Lights fill the room at a memorial service Oct. 29 at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield after a mass shooting at a temple in Pittsburgh.

Lights fill the room at a memorial service Oct. 29 at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield after a mass shooting at a temple in Pittsburgh.

File photo by Sean Work


A year of impact in Greater West Bloomfield

2018 leaves community emboldened, changed

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 27, 2018

 Keego Harbor resident Leslie Clark scooped up starry stonewort from the bottom of Dollar Lake.

Keego Harbor resident Leslie Clark scooped up starry stonewort from the bottom of Dollar Lake.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 West Bloomfield resident Andrea Soultanian, who is an advanced swimmer, almost drowned in Morris Lake July 4 in a fluke accident. She was rescued by Orchard Lake resident Justin Moore.

West Bloomfield resident Andrea Soultanian, who is an advanced swimmer, almost drowned in Morris Lake July 4 in a fluke accident. She was rescued by Orchard Lake resident Justin Moore.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

 The westbound side of Maple Road, from Halsted to Drake roads, will be closing in early April as the second phase of the Maple Road project gets underway.

The westbound side of Maple Road, from Halsted to Drake roads, will be closing in early April as the second phase of the Maple Road project gets underway.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Provision Living was under development in West Bloomfield at the location of the former Ealy Elementary School, on Maple Road, in February. The year 2017 marked an increase in building permits approved by the township.

Provision Living was under development in West Bloomfield at the location of the former Ealy Elementary School, on Maple Road, in February. The year 2017 marked an increase in building permits approved by the township.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 West Bloomfield firefighter paramedics work on getting an Orchard Lake pilot out of his helicopter after it crashed Sept. 3 in a field in Orchard Lake.

West Bloomfield firefighter paramedics work on getting an Orchard Lake pilot out of his helicopter after it crashed Sept. 3 in a field in Orchard Lake.

File photo provided by the West Bloomfield Fire Department

 West Bloomfield resident and registered nurse Vickey Campbell stands Sept. 12 on the property of fellow subdivision neighbor Rebecca Ayar, where signs encourage people to slow down.

West Bloomfield resident and registered nurse Vickey Campbell stands Sept. 12 on the property of fellow subdivision neighbor Rebecca Ayar, where signs encourage people to slow down.

File photo by Deb Jacques

 Keego Harbor City Councilman Rob Kalman, center, attends a vigil for the victims of a murder/suicide Feb. 17.

Keego Harbor City Councilman Rob Kalman, center, attends a vigil for the victims of a murder/suicide Feb. 17.

File photo provided by Matthew McCormick

GREATER WEST BLOOMFIELD — The new year is upon us, but before your list of resolutions takes precedence, journey back to some noteworthy happenings in the greater West Bloomfield area in 2018.

 

Housing developments include focus on seniors
Housing developments were a major part of 2018, including one of the first new residential subdivisions in West Bloomfield in almost 10 years.

The Bloomfield Hills-based AP Builders has headed up the project, located on 5 acres near Orchard Lake Road and Maple Road, at the site of the former Orchard Valley Swim and Racquet Club. The Reserve of Beverly Crest was slated to host 11 home sites.

The property was acquired by AP Builders from the Friendship Circle, a West Bloomfield-based nonprofit. The property had been donated to the nonprofit after the club’s closure.

The development marked the first new subdivision in West Bloomfield in almost 10 years.

Eleven homes priced between $529,000 and $581,000 were planned — open floor plans with up to three full baths, an up to three-car garage and an optional additional guest room.

The development came after an overall increase in building activity in West Bloomfield in 2017, according to the township’s Building Department. Permit activity increased over 55 percent in the last half of 2017 compared to the same time in 2016.

Senior living was a hot discussion, with Provision Living West Bloomfield, located at 5475 W. Maple Road, taking up residence on the site of the former Ealy Elementary School.

The West Bloomfield community is not the first Provision Living facility in Michigan. The St. Louis-based company first expanded into Michigan with a location in Ann Arbor and is working on building a location in Grand Rapids. Apartments at Provision Living begin at $5,700 per month.

The West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees approved the introduction of several rezoning requests April 23, one of which would allow for a new residential and commercial development near Haggerty and Walnut Lake roads.

That rezoning request was to change about 96 acres of property from single-family residential to multifamily residential and general business to allow for the development of a 249-home residential and commercial development called Balmoral Park. The land is currently undeveloped.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of the development March 13.

The Board of Trustees approved the rezoning 5-0. The board also fielded a request to rezone 2450 Haggerty Road from an industrial office park to an office building district to permit the development of a senior assisted living facility called Cranberry Park of West Bloomfield.

The facility would be “all-inclusive” for residents, with amenities including home-cooked meals, housekeeping, life enrichment programs, and an in-house chapel, theater and beauty salons.

The board voted to approve the introduction of the rezoning 5-0.

The West Bloomfield Township Building Department’s biannual report to the township Board of Trustees showed an increase across the board in permits.

The West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees denied the rezoning request of Stone Hill of West Bloomfield, a senior independent living development that drew criticism from the community.

At a March 5 board meeting, trustees held a public hearing to gather more opinions from the public about the proposed development, located at the site of the former Eagle Elementary School, 29410 14 Mile Road. Previously, a public hearing had been held as part of a work study meeting in January where residents brought up concerns.

On March 5, developers again went before the trustees seeking approval of a rezoning of the property from single-family residential to a Planned Unit Development, or PUD. The developers, PIRHL of Farmington Hills, amended their proposal to not include a PILOT program, like previously planned.

PILOT stands for “payment in lieu of taxes,” and developers had requested it because the development would have affordable housing for seniors. Property owners would pay a set amount of money instead of taxes on the affordable units in the development.

Fifty-one of the units planned for the program would offer low-income housing for seniors, but both residents and the township board voiced their concerns at a previous meeting about how the PILOT program would affect the rest of the units and the payment of taxes.

It was voted down.

 

Lake health, safety a priority
When the Oakland County Board of Commissioners launched the Healthy Lakes Initiative in 2018, 60 new lakes were registered with the program.

Earlier last year, the Healthy Lakes Initiative was launched in partnership with the Oakland County Health Division and the Michigan Clean Water Corps, or MiCorps, which offers a statewide program called the Cooperative Lakes Monitoring Program, or CLMP.

The CLMP is a free program that trains volunteers to monitor lake water quality throughout the summer, with particular focus on algae growth and invasive plants.

In 2017, 14 Oakland County lakes were registered with the CLMP. Last year, as part of the Healthy Lakes Initiative, 74 Lakes in Oakland County are registered. There were about 100 volunteers in the program last year.

MiCorps provides advice to the volunteers in the event that water samples are concerning, but volunteers are not given directives. If the volunteers don’t have the resources to do anything further, that is where the project ends. If volunteers do decide to move forward, they could choose to remove invasive species manually or hire an external company to manage and fight algae in the lake.

Scotch Lake Residents Beach, in West Bloomfield, was closed in the summer of 2017 due to high levels of E. coli bacteria found in the water. The Oakland County Health Division oversees Scotch Lake and other lakes in the area, and conducted water testing and quality assurance through its beach monitoring program.

Scotch Lake is the only beach monitored by the Oakland County Health Division that was closed.

The Health Division conducts water testing every summer from June 4 to Aug. 10 and tests 75 public beaches on 61 lakes in Oakland County.

In Keego Harbor, a fight commenced against invasive aquatic species, like phragmites, flowering rush and others that endanger local wetlands if nothing is done about them.

Keego Harbor Parks and Recreation Commissioner Leslie Clark spoke during an Aug. 16 Keego Harbor City Council meeting about how invasive species are causing problems.

Clark represents Keego Harbor on a steering committee of the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, or CISMA. She said during the meeting that invasive species have been the focus of CISMA, which was formed in 2014.

Phragmites — non-native, invasive plants that sometimes reach 15 feet tall — can be seen along a number of roadways throughout Oakland County and in local wetland areas. They block native vegetation and nutrients, which impacts the ecological health of wetlands, and they impair drainage and limit sight distances along roadways.

The plants have a very deep root system and can reduce access for swimming, fishing and hunting, as well as create fire hazards from dry plant material.

On Aug. 22, Clark, Huron River Watershed Council aquatic ecologist Paul Steen and others with a vested interest in invasive species went out to Dollar Lake in Keego Harbor to evaluate the level of invasive species development along the shoreline of the lake.

Clark said in 2018 that she discovered that Dollar Lake is entirely surrounded by starry stonewort, an invasive species.

Wetlands are an integral part of any ecosystem.

They filter water and are home to many species of animals. Michigan is home to about 3 million acres of wetlands throughout the state, and more than 1,500 of those acres are in the West Bloomfield area. Wetlands provide flood storage, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, pollution filtration and erosion control.

In 1979, Michigan’s Legislature passed the state’s wetland protection statute that recognizes the benefits and value of wetlands and requires permits for construction in and around wetlands.

Now organizations from the state level to the local level work together to conserve wetlands. The Department of Natural Resources has conserved over 56,000 acres of wetland habitats through the North American Wetland Conservation Act, which gives grants for projects throughout North America.

The DNR also works with the Michigan Municipal Wetland Alliance, an organization that helps cities preserve wetland habitats.

West Bloomfield itself has taken on efforts to preserve local wetlands.

John Roda, environmental manager for West Bloomfield, said that the township has several ordinances that his department, along with the township’s Environmental Commission, enforces.

These ordinances include wetland protection, environmental features setback, erosion control and fertilizer control designed to protect wetlands.

 

Tragedy strikes Keego Harbor, justice is served in West Bloomfield
Near the beginning of 2018, the community of Keego Harbor faced the unthinkable when a murder/suicide left four people dead.

On Feb. 16, Keego Harbor Police Department officers responded to a welfare check at a residence on Cass Lake Road.

Upon entering the house, the officers discovered the bodies of four family members.

Police said a local woman, Lauren Stuart, took her own life and the lives of her husband and children.

The four deceased — Daniel Stuart, 47; Lauren Stuart, 45; Steven Stuart, 27; and Bethany Stuart, 24 — all died from gunshot wounds.

Lauren Stuart was a model and a part-time personal trainer at the YMCA in Farmington Hills, according to a LinkedIn profile.

Steven and Bethany Stuart attended Oakland Community College, according to LinkedIn pages. Bethany Stuart had an associate’s degree in graphic design. Daniel Stuart was a lead software architect at the Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care at the University of Michigan, according to a LinkedIn profile.

In West Bloomfield, justice was served when Detroit resident DeSean Smith, 20, was found guilty June 15 in the murder of West Bloomfield resident Diana Pesserl.

A jury found Smith guilty of first-degree felony murder, fourth-degree arson and felony possession of a firearm in the death of Pesserl, 31.

Pesserl’s body was found in the trunk of her car, which had been set on fire at the former Pine Lake Elementary School in West Bloomfield.

Key witnesses in the trial took the stand to recount the story of the night of Dec. 8, 2016, and the following morning.

Taking the stand as a key witness was one of Smith’s oldest friends, West Bloomfield resident Jaylen Stringer, 20. Stringer was charged with tampering with evidence, a charge to which he pleaded guilty. Another charge, accessory after the fact, was dropped.

Stringer acknowledged that he had played a part in the crime by assisting Smith in washing his clothes and hiding the gun at his home.

Stringer was sentenced to five years of probation for accessory after the fact of murder.

The probation came with terms: a five-year GPS tether, a curfew, as well as an order to move out of West Bloomfield and never visit the township during the probation period.

Smith was sentenced to life in prison without parole July 18 for first-degree felony murder.

Smith was also sentenced to two years for fourth-degree arson, and two to five years for felony possession of a firearm, as well as fines and fees.

 

Road work comes to a commute near you
Local motorists had their driving patience tested with traffic flow changes in a number of construction projects, including the second phase of the Maple Road resurfacing project.

The second phase of the project took place from Halsted to Drake roads. Crews resurfaced the road and added a continuous center left-turn lane, as well as some right-turn lanes, and they paved the shoulders, and installed curbs and gutters.

The project began last spring and lasted about five months, the same length as the first half of the project took.

The first phase of the project covered Maple Road from Haggerty to Halsted roads.

The 2-mile project cost $5.5 million and was funded with a mix of federal and local dollars. The local funding was shared by both West Bloomfield Township and the Road Commission for Oakland County.

In late winter, the Road Commission for Oakland County addressed pothole problems by resurfacing county roads starting through a preservation overlay program in a number of communities, including West Bloomfield.

The Road Commission board approved a large preservation overlay program during a March 8 meeting, after the state Legislature agreed to provide $175 million in additional funding to agencies across Michigan, such as the Road Commission.

The Road Commission’s portion of those funds was $7 million — $4 million of which was put into the preservation overlay program. The remaining $3 million went toward the county’s spot resurfacing and concrete repair program.

All of West Bloomfield’s roads are cared for by the Road Commission. West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan said he looked forward to upcoming overlays in the township.

Local projects included Commerce Road, between Hiller and Orchard Lake roads; Haggerty Road, from 10 Mile Road to Pontiac Trail; and Hiller Road, from Commerce Road to Old Orchard Trail.

Many other city and community roads were repaired through the project.

An emergency repair in July closed Inkster Road to traffic north of 14 Mile Road. The Road Commission closed the southbound lane of Inkster Road to begin repairs. The northbound lane had been closed since June for similar repairs.

Inkster Road’s roadside bank had completely deteriorated on the east side of the road.

The full closure was necessary for the contractor to repair the bank.

The repairs included putting in new road fill, compacting it and restoring the road over the repair.

A heated topic of construction late in 2018 was regarding a roundabout at the Maple Road and Middlebelt Road intersection, which is expected to make for a smoother ride this spring.

A Nov. 13 informational meeting on the roundabout at Orchard Lake Middle School discussed the Maple/Middlebelt intersection improvement project.

Road Commission staff answered questions about the roughly $5.6 million safety improvement project, which is funded with federal and local dollars.

The project will include construction of a roundabout at the Maple/Middlebelt intersection, drainage improvements, Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant crosswalks, water main replacements, and the replacement of a culvert that carries the Rouge River under Maple Road, just east of Middlebelt Road.

A 10-by-9-foot box culvert about 30 feet down that is falling apart was slated for replacement.

Some residents were not impressed by the project, stating that a roundabout will cause a delay in entry and exit points when driving at the Franklin Corners subdivision. Some said it will negatively impact traffic.

According to a press release, tree removal and utility relocation are scheduled to begin between January and March of 2019 and will involve occasional lane closures; construction is expected to begin in late spring of 2019.   

The Maple/Middlebelt Road roundabout is expected to be constructed first. The Maple Road culvert, between Glenway Drive and Bloomfield Glens Road, will be replaced once the roundabout is open to traffic.

 

Grief draws Jewish community, others together
After a lone gunman killed 11 people in a shooting Oct. 27 in a Pittsburgh synagogue, the local Jewish community and its supporters came together.

At vigils and memorials, people stood together across metro Detroit and across the country.

Rabbi Eli Mayerfeld, CEO of the Farmington Hills-based Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, said that the “tragic anti-Semitic incident” showcased that there is “still much work to be done” in teaching the importance of tolerance and respect for people of all religions and cultures.

Mayerfeld said that the safety and security of the HMC’s visitors and staff are always a top priority.

Christopher Bremer, the executive director of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre, said in an email to the JET community that JET stands in unity with people who condemn the violence at the Tree of Life Congregation.

Temple Israel Rabbi Joshua L. Bennett emailed a letter about the tragedy, and a teen vigil was held Oct. 29 at Temple Israel in response to the tragedy.

About 700 people participated in the vigil; there were representatives from not only the Jewish community, but the interfaith community, as well.

A couple months before the shooting, a West Bloomfield School District seminar on active shooter training protocols involved West Bloomfield Police Department representatives speaking to school officials Aug. 6 at Abbott Middle School about updated active shooter responses.

Police representatives spoke to school officials about updated active shooter responses in the wake of recent mass shootings.

Curt Lawson, deputy chief of the West Bloomfield Police Department, said in a follow-up email that the ALICE discussion was a necessary one. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

The ALICE approach is about proactive options during active shooter situations that were not available with a traditional lockdown-only approach.