Farmington Road, Maxfield Training Center, property near Warner Mansion top development issues

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published January 11, 2023


FARMINGTON — Last year was one of progress for the city of Farmington, and there are high hopes for even more positive things to come.

When discussing accomplishments from last year, top of mind for Farmington Mayor Sara Bowman was the Farmington Road streetscape.

After completing the Grand River streetscape more than 10 years ago, which resulted in new developments and new businesses for the city, according to Bowman, the city aimed for a similar accomplishment for Farmington Road.

The Farmington Road streetscape runs between Alta Loma Drive and Grand River Avenue and was expected to be a “complete redo.”

The project was started last year.

According to the city of Farmington website, the Farmington Road streetscape is a multimillion-dollar infrastructure improvement that was made possible with a $1 million federal grant through the Michigan Department of Transportation.

Aside from the grant that was awarded through MDOT, in a previous interview, Bowman shared further details about how the project is being funded, including the Farmington Downtown Development Authority’s role.

“The DDA and the city are splitting the project 50/50, and we have it sent out for a bond — we have agreed to not more than $3 million; so that’s $1.5 (million) for the city and $1.5 (million) for the DDA,” she said. “It is a bonded project, but what was really able to take us over the top was the $1 million in the TAP grant, which is a Transportation Alternatives Program. Those are federal dollars that are made available very selectively to projects that enhance walkability, inter-mobile transportation, anything that provides safer alternatives to transportation.”

According to Farmington DDA Executive Director Kate Knight, the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, or SEMCOG, also got into the mix and fulfilled half of the grant commitment with MDOT.

In a recent interview, Bowman shared her excitement about the project.

“It’s almost complete, but the Farmington Road streetscape is transformational,” she said. “It’s been a long, painful summer of construction and road closures and general inconveniences, but I think the fact that we’ve put so much effort, time, money and resources, and worked so well with MDOT and worked so well with the DDA — we’re able to accomplish something that’s going to be transformational. Getting that done after 13 years of planning is just enormous, so I’m very, very excited about that.”

Bowman provided some insight as to some of the work that is waiting for completion with the project.

“There will have to be some final touches in the spring related to landscaping, additional trees, additional plantings and some sidewalk work that just can’t be done during the winter months. And then some of the concrete work will have to be finished,” she said. “There was a pretty big concrete shortage, which really set us behind … but in terms of getting the water, the sewer, the electric and the prepping for the landscaping, it has all gone beautifully.”

Knight also provided an update about how the project is going.

“The sidewalk is complete on the east side of the road, so that’s a new pedestrian connection from the neighborhoods to the south into downtown,” she said. “The last significant piece we have is on the west side, so that sidewalk needs to be poured. We don’t have the weather to do it.”

Like Bowman, Knight also thinks that the Farmington Road streetscape will be transformational.

“It’s going to all of a sudden transform,” Knight said. “We’ll see that at the beginning of (the) outdoor season next year. It’s walkable; people will be outside.”

From Knight’s perspective, the scene on Farmington Road is one that is evolving.

“We’re really delighted with the quality of the work,” she said. “It’s been running very smoothly, despite the material shortages that we’ve had to combat, and that’s not unique to Farmington. … At the end of this, the very near future, at the end of spring, when we pop this back up, restage it and finish up the final pieces, it’s going to be an immediate impact. … We’re investing in place, in community, and we think the rewards will be high-impact and well-deserved (for) Farmington.”

The Farmington Road streetscape wasn’t the only exciting piece of news for Farmington last year, as the city entered into an agreement to purchase Christian Science First Church, which is located at 33825 Grand River Ave., adjacent to the Governor Warner Mansion.

The purchase price was reported to be $395,000.

The city of Farmington has owned and maintained the Warner Mansion and its gardens since 1980.

“We’re in the process of closing on the property next door, the church building that was next door to the Warner Mansion, which is just west of Farmington Road on Grand River,” Bowman said. “They sold it to the city, and so now we have control of the property next to the mansion. … We’ve been in the process of studying some different options; we’ve engaged our civil engineers, OHM, who conducted a study, and something I’m really looking forward to is seeing what it is that we can do with that property.”

Bowman said that the property is a “gem” for Farmington.

“It’s something that we’ve prioritized — how do we make it relevant, and where do we get the money? How do we fund it? So there’s a lot of unknowns, but it’s something we’ve got our eye on, for sure,” she said. “And securing that property next door really opens up a lot of additional opportunities for us, just in terms of programming and space — having some additional parking area and having that property under our control really adds an enhancement to that property, in addition to what we already owned.”

Despite the positives for Farmington last year, there was something that Bowman was disappointed with.

The Maxfield Training Center, known as the MTC, is a property located north of Grand River in downtown Farmington, and Bowman estimated that the city purchased it in 2019 or 2020, with a developer selected in 2021.

Bowman was hoping for more progress with the property by this point in the process. According to Bowman, it is on a 3-acre parcel of land, with the existing building last used by Farmington Public Schools for administrative offices.

However, she stated that it was closed “years ago” and has stood empty.

“They’re going to put residential housing back there,” she said. “I was really hoping by now that the developer, Robertson Brothers, would have brought their plans to council, but it’s just taking a little bit longer to do their due diligence and study the property. It’s a very tricky property at the top of a hill, and they were doing some soil borings to see what it could hold and things like that, but we’ve had the property now for about a year and a half with this developer, and so if you ask me something that I would’ve liked to have happened in ’22, I would’ve liked us to have had those plans to approve. But it’s moving along, and we expect to have them in front (of) council in early ’23.”

There is also an aspiration that has been approximately two decades in the making that Bowman would like to move forward with this year.

“We, me in particular, have had a dream for 20 years to put either a switchback or some sort of pathway that runs from Shiawassee Park into downtown Farmington, up the hill, where we currently have very steep steps that are obviously not (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, and not stroller friendly,” Bowman said. “So we’ve had the plans for a switchback pathway for years and years but couldn’t figure out where to come up with the money because it’s very, very expensive. And so just this week we submitted our application for (a) Spark grant that would really help us fund putting in that switchback,” she said, referring to a grant program through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “And so, that’s my big dream, is that we get that money and we can start building that connection.”

Bowman shared more details about the potential project.

“If we get the grant, then I think we have until the end of ’24 to have it completed,” she said. “It’s a major project, and it’d be a major undertaking. … It would still need detailed engineering drawings, (and) it would need detailed soil borings and testings. It would be a huge, huge project, but ideally, if we get the grant, we start putting it together in ’23; it could potentially go into ’24, but that’s my No. 1 hope, is developing that switchback pathway.”

Although she said that there is still work to do, Bowman expressed confidence that Farmington is back to a pre-pandemic level. She said that new businesses have opened downtown during the last year, and businesses that have been there are reporting to be doing “quite well.”

“Our city offices are busier than they’ve ever been — folks coming in with interest in properties and redevelopment and looking into zoning phases so that they can make additions,” Bowman said. “There is great activity happening. … I guess I can’t even remember what pre-pandemic was like, but I can tell you that it’s been a great year, a busy year; a moving forward year. … We’re definitely pre-pandemic busy.”

Bowman described Farmington’s current financial condition as “super solid.”

“We’re working well within our budget. We have a great handle on our retiree health care benefit plans — we’re on our way to being fully vested, which is great,” she said. “We continue our AA bond rating, which is the highest rating that you can get, so should we want to borrow money we’re ensured that we’ll be considered. So, the city is in great shape.”

Bowman’s aspiration is to keep the momentum going.

“We’ve been hyper-focused on our downtown for so long; we’re really seeing the benefits of that, so now what I would like to see in the 10-year plan is to continue that growth down Grand River,” she said. “We have a Corridor Improvement Authority, a Grand River CIA group that focuses on everything on Grand River that is east of downtown, where downtown ends and then continues on past Nine Mile. I would really like to see in 10 years that the same energy, growth and transformation that we’ve been able to do downtown happens on the east side of town as well. … There is such potential for that growth and burst to continue towards the east side of town, and that’s really where I think I would like to see the city focus a lot of its redevelopment opportunities.”