Council approves new use for former Liggett school

By: April Lehmbeck | Grosse Pointe Times | Published August 28, 2014


GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Briarcliff Campus, the former Liggett Middle School, will soon be the home of some high-end condos after the City Council approved a conditional rezoning request at its Aug. 18 meeting.

City officials were excited about the project because they say the zoning change, from its current zoning as one-family residential to high-density multiple dwelling district, will benefit the community.

The developers are calling their project “Legacy Oaks Condominiums” and are planning 25 condominiums to be built in three phases. One of those phases will convert the former school building into what are being called spacious condo units.

“I think it’s a wonderful project, and I think it’s going to be a great addition to the community,” Council member Art Bryant said.

Mayor Robert Novitke agreed.

“I’m really in favor of this,” he said. “I think it’s in the best interest of our city.”

He said that it maintains the residential nature of the city.

Representatives of the developers explained that they are residents in the Grosse Pointes, so they have a vested interest in the community.

“We think that this is going to be a really great project for Grosse Pointe Woods,” said John Williamson, of American Community Developers, during a meeting earlier this month.

During the public hearing on the rezoning at the Aug. 18 meeting, several residents spoke about concerns, but many weren’t necessarily against the proposed project. The concerns ranged from noise during construction, the need for a barrier for dust, concerns about foundation disruption of nearby property and a driveway concern.

University Liggett’s former middle school site is located in the north end of the city between River Road and Morningside.

One positive of the conditional rezoning is that it will be less dense than if it were fully developed as single-family residential. The site will now be developed with 25 single-family condominiums, but under its previous zoning, it would have been able to support up to 35 one-family homes.

Another aspect that city officials were pleased about is that the integrity of the architecture will remain. 

“We’re retaining a very unique, architecturally unique, building that is in our community,” Woods Building Official Gene Tutag said during a meeting earlier this month. “It is very low-density, and we feel that is a protection for our residents.”

“We have great appreciation for the building’s classic architecture,” Williamson said. “Our plan respects the heritage of our community.”

That was a plus for council members, as well. 

“I love that it maintains the legacy that’s there,” Council member Kevin Kettles said. “It’s a beautiful addition to our community.”

Officials said it fit in with the intention of the master plan, as well.

A conditional rezoning benefits the city because the builders must stick to the agreed-upon plans.

“It’s a great project,” said Lawrence Scott, counsel for the developers.

The developers and city officials held numerous meetings, including Planning Commission meetings, before the project headed to the City Council.

Developers said they plan to get started on the first phase, which could last 12-18 months, possibly by the end of this year.