Council says yes to townhouses/lofts on Livernois

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published April 23, 2014

 Jerry Amber plans to build a four-story townhouse, apartment and loft complex on this 1.23-acre site on the west side of Livernois, north of Town Center.

Jerry Amber plans to build a four-story townhouse, apartment and loft complex on this 1.23-acre site on the west side of Livernois, north of Town Center.

Photo by Donna Agusti

A divided council gave a developer the go-ahead April 14 to proceed with plans for a four-story townhouse, apartment and loft complex near Big Beaver and Livernois.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the conditional rezoning request needed for the project to move forward at a March 25 study session.

The Planning Commission is the recommending body on rezoning requests, and the City Council makes the final decision. Developer Jerry Amber requested a conditional rezoning on a vacant 1.23-acre parcel on the west side of Livernois, north of Town Center, on the north side off Big Beaver, from the current office zoning to a Big Beaver District zoning.

The Big Beaver District is designed to be a mixed-use gateway that promotes walkability, according to the city’s master plan.

The council approved the conditional rezoning from office to Big Beaver District 5-2. Council members Ellen Hodorek and Jim Campbell opposed the motion.

The council had rejected Amber’s request for a traditional rezoning to build a five-story complex featuring apartments, townhouses, lofts and studio apartments 4-3 Jan. 27. Mayor Dane Slater and Council members Campbell, Hodorek and Ed Pennington voted against it. Amber revised the plans and downsized the development from a five-story, 60-unit complex to a 46-unit complex, which lowers the proposed building from 61 feet to 51 feet. The revised plans include a 54-foot rear setback, a 96-foot west property line setback, a 24-foot north driveway and a 13-foot greenbelt on the north property line, widened from the 11-foot greenbelt first proposed.

The site plan also includes almost 19 percent open space, more than the required 15 percent.  The building lot coverage is just less than 32 percent, less than the typical 35 percent for multifamily residential developments, said Troy City Planner Brent Savidant.

Savidant told the council the conditional rezoning is now considered a new application.

“They can only develop what is approved as part of the conditional rezoning,” he said. 

The property has been vacant for at least 12 years, and the office vacancy rate in the city is 30 percent. Savidant said petitions opposing the development had been filed, but they were not considered valid, so the vote only needed a simple majority of the council to approve it.

A number of petitions opposing the rezoning were turned in to the City Clerk’s Office, but none of them were determined to be valid because those who signed them do not own property within 100 feet of the site, according to the Clerk’s Office.

“We learned a lot from the first go-round,” said Dennis Cowan of Plunkett Cooney, attorney for Amber. “We took what we’ve heard from the Planning Commission, and the commercial and residential neighbors, and feel we’ve improved the project.”

Cowan said that Amber developments are geared to people ages 25-45, a demographic city officials have stated they wish to attract and retain in the city.

“The loft-style living is what that demographic seeks,” he said.

At the March 11 Planning Commission meeting, Amber said he’s completed seven similar projects in Royal Oak and Clawson in the last seven years, and has four properties in Troy. He added that the complexes have a 98 percent occupancy rate in all properties.

Dr. Craig Goldin, who owns and operates the Cosmetic Dentistry Institute at 3415 Livernois, adjacent to the property, opposed the rezoning request at the March 25 Planning Commission meeting and asked that the rezoning not be considered until the Planning Commission and City Council reviews the city’s master plan. He noted that the site is surrounded by single-story offices and homes, and said a four-story building has no place, given the makeup of the surrounding property.

He also expressed concern that a four-story office building would block the office buildings from street view and he was worried about traffic through his parking lot.

Michael Fahmy who operates OMPT Specialists, at 3435 Livernois, also expressed concerns that the building would block his building from the street and asked for additional signage if the project were approved.

Ted Lavanway, a 22-year Troy resident, supported the rezoning.  

“If ever there was a project tailor made for this area, this is it,” he said. “You don’t see new construction for apartments. This makes sense.”

“We completely oppose the development of the apartment building,” said Karen Crusse, president of the Westwood Park Homeowners Association, the subdivision adjacent to the development. “The design of the building doesn’t fit the corner. It’s not workable with the way the civic center is designed. The contemporary design doesn’t blend in. It creates a benchmark for future development in the Livernois and Big Beaver area. … The existing Amber Properties, there is no wow factor.”

“We don’t have any tall buildings on Livernois,” said Troy resident Jim Werpetinski. “Do it where it fits.”

“This is the wrong place for it,” Campbell said. “Let’s not make a decision to make tax dollars quick.”

Pennington said the new proposed plans have a contemporary look similar to the Troy Community Center.

“I’ve really taken a look at the project since my no vote,” Slater said. “The conditional rezoning is very important to me. Amber has pledged to work with the businesses and residents.”