels, and 3 acres were sold to the company.

FPS owns the adjacent 7-acre parcel in Shiawassee Park, which includes a stairwell between the parcels, according to a school document. 

Some school officials during that fall school board meeting described the sale as good news.

The city will have the final say on the development.

Jon Riebe, the district’s facilities, operations and transportation director, said that the school district now has “nothing to do with” the planning process of the proposed development.

“As soon as we sold it, we don’t have anything do with it,” he said, adding that the school district doesn’t get paid until the project is approved.

He added that the school district just has the initial $25,000 deposit because it is a conditional sale.

Gundlach’s husband, Rick Gundlach, said during the May 8 meeting that there is erosion in his backyard and at the MTC.

“We have 229 feet in common with this property … and it is a major border,” he said, adding that the erosion is occurring on the water’s edge on his property, and at the base of the MTC property.

He added that he is concerned about the proposed development because it will cover a flat area up to the edge of the ravine.

“We’re concerned that the ground won’t support your building,” he said to Walter Cohen, general manager of AC Acquisitions, adding that FPS tried to slow the erosion of the hill with crushed limestone and vegetative borders. “We want to know if an engineering study has been done to determine how you are going to stabilize the hill?”

Riebe said during a phone interview that there was a broken stormwater plate on the MTC property and stone was laid down to fix it about five years ago.

Riebe also said that it is a “positive” thing that new property could be slated for the MTC because the developers will most likely have to fix the erosion before they build.

The Planning Commission meeting, rescheduled from an earlier April one, summarized public commentary from April on why attendees felt the development proposal would not be a good fit for the city.

From traffic issues  — including parking, noise, traffic flow and speeding — to density concerns — too many units and the number of occupants — some residents said that the plan does not fit in more ways than one. Some residents said renters have a different mindset and less commitment to an area than homeowners.

Farmington resident James Patrick Gallagher, 30, was the lone supporter at the meeting for the proposed development.

“This site has been vacant for seven years,” he said. “Seven years, no tax base. Seven years of blight in your city. What (it) comes down to is there is going to be development there at some point. You want a manufacturing facility in your downtown?”

He added that he took umbrage with the fact that there were a “whole lot of undertones” pertaining to “transient people” living in Farmington.

“Let me be clear: Those are very thinly veiled attacks on poor people,” he said, adding that he is a renter. “Think about what you are saying. People like me who want to move into those (rentals) — I am 30 years old and I have a master’s degree. Am I somewhat lesser than you? I don’t think so.”

Farmington resident Darlene Allen, who lives on Warner Street, expressed her concern on the safety of children, especially after moving to the city 2 1/2 years ago to raise her grandson.

“I, obviously, deliberately didn’t choose a busy thoroughfare,” she said, adding that her street is often used to avoid Farmington Road. 

“A lot of cars go very, very fast. What freaks me out is another 300-400 cars in the little square of Shiawassee and Farmington. It is already at capacity.”

Doug Gress, a First United Methodist Church member, said during the April meeting that he is concerned with how the proposed development would impact parking at the nearby church, 33112 Grand River Ave. While he didn’t speak at the May meeting, he said afterward that he believes that the Planning Commission is listening.

“I’m confident they heard us, and I’m pleased they heard us,” he said, adding that putting the process on hold is prudent to resolve issues. 

“There are a lot of questions that need to be answered (regarding the) planned unit development process. From zoning, from (the) downtown vision (plan), from all the comments in the public.”

Gress said the church needs to have room for 150 cars, but it only has 50 spaces.

“It goes up at Easter and Christmas, of course,” he said. “For decades, we have enjoyed the opportunity to park around what is now the Maxfield Training Center.”

He added that even when the MTC was operating, the church members were able to park on MTC property because a number of church events are during the weekends and on holidays. There is also municipal parking on the church parking lot.

“It was a symbiotic relationship; it worked out well,” he said, adding that a city agreement allows the church parking lot to be used and maintained by the city. “But we retain ownership of it.”

Cohen discussed how School Street is not really used as a street currently.

“It would be used as a street under our proposal for vehicles entering and exiting our building,” he said, adding that School Street is used as pedestrian access to Shiawassee Park. “We will be rebuilding School Street and making it pedestrian friendly going down to Thomas Street.”

Cohen added that the 189 units would allow for 236 parking spaces.

The MTC building would be demolished.

Planning Commission Chairman Kenneth Crutcher said that the Planning Commission did hear the public’s comments from March.

“We are paying attention to what is being said,” he said at the meeting. “I know there are people here that were at (the) previous meeting. … We just felt it was important to let the community know that we are listening.”

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