The proposed Sterling Square development aspired to put luxury apartments and businesses, including restaurants, east of Baumgartner Park. However, the Sterling Heights City Council rejected the plan in December in a 4-3 vote.

The proposed Sterling Square development aspired to put luxury apartments and businesses, including restaurants, east of Baumgartner Park. However, the Sterling Heights City Council rejected the plan in December in a 4-3 vote.

Image provided by the city of Sterling Heights

Mixed-use development near Baumgartner Park rejected

Proposal would have built luxury apartments, businesses

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published January 23, 2024


STERLING HEIGHTS — Frustrations over a recent split vote that rejected a planned unit development proposal spilled over to a Jan. 3 Sterling Heights City Council meeting.

During the Jan. 3 meeting, Councilman Henry Yanez said he was uncomfortable at the prior meeting and connected that to people not being on the same page regarding the city’s planned unit development, or PUD, ordinance.

He referred to what happened at a Dec. 19, 2023, meeting that discussed a PUD proposal for commercial and residential development in the 15 Mile and Schoenherr roads area. The land in question is about 21.4 acres in total gross acreage, containing a 15.1-acre development envelope.

“I think we really need to take a deep dive back into the PUD and review what we’re doing or what we’re trying to do with that law and try to do things better,” he said. “It was very unfortunate what happened at the … last meeting, and I feel very bad for the builder, the developer.”


Sterling Square proposal blocked
During the Dec. 19 meeting, the council voted 4-3 to reject a proposed PUD project by Sterling Square LLC. The no votes came from Yanez and Councilwomen Maria Schmidt, Barbara Ziarko and Deanna Koski. Mayor Michael Taylor, Mayor Pro Tem Liz Sierawski and Councilman Michael Radtke voted yes.

The Sterling Square plan called for two multiunit retail buildings and space for two additional restaurant buildings, all of which would face the southern part of 15 Mile at 13200 15 Mile Road. Behind those commercial buildings would’ve been five two-story apartment buildings containing a total of 64 luxury units with an average monthly rent of $1,900. The proposed development would have been east of Baumgartner Park.

The land is currently zoned C-2 commercial, and City Planner Jake Parcell said the proposed development would’ve affected around 9 acres, or approximately “45% of the entire site out of the floodplain.”

The city’s planning office and Planning Commission recommended the project. During a presentation, Parcell called the proposal the second-least-dense proposal for a PUD or conditional rezoning since 2018, with 4.24 residential units per acre. He added that the development still keeps lots of trees and natural features, which are near the Red Run Drain.

Parcell said the site is home to a landfill that was retired in the 1960s. That area would’ve been remediated prior to development, and that would’ve involved a “significant cleanup,” he said.

Parcell clarified that no shovels would hit the ground unless the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy confirmed that the site is safe and habitable.

“This is a substantial $25 million investment in the community. Not only will we be providing luxury housing stock and high-class amenities for commercial, but we’re also helping by cleaning up and remediating an existing landfill and cleaning contamination on-site while retaining a majority of natural features,” Parcell said.

During public comments, multiple residents commented about their concerns with development at a landfill site. Resident Gerald Malburg said he already has had odor issues with sewer work near his home, and he worried about what work on the landfill site might do.

“We are waiting for that sewer project to end so that we can get some clean air,” Malburg said. “The last thing we really wanted to hear was the fact that somebody was going to start digging in the landfill. So the question becomes, what kind of odors are we going to expect from there?”

Afterward, council members asked questions related to the landfill, methane venting, traffic congestion and more. Ziarko said she trusts EGLE’s judgment on the environmental matters, but she said the traffic in that area is already “very, very intense.”

“So this all looks great on paper, but we don’t live on paper,” Ziarko said. “I appreciate you doing all this. I appreciate your interest that you have in the city. It’s just that I think this is a wrong place for it.”

Taylor said he supported the project, and he praised it for having “minimal” variances.

“Certainly, there’s a huge housing need right now,” he added. “I’ve been very vocal on pretty much all the housing projects that come through based on what’s going on out there …  based on the difficulty that people have finding good housing. I think that we have a real responsibility to do everything in our power to make sure that there’s housing available to people who want to live here.”

At the end of the Dec. 19 meeting, Taylor said he was frustrated and concluded that the council is sending a message that new apartments are unwelcome in the city.

“What you end up having is somebody who’s spending considerable time and money and energy and resources going through our Planning Department, hearing yes, yes, yes, yes, yes – you know, getting encouragement,” Taylor said. “And then they get here, and they’re denied.

“And as somebody in business, I can tell you ... this is no way to run a city. It’s no way to treat developers. It’s no way to treat people who want to do business in this city.”


The debate continues
At the end of the Jan. 3 meeting, Koski said she agreed with Yanez over revisiting how PUDs are used, adding that years ago they were only used “in special circumstances.”

Ziarko repeated her concerns over traffic in the 15 Mile-Schoenherr area and explained that multiple crashes happened there during the prior three weeks, around the holidays.

“We have to look at our master plan, because we … maybe are giving developers the opinion that they can put different buildings or strip malls or whatever in places where they just don’t belong, because the traffic there is not going to be able to handle it,” Ziarko said.

In response to the other comments, Taylor said he didn’t think the city should “just scrap PUDs.” He said the rejected PUD development had a mixed-use component with some low-density apartments and green space. He added that the developer now has the right to make the whole space commercial.

“And we’ve known, we’ve heard from developers and traffic experts in the past … if they develop it commercially only, the traffic is going to be greater than if a large percentage of that property is developed as residential,” Taylor said.

Frank Jajou, the owner of Sterling Square LLC, confirmed to the Sentry Jan. 19 that his company has a plan moving ahead.

“We are going forward with another proposal,” Jajou said. “It will be all commercial. We’ve already submitted documents to let them know.”

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