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 Rep. Brenda Carter and Sen. Rosemary Bayer hold up folders of thank-you cards from the students of Gretchko Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township during a visit Nov. 1. The students were thanking them for supporting their efforts to designate the monarch butterfly as the official state insect.

Rep. Brenda Carter and Sen. Rosemary Bayer hold up folders of thank-you cards from the students of Gretchko Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township during a visit Nov. 1. The students were thanking them for supporting their efforts to designate the monarch butterfly as the official state insect.

File photo by Deb Jacques


2019: A year of growth, change in West Bloomfield area

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 27, 2019

 The site of the former Eagle Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township is now destined to become a condominium complex that officials say will be in line with the community’s density goals.

The site of the former Eagle Elementary School in West Bloomfield Township is now destined to become a condominium complex that officials say will be in line with the community’s density goals.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Lola Morse, Timmy Mayer, Carson Acree and Norah Kaslly from the class of teacher Ann Farrell show their Michigan Green Schools spirit in May. Scotch Elementary School was deemed an Evergreen School, which is the highest environmental stewardship designation given.

Lola Morse, Timmy Mayer, Carson Acree and Norah Kaslly from the class of teacher Ann Farrell show their Michigan Green Schools spirit in May. Scotch Elementary School was deemed an Evergreen School, which is the highest environmental stewardship designation given.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Long-time Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced last spring that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died in August.

Long-time Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced last spring that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He died in August.

File photo by Tiffany Esshaki

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WEST BLOOMFIELD — The year 2019 featured frequent debate on growth and change in the local communities. Here’s a look back on some of the bigger issues that shaped the end of the decade in the West Bloomfield Beacon’s coverage area.

 

Growing pains
Throughout the year, communities in the Beacon’s coverage area grappled with the question of how best to develop — or not develop — their community, trying to seek the right balance between population density, infrastructure and quality of life.

West Bloomfield Township began the year in the middle of a moratorium on increased density in single-family residential districts, a measure that remained in place until June. The board also received the results of a study by LandUseUSA, commissioned by the township in 2018 and finalized in 2019, which showed that the township was oversaturated with independent and assisted living facilities collectively referred to as residential care communities.

Prior to the start of the year, the township had just seen the completion of Provision Living West Bloomfield, at 5475 W. Maple Road — a 90,000-square-foot facility at the site of the former Ealy Elementary School that can accommodate up to 126 residents. And the township had already approved the development of Cranberry Park, at 2450 Haggerty Road, a 52-unit assisted living facility that could begin construction in January 2020, weather permitting, in an area that the township board had rezoned in 2018 from an industrial office park to an office building district.

In February, the board lifted the moratorium to allow a developer, Hunter Pasteur Homes, to submit a proposal to the township’s Planning Commission for a project involving between 54 and 68 attached single-family homes, eyeing the site of the former Eagle Elementary School at 29410 W. 14 Mile Road, at the northwest corner of 14 Mile and Middlebelt roads.

That project evolved into Gramercy Ridge, a 52-unit condominium complex at the same place, for which the board rezoned the site from an R-15 single family home district to a R-M multiple family residential district in October.

Andy Milia, the president of Franklin Property Corp. — the general contractor and development consultant to Hunter Pasteur Homes — said around that time that the project will feature ranch units ranging in size between 1,500 and 2,200 square feet, with options for second-story units, and that they also feature high-end landscaping, stone patios, full basements, two-car attached garages, and high-quality build materials, including brick and stone. The reduced scope of the project — 52 units instead of the original 54 to 68 — was done to comply with local density requirements. The township board approved the project in November.

Over in Sylvan Lake, residents had their own concerns about density when a developer proposed to turn the site of the former Whitfield Elementary School, 2000 Orchard Lake Road, into a high-density, multifamily development. While no formal proposals were made, one idea was for three-story structures housing 180-200 units or about 300 occupants, while another concept was scaled back and slightly smaller in scope.

This led the Sylvan Lake Planning Commission to consider a zoning change that would’ve allowed the project and potentially quadrupled density in the area, which in turn stoked fears that the small, tight-knit community was on a slippery slope to overpopulation. Public outcry was swift and led to the formation of a resident group called SPAR — Sylvan People Against Rezoning — which has since been renamed the Sylvan Peoples Alliance of Residents.

SPAR members pointed out how the city of Sylvan Lake is already in the 93rd percentile for density compared to 700 other Michigan communities, with the U.S. Census Bureau placing the population of Sylvan Lake at about 1,850 residents. SPAR’s concern was that more residents and rentals would erode property values, strain emergency responders, congest traffic, and degrade public spaces such as parks and beaches.

Nearly 950 residents signed SPAR’s petition against the proposal, prompting the Sylvan Lake Planning Commission to recommend that the Sylvan Lake City Council approve an amendment to the planned unit development ordinance that would limit the units per acre to five — a stark contrast with the 20 units per acre that would’ve been allowed under the zoning change. The measure also prohibits multifamily developments. The council unanimously approved the amendment in concept at its meeting Oct. 16.

Not every development issue revolved around constructing buildings. There was also major road work done in the form of a new roundabout at Maple and Middlebelt roads in West Bloomfield — work that included drainage improvements, water main replacements and upgraded pedestrian crosswalks in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project also involved the replacement of the culvert carrying the Rouge River under Maple Road.

Work on the culvert began in June and wrapped up in late September. The roundabout itself was finished in 89 days and opened to traffic in mid-December.

The intersection at Maple and Middlebelt roads carries about 31,000 vehicles per day, and the overall project cost about $6.6 million, funded by a mix of federal and local dollars, with the local funding shared between the Oakland County Road Commission, West Bloomfield Township and Oakland County.

While it was a headache for commuters, the Federal Highway Administration maintains that roundabouts reduce the risk of fatalities and serious injury crashes by about 90 percent, compared to a signalized intersection.

The roundabout is also anticipated to allow greater capacity, reducing congestion and streamlining future commutes. The hope is that these benefits, along with the improved build quality of the new infrastructure, will have made the hassle worth it.

Staying safe

Safety was a priority for voters in West Bloomfield Township in 2019, as demonstrated by the overwhelming support shown for two proposals during an election Aug. 6.

One proposal was for a measure that replaces two public safety millages with a single combined millage at a reduced rate, while the other proposal renewed an existing safety path millage, also at a reduced rate. The replacement for the public safety millages was supported by 82.52% of 6,649 voters, while the safety path millage renewal was supported by 75.18%.

The public safety millages were originally approved by voters in 2011 and were set to expire in 2021. The replacement covers an 11-year period, expiring in 2030. Due to the Headlee Amendment’s rollback mandate, the proposed millage rate for the replacement is 5.7307 mills.

The safety path millage, meanwhile, was originally approved by voters in 2004 and was set to expire in December 2019. The renewal rate is 0.1895 mill for 15 years, expiring in 2034.

The township collects $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value, multiplied by the millage rate. For a home in West Bloomfield Township with a taxable value of $100,000, the millage replacement will cost about $573 each year, while the safety path millage will cost about $18.95 each year.

Township officials estimate that the millage replacement will generate more than $21.4 million the first year, while the safety path millage will bring in more than $708,200 the first year.

Officials said that the millage replacement covers 70% of funding for police officers, firefighters, paramedics and 911 dispatchers in the community, while the safety path is an ongoing project that will one day create an interconnected, non-motorized pedestrian pathway that spans 76 miles and winds throughout most of the township’s 33 square miles, ranging from 14 Mile and Inkster roads to Haggerty and Richardson roads, and to the Cooley Lake area.

West Bloomfield Township also recently celebrated the grand opening of a new fire station that took nearly two years to complete. Fire Station No. 3, located at 3340 Green Lake Road, was rebuilt because the original building was around 65 years old and falling apart, with poor heating, falling tile and hazardous material throughout, including asbestos and lead in the living area.

The ground-up replacement cost $5.5 million and included the purchase of an adjacent home, the design phase, the construction and furnishing of the facilities, and the construction manager fees. The station spans 11,439 square feet, with three drive-thru bays and one back-in bay, and new and improved living quarters and training areas, as well as the removal of gender-specific locker rooms — now each firefighter has their own bathroom with a shower, sink and toilet. The station houses a staff of four firefighters at a time.

Officials say the new station opens its doors at a time when run volume is higher than ever, with population growth leading to a substantial increase in fire station and ambulance runs over the last 30 years. The hope is that the new fire station is built to last, enduring for decades to come.

 

Great Lakes face great problems
Legislators at the county and state levels wrestled with how to improve the state’s water quality now and going forward.

While Michigan has among the highest levels in the nation for toxic PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — in ground and surface water, the state is undeniably doing more than any other in the union to thwart the threat brought on by the carcinogenic fire retardant with efforts like quicker and more advanced testing, and stricter state action levels.    

In July, Wylie E. Groves High School hosted a discussion with state Sen. Rosemary Bayer, D-Beverly Hills; Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel; Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Deputy Director James Clift; Clean Water Action campaign organizer Sean McBrearty; author and activist Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha; and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.

From lead in drinking water to PFAS and even Embridge’s Line 5 that runs from Wisconsin to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the officials agreed on the severity of the state’s water quality crisis, but were at odds as to who should be held financially responsible for remediation.

 

Shake-up ensues after county executive death
"At the end of March, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson announced at an emotional press conference that he wouldn’t seek reelection in 2020 because he had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

Unfortunately, Patterson wasn’t able to see the end of his term. He succumbed to the disease Aug. 3 at the age of 80.

Shortly after Patterson’s death, county representatives began a monthslong squabble over who should replace him. Deputy Executive Gerald Poisson, a Republican, stepped in as interim executive, and Democrats later rallied to replace him with former Ferndale Mayor David Coulter to further solidify their majority on the Oakland County Board of Commissioners.

“I understand very well that this day is only made necessary by the passing of our county executive, Brooks Patterson,” said Coulter just after his appointment by the board. “You don’t replace Brooks Patterson, and I don’t expect to be able to. I can only be judged on my own merits, and I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to do that.”

Coulter has since announced that he plans to run in November to keep his seat.

Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki contributed to this report.

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