SYLVAN LAKE — A group of residents have organized to protest a proposed zoning change at the site of a former school — and the population growth that could come with it.
The group calls itself Sylvan People Against Rezoning, or SPAR. Its members are not against all rezoning, but rather the kind currently being considered at the former Whitfield Elementary School, located at 2000 Orchard Lake Road.
The proposed zoning change being studied by the Sylvan Lake Planning Commission would allow for high-density multifamily apartments. This is in response to a project pitched by developer Steven Friedman for a three-story apartment complex.
There is no formal proposal on the table, according to City Manager John Martin.
“The developer hasn’t submitted a plan. He’s only been talking conceptually,” Martin said in an email. “He’s brought the two concepts to give the Planning Commission an idea of what they could be like with different layouts and coverage. That’s part of the confusion. There is no proposal, no plan — just concepts.
“When/if the (planned unit development) ordinance is amended to allow multifamily in some form, the developer may submit an actual proposal. Or, if the ordinance doesn’t allow what he is wanting to accomplish, he may not submit a plan.”
Martin said the developer has shown the Planning Commission two concepts. One is for three-story structures, about 180-200 units — or around 300 occupants — of live/work space on Orchard Lake Road, along with some mixed use.
“The second concept was slightly smaller,” Martin said.
After a meeting with residents, Friedman presented a revised site plan reducing the number of units to 176, and adding 120 garages and 120 guest parking spots. The developer also increased the setback along the trail and re-oriented the buildings to reduce the massing, according to Planning Commission minutes. Friedman stated that Orchard Lake Road is in desperate need of redevelopment, and that there is a need for alternative housing for current residents and to create new opportunities for future residents, according to the minutes.
The current zoning ordinance, adopted in 2013, prohibits multifamily developments and only allows for condominiums and single-family homes — no more than five units per acre, and no higher than two stories. The proposed zoning change would allow for three stories and 20 units per acre, quadrupling the density.
“I am extremely concerned that the city of Sylvan Lake’s elected officials will … open the doors to a slippery slope, beginning with the proposed development,” said SPAR member Midge Davidson.
SPAR’s concern is overpopulation of the community, which it says is already in the 93rd percentile for density compared to 700 other Michigan communities. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the population of Sylvan Lake at about 1,850 residents. SPAR fears the toll that more residents and rentals could take on the community.
Specific concerns include the possible impact on property values due to the proximity to rentals, the additional strain on emergency responders, traffic congestion, and the degradation of public spaces such as parks and beaches.
SPAR’s core team of 13 members has already gathered more than 900 signatures for a petition against the zoning change. The group is also looking into its legal options, believing that the development’s density violates deed restrictions of Sylvan Lake Sub No. 3. SPAR maintains that the deed restrictions require residents of Sylvan Lake Sub No. 3 to be notified of any sale of the property, and claims that the Pontiac school district didn’t properly notify any residents of the sale. Officials from Pontiac Schools did not respond by press time.
SPAR has also started a website, sylvanresidents.com, to keep the public updated.
“As a homeowner, I am very concerned, because a vast amount of research shows that too high a percentage of rentals, combined with high density, is detrimental to property values,” Christine DeBano, another SPAR member, said in an email. “The increase this development poses would put us in the danger zone. Our current zoning ordinance protects us from it.”
Each member of the Sylvan Lake Planning Commission was contacted via email at the addresses listed on the Planning Commission page at the city’s official website, www.sylvanlake.org, but they did not respond by press time. Friedman also could not be reached by press time.
Friedman — who has been in community development for the last 40 years with commercial and residential developments — in an earlier report described a “live/work place with luxury rental units,” according to Planning Commission minutes, which also mentioned a pool, a clubhouse, a communal garden, a wellness center, a business and residents lounge, an outdoor barbecue and patio area, and a connection to the Clinton River Trail.
Martin said that the Planning Commission will continue to explore the issue. He said that the members of the Planning Commission and the City Council are still considering matters, hence their current silence on the topic.
As for his own feelings, “I would love to share my thoughts, but I don’t want to inadvertently influence the Planning Commission or City Council either way,” Martin said.
Davidson said she doesn’t want Sylvan Lake to grow out of control and lose its character.
“My affiliation is as a 32-year homeowner (whose family has owned) six homes in Sylvan Lake,” Davidson said. “Over those years, I’ve embraced the city and its genuine lake-living lifestyle. I want to keep the population within the standards of a city our size.”