City picks developer to build homes at future park site

Proceeds from $3.85 million land sale to fund 40-acre, passive-use park

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published October 14, 2015

 The Robertson Brothers Homes development plan for the future Normandy Oaks Park site includes 47 single-family homes.

The Robertson Brothers Homes development plan for the future Normandy Oaks Park site includes 47 single-family homes.

Rendering provided by the City of Royal Oak

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ROYAL OAK — The majority of city commissioners approved a proposal last week from Robertson Brothers Homes to build 47 single-family homes and 78 for-purchase townhomes on 10 acres at the proposed Normandy Oaks Park site.

After appearing before members of the Normandy Oaks Task Force and the City Commission, the known-to-the-area home builders won the bid to develop the land on the former Normandy Oaks Golf Course for $3.85 million. Voters approved the sale of the property last year.

The Robertson Brothers Homes plan includes dwellings familiar to the city, as the company has built houses on the former Whittier Elementary School site and currently is building detached condominiums at the former Royal Oak Schools administration building site, across from the high school.

Commissioners Michael Fournier, Patricia Paruch, David Poulton and Kyle DuBuc voted in favor of the plan with Mayor Jim Ellison Oct. 5. DuBuc made the motion to approve the Robertson Brothers proposal.

“I think this gets us the highest and best use of the property … and allows us to develop a park — at least continue on a path to develop a park. That’s a win for residents across the city,” DuBuc said. “And while I understand that there is really no one option that makes every resident happy, I believe this is the best possible one.”

Commissioners Jeremy Mahrle and Sharlan Douglas voted against the proposal.

Both commissioners said the Robertson Brothers Homes proposal was sound; however, they were disappointed that it did not include a housing option for senior citizens.

Serving in her role as a Normandy Oaks Task Force member, Douglas supported a proposal by developer Burton-Katzman, which pulled its bid from the short list days before the meeting.

“They came to us with a product that would really, really serve our aging population in Royal Oak,” Douglas said. “And they’ve already done this very successfully with their Villages of Royal Oak product nearby … a development which is beautifully maintained and 100 percent occupied. So they brought us the product that we were looking for.”

Douglas said task force research showed that between 2010 and 2040, the number of people ages 65 and older would double in Royal Oak.

The Burton-Katzman plan drew some critical comments from residents who live in the surrounding neighborhood, because the plan included a proposal to build for-rent apartments along with the senior housing component. The proposal also came at a cost of $1 million less than the highest bidder — Robertson Brothers Homes.

Mahrle echoed Douglas’ sentiments and said that approving the Robertson Brothers Homes proposal also meant essentially granting a zoning variance for the single-family homes. Ellison said he had the same concern with proposed lot widths, as some in the proposal are close to 10 feet less than the city’s requirements.

Jim Clarke, president of Robertson Brothers Homes, said the company would work with the city planners and most likely request a planned unit development.

“It’s consistent with what we were able to do with the Whittier School site, because  we were at the average square footage of all the lots surrounding us, and so we know it works, we know that people will move in, will live there and take care of their homes, and they’re happy with what we are providing.”

Robertson Brothers Homes beat out Pulte Land Company, which proposed a $3.27 million for-purchase townhome plan. Pulte also offered cash up front as opposed to the Robertson Brothers Homes plan, which included paying the city as the development progresses.

City Manager Don Johnson said that receiving a lump sum up front was not a defining factor.

“I think it’s important that we know how much cash there is going to be and that we’ve got confidence that it’s going to be received,” he said. “But once we know how much money we are going to be receiving, we’re going to be in the position to design the park and plan for spending the money we will have.”

The proceeds from the land sale will go toward developing the remaining 40 acres into a proposed passive-use park and other park maintenance or improvements throughout the city.

“I think it’s safe to say the city did not get the the perfect offer from anybody,” said Ellison. “The perfect offer would have been everything we wanted for the dollars we wanted, and that didn’t happen.

“With that being said … we narrowed it down to two really good offers.”

The mayor said he is disappointed there won’t be a senior citizen component to the plan, but he said that finding aging-in-place housing would remain a priority.

The commission now faces a lengthy process of looking at the best development plans for the 40-acre proposed park.

City officials said town hall meetings would be held to gather public input when it comes time to look at park amenities.

The city also would have to go through a park development plan search.

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