City officials fine-tune changes to master plan

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published December 9, 2015

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The Troy City Council and Planning Commission listened to input from local experts on what the city could and should look like in coming years as they move forward to update the Troy master plan.

In a joint study session held Nov. 23, Comerica Bank Vice President Amanda Uffelman, Core Partners CEO Matthew Farrell, T.H. Ryan Construction Co.’s Ryan Marsh, and Weiss and Samona Properties’ Harvey Weiss shared their thoughts with city leaders as plans move forward on the updates to the city’s master plan.

Several questions were posed: Why is the city not seeing the desired mixed-use development along Big Beaver? How can the city attract higher-density, more mixed-use and higher-quality development? What would happen if the city were to impose a multistory minimum?

Marsh said the city could consider making slow traffic areas on “small chunks of Big Beaver,” similar to Old Woodward in Birmingham.

Uffelman said she is not seeing requests to finance high-density projects in Troy.

“They haven’t come to us in Troy,” she said, noting that it is easier to finance horizontal projects instead of vertical projects because of the complexity of those developments.

“We follow good developments that come to us,” she said. “We don’t see a lot of mixed-use vertical.”

For example, people living above restaurants is undesirable because of the noise, she said.

“I think it’s achievable to get more density. The big thing I’m concerned about is mixed use,” Weiss said, adding that since there is a lot of existing office space in Troy, it makes it hard for developers to look at mixed-use developments with the high cost of new construction versus the cost of using existing space.

He said mixed-use is in demand in walkable communities, and he suggested offering incentives to spur mixed-use developments.

“I think Big Beaver is a wonderful corridor, with the best mall (Somerset Collection) in the state of Michigan,” Weiss said.

Marsh said he would build vertical if the demand was there, but he believes that imposing height and density requirements along Big Beaver would work against the city’s desire to bring more development into Troy.

He said that Troy is a daytime community and would need to find a way to compete with communities that have a downtown.

“You have safety, you have good schools ... walkability is a key factor,” Marsh said.

Farrell talked about the challenge of the functionally obsolete vacant former Kmart headquarters.

“It will never be reoccupied,” he said, noting that the office vacancy rate is suffering throughout the region.

Office vacancy rates in Troy are between 18 and 20 percent, according to Troy City Assessor Nino Licari. Retail vacancy is at 5 percent — same for multifamily housing. The vacancy rate for industrial property is 10 percent.

“Industrial is robust,” Farrell said of Troy’s industrial vacancy occupation.

“This is very insightful to me,” said Mayor Dane Slater.

Ben Carlisle, of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, the city’s planning consultant, said the final draft of the new master plan will be presented to the Planning Commission this month. It will then be forwarded to the City Council for review and approval early next year. After a 63-day period when adjoining cities and others may review the plan, the plan will go back to the Planning Commission for consideration in April, then to the council for consideration and adoption in May.

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