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Developer wins another set in bid to convert Tennis House to condos

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published September 7, 2016

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — The historically and architecturally interesting building known as the Tennis House will retain its landmark presence in the community, but it likely will soon have a new use: housing condominium units.

Although final site plan approval by the Farms City Council isn’t expected until at least November, the council did pave the way for the redevelopment project. During a meeting Aug. 15 at Pier Park, the council voted unanimously in favor of conditionally rezoning the Tennis House property — at 360 Moselle Place — from community recreation to multi-family; creating a planned unit development, or PUD, overlay on the property; and giving approval for the preliminary site plan.

Developer Matt Kornmeier, director of property management for Birmingham-based ANK Enterprises, is a Farms resident who lives near the Tennis House and has been a member of the small private club for years. He said he and his family purchased the club in August 2013 and made a number of renovations to attract new members, but were unable to draw enough to make the single-court tennis club economically viable; it only had 45 members as of the last season, which ended in May. 

He now hopes to save the building by maintaining the lobby — complete with many original furnishings — and creating 10 single-family condominium units inside the Tennis House, all of which would be serviced by an elevator that would go from an underground parking garage — to be added by the developer — to three floors with residential units. 

There also would be another four detached condo units built in front of the Tennis House, each with its own attached garage, for a total of 14 condos on the site. The detached condos closest to single-family homes on Moselle would be ranch units, while the two condos behind them would be 1.5 stories.

The dome-shaped Tennis House was built in 1935 and opened in 1936 as a private club for locals including Edsel Ford, Allan Shelden, Arthur Gardner and Ernest Kanzler.

City officials estimate that about 100 people came to the Aug. 15 meeting. Reaction among those in attendance was mixed. The city also received a number of letters about the proposal, with many objecting and a few others expressing support for the concept.

Jon Strong, a Moselle Place resident, was among those who voiced objections to the proposal.

“Generally, I’m not opposed to multi-family (housing) in Grosse Pointe Farms. … My concern is that 360 Moselle Place is not the appropriate place (for it),” he said. “This lot simply was not designed in any way, shape or form … to accommodate this type of development.”

Strong feels the condos would “have a massive impact on traffic on my street … and on surrounding streets.”

Amy Sweeney, of the 300 block of Belanger Road, said that because of heavy traffic, “every one” of her cars has been hit while parked on the street.

“How about condos on the Hill?” she said, suggesting that the business district on Kercheval Avenue is more suited to this type of development. “To me, that makes a lot more sense.”

Brian Burnett, who lives in the 300 block of Belanger as well, said the area already has too much traffic because of two nearby schools.

“It’s going to come straight down my street and it’s going to come down Williams,” Burnett said of condo resident and visitor traffic. “We’ve already got a lot of traffic coming.”

He also worries that the project might put an undue burden on the city’s aging sewer system. Farms officials have said that the developer would be responsible for covering the expenses associated with new sewer lines for the condo units, and they’ve said the city’s sewer system can handle the additional flow from the 14 new residential units. 

“The building, while it was built 80 years ago, is really not (historically) significant,” argued William Royer, who lives close to the development at the corner of Williams Road and Moselle Place. 

Mike Hicks, a resident of Merriweather Road, said he and his family are upset about this plan because they are Tennis House members. He said he and others at the club only found out about the condo proposal by reading about it in the paper. Kornmeier has denied these allegations, saying he has had meetings for club members and they were aware of the possible closure.

“There is an active, viable membership at the Tennis House. … The building is not historical, but there is history there,” Hicks said. “My children are beside themselves thinking they won’t be able to take their children there. There are people with means” in the community who could save the private club.

Kornmeier said he and his family spent three years trying to restore the club and bring in new memberships, but they were unable to make keeping it a private club a viable option. He said no one stepped forward offering to purchase the club from him in order to preserve it.

“The sadness of the Tennis House going away (as a club), I understand,” Kornmeier said. “But we had meetings (with members). … There was a capital campaign (to raise money to save it as a club). The checks didn’t come in.”

He added that they had told anyone with ideas for a way to retain the private club to share those, but, “I never heard back from anybody.” 

Other residents fear the development could have a negative impact on property values. 

Chip Berschback, an attorney representing the developer, responded that real estate professionals believe this development would be good for the community and would increase property values. As to traffic, he acknowledged, “Yes, there might be a little more traffic (with the condos), but it’s not going to be that significant.” 

Berschback said the condo residents most likely would be high-income seniors and couples, not families, and many would be snowbirds. 

Not all of the people who addressed the council were against the development.

Doug Fiedler, who lives in the 300 block of Touraine Road, thanked the Kornmeier family for being willing to invest in the property.

“If you want to talk about high-volume traffic, come to my house,” said Fiedler, who lives roughly a block and a half away from Kerby Elementary School. “This is very positive traffic. They’re all (going to be) residents of Grosse Pointe Farms. … That’s a lot better than transient individuals (who might be using a new recreation facility at the Tennis House). … The alternatives could be a lot worse, in my opinion.”

Emma Wright, another resident in the 300 block of Touraine, said she is in favor of the development, saying when it comes time to move out of her “big house” in the Farms, she hopes she’d be able to move into one of these condos.

To address worries some residents have that these would become rental units, Berschback said the developers included a prohibition in the condo bylaws on renting out these units except to close family members, such as parents or siblings, in deed restrictions on the property.

“These are not going to be rental units. … These are going to be people’s homes,” Kornmeier reiterated. 

As to concerns about removing trees to make way for the detached units, he said they’d be taking out diseased trees but keeping most of the large trees on the property.

“Most of the mature trees … will be preserved,” Kornmeier said. “This is not going to be a subdivision in Shelby (Township).”

He said that, excluding roads, 46 percent of the site would be green space. 

“That’s an incredible amount of green space for any development, but especially for multi-family,” Kornmeier said.

He was pleased with the favorable vote.

“We put so much into this site plan and into all aspects of the redevelopment,” Kornmeier said after the meeting. “We’ve worked with (Farms officials) almost six months (on this proposal). … There’s so much public benefit, and it’s going to be great for the community.”

Units in the Tennis House building would range in size from just more than 900 square feet to just more than 2,000 square feet. The detached units would range from about 1,800 to 2,200 square feet.

Kornmeier has said that the condos would be “very beautiful, very unique, very high-end,” with a starting price of about $500,000. He has said he believes he could sell them at that price because he’s already had interest from people and there isn’t anything like this in the area.

At press time, City Manager Shane Reeside said it wasn’t yet known when the proposal would be in front of the City Council for final site plan approval. 

“He has not submitted anything (to the city) yet,” Reeside said of Kornmeier. “They’re working on preparing more detailed architectural plans (for the site plan review).”

Reeside said the site plan will definitely not be on the September council agenda; that council meeting is slated to take place at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at Farms City Hall. He said he doesn’t believe the council will be voting on the site plan until around the end of 2016 or early 2017.