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Tennis House condo proposal generates debate, interest

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 10, 2016

 The single clay court in the Tennis House is still used by club members, but building owner Matt Kornmeier said it needs costly renovations.

The single clay court in the Tennis House is still used by club members, but building owner Matt Kornmeier said it needs costly renovations.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Growing up in a tennis-playing family, Grosse Pointe Farms resident Matt Kornmeier has fond memories of games and tournaments with family and friends at the Tennis House.

Built in 1935 and opened in 1936 as a private club for locals including Edsel Ford, Allan Shelden, Arthur Gardner and Ernest Kanzler, the dome-shaped structure at the end of Moselle Place — at 360 Moselle Place — has a tony and storied history. But with dwindling membership and peeling paint dangling from the steel ceiling beams, its best days seem to be behind it.

Kornmeier, director of property management for Birmingham-based ANK Enterprises, acquired the club in August 2013 with the intention of sprucing it up and securing enough members to make it feasible again. Despite cleaning it up and making a number of needed renovations, Kornmeier and his family were unable to attract enough members to be able to cover the costs of the major renovations the facility needs. 

Kornmeier now hopes to transform the old club building into 10 privately owned condominium units, with another four detached condos to be built in front of the Tennis House, adjacent to single-family homes. It’s a proposal that has attracted interest from prospective buyers along with concerns from some nearby residents.

Kornmeier presented his proposal during a Grosse Pointe Farms City Council work session July 26 at Pier Park that drew almost 40 residents. When Farms officials asked how many in attendance were opposed to the proposal, seven people raised their hands. When they asked how many were in favor, most of the remainder of the audience raised their hands.

Some residents have raised concerns about an increase in traffic in the area from this proposal, while others have said they fear it would negatively impact property values. 

After purchasing the building, Kornmeier said he and his family spent August through October of 2013 thoroughly cleaning the building, ripping out old carpeting and refinishing the original hardwood floors, fixing the plumbing, installing new lighting and a new clay court, refurbishing the boiler, and making other repairs in an effort to revive the club. Although he said they did draw some new members over the last three years, they continued to lose members as people joined other, larger private clubs and tennis facilities in metro Detroit. The club, which isn’t air-conditioned, is open from October through May, and as of the most recent season, Kornmeier said, they had about 45 members. 

“It’s not economically feasible anymore” to operate it as a private club, he said.

Although the Tennis House isn’t on any historical registers, Kornmeier said the architecture “has historical significance,” as does the building, because of the prestige of the club’s founding members.

“I love this place,” he said of the building, which is one of the big reasons why he said he’d like to convert it into condos, in an effort to preserve some of that history and save the building. If the Farms City Council approves Kornmeier’s proposal, the structure would be saved and its restored lobby — complete with many original pieces of furniture — would be maintained for condo occupants to use.

“We don’t have any multi-family (housing) in the city of Grosse Pointe Farms, and it’s something that’s desperately needed,” said Kornmeier, noting the presence of both snowbirds and busy professionals who are looking for this type of housing.

Another developer likely would tear down the Tennis House and could either put in a hockey or soccer facility — the parcel is zoned for community recreation — or several substantial single-family homes, he said. All of those options, argued Kornmeier, would create more traffic for neighbors than his proposal — something supported by an independent traffic study conducted by Tappan K. Datta, a professor of civil and environmental engineering with the Wayne State University Transportation Research Group. Datta’s services have been retained by Farms city officials in the past.

“The number (of vehicular trips) generated by (the proposed multi-family use) is very low compared to other land uses. … I believe that this is the best traffic scenario you can have (even) compared to the existing (use),” Datta said.

Bonnie Burke, who lives on Belanger and said she has friends on Moselle Place who are concerned about this plan, questioned the proposal, especially because this type of adaptive reuse apparently is without precedent.

“I love the Tennis House,” she said, insisting that she was “not trying to be negative.” “I just can’t see 14 families living in that space.”

Keith Owen, who lives in the 300 block of Tourraine Road, said he supports “adaptive reuse for this building” and said “conceptually it’s really strong,” but he added that city officials need to address the issue of density.

Others at the July 26 meeting said they like the proposal.

Theresa Fiedler, another Tourraine resident, said she’d be interested in purchasing one of the condos.

“I find it very interesting,” she said of the plan. “I think it would be a positive asset (for the community).”

Gloria Kotas, a local Realtor who said she’s known the Kornmeier family for 60 years, lauded the proposal.

“This is one of the best things I’ve seen,” she said. “Whatever (the Kornmeiers) do, they do it with class. … This is really needed. … It’s the best thing that can happen to that area.”

Kornmeier said he lives in the neighborhood himself, so it’s personally important for him to make sure this project protects the area.

“This is all about keeping the character of the neighborhood intact. … This development, I think, will beautifully enhance the neighborhood,” he said.

He said the condos “will be very beautiful, very unique, very high-end,” with a starting price of about $500,000. Kornmeier said he’s confident that he could sell the condos at these prices because he said there isn’t anything like them in the area, and he’s already heard from people who said they want to buy one regardless of the cost.

Units in the Tennis House building would be from just over 900 square feet to just over 2,000 square feet. The detached units would range from about 1,800 to 2,200 square feet. Since the underground garage for the Tennis House building itself is being classified as the first floor, there would be four units on the second — or ground — floor, four units on the third floor, and two penthouse units on the fourth floor, with an elevator taking occupants to their units or the garage.

“The number of units per acre is very low,” Kornmeier said, noting that most condo developments would have far more units on a parcel of this size. “It’s very light density.”

Architect Alexander Bogaerts, of Alexander V. Bogaerts + Associates P.C., said this plan would extend the residential character of Moselle Place and would “enhance the character of the street.” Kornmeier and his team said that placing the detached units in front of the Tennis House building would create a softer, more natural transition between the residential area and the community service zoning areas that abut the Tennis House and the neighborhood, with Brownell Middle School and the First Church of Christ Scientist, both of which have frontage on Chalfonte Road.

Mark Abanatha, senior vice president and associate of Alexander V. Bogaerts + Associates, said this project was designed to preserve the majority of the mature trees on the property and retain green space. He said 46 percent of the site would remain green space. The first two detached units, which are closest to homes on Moselle Place, would be ranch-style, while the two detached units directly behind those would be story-and-a-half units. The detached condos would each have their own driveways and two-car attached garages, while the units in the Tennis House building would have private underground parking spaces. 

Bogaerts said the half-dome shape of the Tennis House is something still seen today in airports and other structures.

“Even though this building is 80 years old, it still has a freshness to it,” he said.

At press time, aspects of the project were slated to be voted on by the Farms City Council during a meeting at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at Farms City Hall. Chip Berschback, an attorney representing ANK Enterprises, said that during the Aug. 15 meeting, the developer will be seeking approval for use of a planned unit development, or PUD, overlay, making an exception for this property because it isn’t quite the 2-acre minimum for a PUD; it’s actually 1.514 acres. He said they’re also seeking conditional rezoning of the property from the current zoning of community recreation to multi-family residential.

“We’re actually going from a more intensive use (now) to a less intensive use,” Berschback said.

Berschback, who has been involved in the Grosse Pointe Historical Society, said this is an opportunity to save a piece of the community’s history.

“I’ve always heard us bemoaning the demolition of unique structures (in the Pointes),” Berschback said. “This is one of the best chances, if not the best chance, to (save this building).”

Even if the council approves the PUD Aug. 15, they will still need to schedule a meeting to vote on the site plan, so the Aug. 15 meeting isn’t the last time this proposal is likely to appear on a council agenda. For an agenda or more information, visit www.grossepointefarms.org.