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Looking Back: The history of Northfield Hills

Troy Times | Published February 18, 2020

 Henry Gathard, left, and Ed Homer, of Chrysler Realty,  study the model for the planned neighborhood district  Northfield Hills in this undated photo.

Henry Gathard, left, and Ed Homer, of Chrysler Realty, study the model for the planned neighborhood district Northfield Hills in this undated photo.

Newspaper photo provided by the Troy Historic Village

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TROY — In 1957, Chrysler Corp. purchased 1,800 acres of undeveloped land in Troy as the site of a large research and technology facility. The property was bordered by Square Lake and Long Lake roads, and Crooks Road and Coolidge Highway. While the parcel was reduced to 1,650 acres following the construction of Interstate 75, the value of the land increased dramatically.

Chrysler revised its development plan and retained architect Minoru Yamasaki to design an unconventional planned neighborhood district, or PND. These self-contained residential communities included at least one elementary school.

Yamasaki’s mixed-use PND plan for what would be called Northfield Hills included 1,600 homes of various sizes and styles, and 2,400 townhouses. Residences were platted on curvilinear roads in a design that preserved open spaces, woodlots and small lakes. Schools, a giant shopping center, recreational facilities and an office complex were also incorporated into the PND.

Because this type of planning was not possible under the existing zoning ordinance, Chrysler Realty lobbied the city of Troy to institute a new PND zoning concept. A temporary local ordinance was approved, but it expired in December 1974.

In 1970, Chrysler Realty sold 1,100 acres of the property to Levitt and Sons Inc. After World War II, this nationally known homebuilder constructed prefabricated homes in communities called Levittowns. While some Troy residents felt Chrysler had abandoned its project, corporate representatives said that Chrysler had only intended to complete the master plan and then sell the land to developers, who would build the houses and roads. Chrysler did retain 400 acres on Crooks Road, north of Square Lake Road, for an office plaza.

Levitt and Sons did build 650 townhouses and 46 homes in Troy before the company suffered financial difficulties and was placed in receivership. In 1970, the Troy City Council eliminated the PND designation, reduced the number of planned townhouses from 2,400 to 1,300, and replaced them with uniformly sized lots for single-family homes. The remaining 650 townhouses were built adjoining existing condominiums.

The construction boom in Troy continued until about 1979.

Then-City Manager Frank Gerstenecker theorized that increased costs and the “energy crisis,” plus a sharp decline in population growth, retarded the decay of inner cities and inner suburbs, and slowed the growth of outlying suburbs.

Go to www.troyhistoricvillage.org for more information about upcoming programs at the Troy Historic Village and how to schedule “History to You” presenters in your classroom, or new Group Gather programs for your next senior luncheon or club meeting.

— Loraine Campbell, Troy Historic Village executive director

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