Ferndale district sells Wilson and Taft sites to developers

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published May 25, 2016

 The plans for the former Taft site call for 60 townhouses to be built and priced in the high $100,000 range.

The plans for the former Taft site call for 60 townhouses to be built and priced in the high $100,000 range.

Rendering provided by Robertson Brothers Homes

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FERNDALE — At the Tuesday, May 17, Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education meeting, the board voted unanimously to sell the former Wilson Elementary School and Taft Digital Learning Center to an Oakland County development company.

The board voted 6-0 to sell the sites to Robertson Brothers Homes for about $1 million. Robertson Brothers Homes will develop the Wilson and Taft sites into single-family homes and townhouses, respectively.

Believing this might be the first time the company has developed in Ferndale, or at least the first time since around World War II, RBH President Jim Clarke said the project won’t get started until at least next spring, as the plans still need final approval from the city, which might take some time.

“You don’t know what roadblocks you’ll run into when you go through the process,” Clarke said. “It always takes a little longer than you think.”

The project calls for 60 townhouses to be constructed at the Taft site and 30 homes on the Wilson land. Clarke said he expects the townhouses to be priced in the high $100,000 range and the homes to be in the high $200,000 range. He said they are trying to appeal to families and people who want to live in an upscale neighborhood but who also want “something that’s modestly more affordable.”

“We’re looking to appeal to a group that may not want to spend as much as Birmingham or Bloomfield or something else, but they want to be in a good urban environment, like Ferndale is, and get them in the same house for maybe a little better value,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of kids, younger kids who think Ferndale is more desirable than Royal Oak in many respects. So we’re always looking to go where people want to be. And kids want to be in Berkley, they want to be in Royal Oak, and they want to be in Ferndale.”

Clarke believes the earliest anyone could move into these properties would be around late 2017 to early 2018.

“From here, we’ll notify all the neighbors around and then show them the plans, address the concerns we can address and then answer the questions about value,” he said. “It’s been our experience we’ll lift the values, so we’re going to raise your taxes, which isn’t good too. But there shouldn’t be any diminishing property values based on the new construction.”

Ferndale Public Schools Superintendent Blake Prewitt said the district went with Robertson Brothers Homes on the project, as Robertson Brothers offered an amount of money that matched with the market price and had the capacity to develop the project and not leave during the middle of it.

“In looking at their track record, they’ve done this for 70 years,” he said. “They have the capital to be able to do the project and be able to finish the project and have high quality.”

The money from the sales of the two schools, along with the sale of the Jefferson Center in May 2015, adds up to about $1.5 million. While a large amount of money, Prewitt cautioned that the district would be best served to use it in the long term.

“Getting $1 million, maybe you can replace some boilers and maybe do some roof work, but we have $2 million to $3 million worth of roof work in the next five or so years that will need to be done,” he said. “So it is helpful, but it is not much.”

Prewitt said the money will go back into the bond fund for now until there is a vote on the sinking fund on the Aug. 2 ballot. The proposed measure, if voters approve it, would see an increase of 1.3 mills for 15 years and raise about $850,000 a year for facility improvements, for a 15-year total of about $13 million.

If that is approved, then the district would have a steady flow of money that would help complete projects dealing with roofing and boilers, but without it, the money only would be used in emergency situations.

“We never want to go the route of the Detroit schools, where they just let things go for so long that the conditions are deplorable for kids,” Prewitt said. “We should never, ever get to that place.”

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