‘Upscale’ Urbane apartments proposed for Washington Ave.

Dense plans include rooftop terrace, first-floor parking

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published August 16, 2017


ROYAL OAK — Planning Commission members gave their unanimous approval last week for a proposed downtown apartment building, pending tweaks to developers’ plans before heading to the Royal Oak City Commission.

Plans for The Washington — which would be located at the southwest corner of South Washington and West Harrison avenues — were presented to the Planning Commission Aug. 8.

The 81,000-square-foot, three-story project includes studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units that developers describe as modern and upscale and utilizing premium materials.

The project would be marketed to young professionals, and building amenities would include bike storage, an elevator, lounge areas on the second and third floors, a rooftop terrace and ground-level parking. Rents would range from $1,800 to $2,500.

Despite overall support of the development, the Planning Commission identified three changes that must be made before the project makes its way to the City Commission for ultimate approval.

The contingencies included that Urbane maintains the adjacent alley; that screening between the site and immediate west would be added to block headlights shining into the neighboring basement apartments; and that developers bring back to the Planning Commission a building design that would mask the ground-level parking.

“I find the ground-level parking, even with the screening that is offered on Washington, unacceptable,” said Sharlan Douglas, mayor pro tem and planning commissioner.

Douglas said Washington Avenue is an important main street in the downtown and a thoroughfare that developers are interested in right now.

Planning Commissioner Eric Klooster agreed, saying that to have no retail or other features on the first floor is hard to overcome — a thought echoed by fellow Planning Commissioner Dan Godek.

“You’re talking about ‘revitalizing’ and ‘urban’ and all of these cool words, but when I drive up and down Washington, and I look at eye level, I’m going to see a parking lot, a surface lot that has some less-than-adequate screening on it,” Godek said of the first plans submitted.

The development team consisting of Gabe Rubin, of Selective Acquisition & Development Co. LLC; Mark Abanatha, of Alexander V. Bogaerts & Associates; and Eric Brown, of Urbane Apartments, said they would revamp their plans.

The team requested approval from the Planning Commission to change the zoning on the property from mixed use to planned unit development.

Deviations from mixed-use zoning requirements requested included having the building abut the street when existing ordinances require a 10-foot setback; reaching 36 feet tall instead of 30 feet; offering 36 parking spaces instead of the required 52; and including 26 units instead of four.

Commissioners who voiced their opinions did not have a problem with the number of required parking spaces or the density of the project.

“We as a commission have been supporting more urban, dense developments in this part of the city,” Douglas said.

Douglas explained that the city commissioned a study in the past year that clearly states this is the type of housing in demand right now in Royal Oak. She said the study showed that young people will forgo living space to reside in an urban, walkable community near a downtown.

“This is the form that I support,” she said. “I want to see more of this, and I think this part of our city is ripe for it.”

Douglas said she loves the stormwater recycling idea presented by the developers.

The plans show that two tanks would be placed underground as a stormwater basin, and then the collected water would be retrieved by tanker trucks to water Urbane’s other properties and could also be available for city use.

Brown said Urbane owns and operates about a dozen apartment complexes in Royal Oak.

“We’re real excited about it, and we think that it just makes a lot of sense in that whole Washington corridor to have more dense housing there,” he said.

A handful of nearby property owners spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting to express their overall support for the project, with the exceptions of concerns with a lack of parking, the density of the project and a rooftop deck.

“I am totally against the rooftop,” said West Harrison property owner Tony Snow.

Snow said he rents to young professionals, and from his experience, he thinks it is a recipe for a party at 2 a.m.

Rubin said the team has been working hard on this project.

“I love Royal Oak, I believe in it, and as it relates to this specific development, our goal is to revitalize the entire Washington Avenue corridor, so this is the start of that revitalization,” he said.