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 Developers of a project at the former Our Lady of La Salette School returned to the Berkley Planning Commission to ask for a rezoning of the land.

Developers of a project at the former Our Lady of La Salette School returned to the Berkley Planning Commission to ask for a rezoning of the land.

Photo by Mike Koury

La Salette project returns to Planning Commission for zoning request

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published July 29, 2019

BERKLEY — A project at the site of the former Our Lady of La Salette School returned to the Berkley Planning Commission for the first time since last year.

At its July 23 meeting, the commission heard a conditional rezoning request to rezone the property at 2219 Coolidge Highway from office to multifamily. The request came from an applicant identified as 2219 Coolidge LLC in a city document.

For the project itself, the developer is looking at renovating the existing school structure to redevelop it into approximately 55 apartments and constructing townhouses in the rear of the property. To do that, the developer needed to request a rezoning on the land.

The commission approved the request, which now will go to the City Council and, afterward, the Zoning Board of Appeals for approval.

The request was not related to a site plan, which will come before the Planning Commission at a later date.

Steve Friedman, with Diversified Property Group, who said he’s been involved with the project for a number of years, referred to the project as “simple.”

“I think we’ve taken it now down to the lowest common denominator, where we were able to keep the existing structure and hopefully retrofit it to some beautiful apartments, and some townhouses at the rear of the property,” he said. “It’s very simple, a simple process that we’re going through here with regards to the building. We’re keeping the existing building just the way it’s been for many, many, many, many years, and we’re just going inside and converting it to a use for multifamily.”

Carlisle Wortman & Associates reviewed the request. Executive Vice President Doug Lewan said that a conditional rezoning allows a developer to approach the community with a series of conditions upon itself for a project, and if the conditions can’t be met, the land could revert back to the original zoning.

“The Planning Commission cannot impose additional conditions,” he said. “We are only to review and look and/or approve or deny the request that’s been brought before you.

“This is very different than a special land use review, very different than a planned unit development, where we can add conditions or even a site plan for that matter, if the applicant is willing to go along with those conditions,” Lewan continued. “We’re pretty much required to look (at) what’s in front of us and what the applicant’s proposing.”

City Attorney John Staran commented that the commission is free to discuss additional conditions, but the applicant would have to agree to them.

“We can’t impose conditions and say this is approved subject to ‘this,’” he said. “You can only approve a conditional rezoning subject to conditions that the applicant has volunteered and agreed to.”

The conditions, as laid out by Lewan, are that the existing building within the property shall be renovated for multifamily use; it shall not be demolished and the footprint of the building shall not be enlarged; and the historical integrity and exterior of the building within the property shall be maintained, though the gymnasium within the building may be renovated to include exterior windows that are architecturally consistent with the existing windows of the building.

The other two conditions are if the developer has not acquired the title of the property by Dec. 31, 2019, the zoning of the property shall automatically revert back to office; and the developer acknowledges that variances will be required in connection with the developers’ multifamily project.

“In summary, it’s our belief that the applicant is offering to renovate the existing building for reuse as a multifamily development,” Lewan said. “Historic integrity of the building will be maintained, and the footprint will remain as it currently exists. Any necessary variance is discussed more fully here and will be sought.”

Friedman said they’ve heard all the different arguments through the years, but that the commission hit them “over the head hard” on wanting to keep the building.

“We’re going to keep the building,” he said. “We’re going to put in housing so that we can get people active in that area to help the businesses that are there and the ones that are coming. We’re going to build some stuff in the back as well for sale, so it’s not all multifamily rental. … We’re just trying to keep it simple. We just want to get this thing for the benefit of the archdiocese, for everyone that’s been involved, so that we can move this forward.”

The commission voted 8-0 on the conditional rezoning, with another condition that a deadline determined and agreed to by the city attorney and the applicant’s attorney be added. The deadline would be for if the project isn’t moving forward, the city would have the ability to look at the zoning and change it to what the city wants it to be.

“Per all of the items outlined in the Carlisle Wortman report, this does seem to meet the standards for rezoning,” Commission Chairwoman Kristen Kapelanski said about the request.