City offers more time for input on Normandy Oaks

Rental option not initially welcomed, called longshot

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published September 30, 2015

 The Pulte Land Company development plan for the Normandy Oaks site includes 122 for-sale, townhome-style dwellings with pocket parks inside the development.

The Pulte Land Company development plan for the Normandy Oaks site includes 122 for-sale, townhome-style dwellings with pocket parks inside the development.

Rendering provided by the City of Royal Oak

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ROYAL OAK — Residents will have a chance to voice their opinions next week on development plans for the voter-approved 10-acre property sale at the proposed Normandy Oaks Park site.

Three developers presented their visions for the parcel — which voters supported the sale and development of to fund a 40-acre park on the abutting former golf course property — to city commissioners during the Sept 21 regular meeting.

Members of the City Commission listened to the varied plans offered by Pulte Land Company, Robertson Brothers Homes and Burton-Katzman before deciding to table the issue so that additional residential input could be received and City Commissioner Sharlan Douglas could have a voice on the issue. She was out of town last week and not in attendance at the meeting.

Douglas is a member of the Normandy Oaks Task Force and has been following the golf course/park issue closely, so it was suggested that she be present to cast a final vote in favor of one of the development plans.

During the Sept. 9 Normandy Oaks Task Force meeting — where five developers were invited to present their proposals so the task force could choose two finalists to appear before the commission — Douglas asked that a third developer be invited to appear before the commission to represent a rental property option with a senior housing component.

“I’m not as reluctant as others to embrace rental housing,” she said during the Sept. 9 meeting, referencing the Burton-Katzman offer. “I think the idea of offering affordable housing to seniors is very attractive.”

Burton-Katzman was added to the chagrin of a handful of residents who, during the commission meeting, spoke against apartments in their neighborhood.

Resident Jeremy Everett said he lives five houses away from Normandy Oaks and was against rental homes for a number of reasons, including that he believes rentals and high-density housing lead to higher crime rates and increased traffic. He also said single-family homes would attract more families with children, which would keep the schools thriving.

“Let’s become the next Birmingham instead of the next Madison Heights,” he said.

Everett said Royal Oak needs more larger-size homes.

“I live in Royal Oak, and I want to stay in Royal Oak,” he said. “One of the problems I have is that I would like to move up to a bigger house than 1,000 square foot. Some of the problems with that is they are not in Royal Oak — they are in other cities.”

Resident David Sims said he voted in favor of selling the land under the impression that it would be developed with owner-purchased housing.

“When I heard about the three developments, I was shocked that there was a rental development included in this,” he said. “We have enough rentals.”

After listening to residential input, Larry Goss, executive vice president of Burton-Katzman, said that after 30 years doing business in Royal Oak, he wouldn’t want to jeopardize that relationship by bringing something that wasn’t wanted.

“We certainly recognize that we are the underdog and, in fact, based on many of the comments we’ve heard, it sounds like what we’re proposing may not fit with what the community is looking for,” he said.

Goss said that according to research compiled through the national firm REIS, 97 percent of apartments in Royal Oak were built prior to 1979, and 80 percent were built prior to 1970.

He said there hasn’t been modern, high-end apartment construction in Royal Oak in decades, which is what Burton-Katzman would offer, including granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and other luxury amenities.

Goss said that in July 2015, research showed that the vacancy rate of apartments in Royal Oak was at 1.2 percent.

“It would appear from the data, at least, that there is a big shortage of this type of housing in the city of Royal Oak,” he said.

The Burton-Katzman plan included 120 suburban-style apartments with a 55-and-older component that featured 40 smaller, subsidized rental units and a clubhouse for all, with an offer to the city of $2.5 million. The senior housing component would be built through the same developer as the Village of Royal Oak Senior Living Apartments, which has been 100 percent occupied for the past four years, according to MHT Housing.

“We are trying to bring back a true multigenerational product that would speak to these needs,” Goss said.

Mayor Jim Ellison, who is chairman of the Normandy Oaks Task Force, said the task force included in its request for proposals an affordable senior housing option.

“We were looking for housing that would not be priced out of a senior’s range, trying to target the people who live in Royal Oak that would like to stay in Royal Oak. They don’t need their large, four bedroom home anymore; they are looking to downsize,” he said. 

Ellison said that subsidized housing was not what the task force specifically requested; that was just how Burton-Katzman responded.

Out of the top two contenders for the development deal, neither Pulte nor Robertson Brothers offered a senior housing component.

Robertson Brothers included a ranch-style condominium that might appeal to seniors as part of its plans shown to the Normandy Oaks Task Force, but the developer eliminated that element to remain competitive.

The plan did include single-family homes similar to Lexington on the Park, with prices beginning at $300,000; town houses; and ranch-style condominiums with sunroom options for those looking for a downsized home purchase. The plan also included an interior pocket park for the townhomes and ranch-style condos with an offer price of $2.85 million.

The Robertson Brothers plan now offers the same 47 single-family homes and 78 for-purchase townhomes with an offer to the city of $3.85 million.

Robertson Brothers recently developed parcels in Royal Oak, including Lexington on the Park on the former school administration building site and the homes on the former Whittier Elementary School site.

“We don’t have to go to a different community to show you in Royal Oak what we know how to do,” Robertson said to the task force. “We’re Royal Oak people: We started here, we’ve been here, we want to keep doing it here.”

Pulte’s plan included 122 for-sale, townhome-style dwellings. The townhomes would range between 1,500 and 1,800 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths, two-car rear entry garages and balconies with some facing the proposed Normandy Oaks Park. The development itself would contain pocket parks, sidewalks, benches and lighting throughout.

In addition to what Joe Skore, director of land acquisition for Pulte Homes Michigan, described as “first rate” townhomes, he said Pulte’s financial standing should be considered heavily.

“I think, first and foremost, our financial strength and stability is key,” Skore said, adding that the company keeps between $500 million and $1 billion in cash and cash equivalents on hand and closes its deals with cash. 

“We think that is critical to this development and other developments that we see fit,” Skore said.

Pulte’s offer to the city is $3.27  million.

All three plans are available for review at Royal Oak City Hall. The City Commission expects to vote on the matter Oct. 5.

Normandy Oaks Task Force member Mike Ripinski said he hopes that in the end, the commission goes with owner-occupied dwellings offering the highest return on investment to the city to develop a park on the Normandy site.

Ripinski said all three firms presenting to the commission are reputable, but he believed that when the issue went to voters, voters were under the impression that rental properties would not be built in that location.

“I don’t think rental properties is what we really want in this development; furthermore, they were not the most financially attractive offer, and I think, keeping our eye on the big picture, what we’re really trying to do here is to get the most bang for our buck, the most return on our investment for our 10 acres in order to develop the most attractive park that we can on the remaining 40 acres of Normandy Oaks,” Ripinski said.

As stated on the November 2014 ballot, money from the sale of the 10 acres would go toward funding the development of the remaining 40 acres of Normandy Oaks Park and toward maintenance and improvements at all of the city’s 52 parks.

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