Developer files suit after council nixes apartment complex

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published May 10, 2017


TROY — A Troy development company, Tollbrook LLC,  filed suit in federal court May 4 claiming that the Troy City Council’s denial of a rezoning request to allow a five-story, 140-unit apartment complex adjacent to McClure Drive was unconstitutional. 

After listening to over 50 residents speak at the April 10 City Council meeting, the council voted 4-3 to deny developer Sam Stafa’s conditional rezoning request for three lots — 2.57 acres total — from one-family residential to a Big Beaver form-based district for property on the east side of McClure Drive, north of Big Beaver Road, east of Crooks Road. 

Residents’ concerns centered on the transition between the five-story building and residential homes, traffic impacts, and safety concerns from additional pedestrian and vehicular traffic on McClure Drive, a 20-foot-wide street with no sidewalks. 

The decision required a supermajority for approval because residents from more than 130 households signed a petition opposing the rezoning. 

Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Hodorek, Councilmen Paul McCown and Ethan Baker, and Councilwoman Edna Ibrahim opposed the rezoning. Mayor Dane Slater and Councilmen Dave Henderson and Ed Pennington supported the rezoning. 

On Feb. 14, the Planning Commission voted 7-0 to recommend approval, with stipulations, of the conditional rezoning from one-family residential to a Big Beaver form-based district — an option designed to promote high-density and mixed-use projects with vertical integration. 

The stipulations included traffic-calming devices; an 8-foot masonry wall as a buffer to adjacent homes; a sign prohibiting right turns from the development to the adjacent neighborhood; and a 10-year lease with a nearby building owner for a parking agreement for additional spaces.

The City Council has the final say on rezoning requests. 

“The compatibility with the residential area does not feel right,” Hodorek said. “It seems an inadequate transition.” 

The lawsuit states that, “in cooperation with the various comments and ideas from the city Planning Commission, Tollbrook resubmitted its conditional rezoning request to the city for reconsideration by the Planning Commission on July 27, 2016; Dec. 9, 2016; and Jan. 30, 2017; in each instance, Tollbrook made considerable, substantive changes to the proposed Lofts site plan.” 

The lawsuit states that the Lofts request complies with all local zoning requirements in the Big Beaver district, including parking; city and county requirements; and civil engineering, traffic engineering, environmental, infrastructure, police, fire and emergency rescue requirements.



rights issues raised 

“The City Council’s decision to deny approval of the Lofts request … was a direct reaction to perceived public opposition and/or other reasons completely unrelated to legitimate land use, zoning or planning reasons, and Tollbrook’s constitutional rights,” the lawsuit states. 

The suit alleges that the city denied Tollbrook its right to substantive due process under the Fifth and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. 

Tollbrook is seeking injunctions to allow all approvals and permits to reasonably accommodate the Lofts request, attorney’s fees, and other unspecified damages. 

The attorney for Tollbrook, Richard Rassel, could not be reached for comment by press time. 

“As members of Troy’s development community, we relied on the city of Troy’s master plan when selecting the site for our proposed development,” Tollbrook spokesperson Arban Stafa, Sam Stafa’s son, said in a prepared statement. “We are proud to have a fully compliant development that requires no variances. The Big Beaver Corridor Study, an integral part of the master plan, calls for a mixed-use, vertically integrated development on our proposed site. Our development is solely multifamily residential, which is known to be a less intensive use than a commercial mixed-use development.

“We hold no animosity against the City Council or the city of Troy,” Arban Stafa said. “Litigation was our only remaining option at this point. Our lawsuit … in no way should be construed as an indication that Tollbrook is unwilling to work with the city to resolve any issues between us.”

He added that he and his family have lived in Troy for 13 years and live within the residential neighborhood adjacent to the proposed development, and his family has designed and built residential and commercial developments elsewhere in Troy since 2003.  

“We live and work in Troy,” said Arban Stafa.
“We wouldn’t do anything that is not in the best interest of the city of Troy and those of us who live here.”

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm said she can’t comment on pending litigation, but she explained that the case was filed in federal court, rather than at the state or local level, because it alleges that the city’s actions were unconstitutional. 

She said she will go before the City Council at the May 22 meeting to ask for authorization to defend the city’s interests. 

The proposed $35 million development would offer one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 650 to 1,200 square feet, and rent would be between $1,500 and $2,850 per month. The target market would cost empty nesters and young professionals. 

“We hope the lawsuit will provide for an amicable resolution,” Arban Stafa said. “So many people are excited about the Lofts.”