New micro housing project receives green light

Nearby residents say not enough parking for project

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published June 30, 2015

 Residents living on Rembrandt Avenue off of East 11 Mile Road feel that a micro apartment complex proposed for the end of their street would congest parking in their neighborhood.

Residents living on Rembrandt Avenue off of East 11 Mile Road feel that a micro apartment complex proposed for the end of their street would congest parking in their neighborhood.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell


ROYAL OAK —  A new micro development targeted at the millennial generation could be heading to East 11 Mile Road after receiving Planning Commission approval.

The June 9 vote recommended that an Amber Properties development consisting solely of luxury studios — or micro apartments — at the northeast corner of East 11 Mile Road and Rembrandt Avenue be supported by the City Commission.

The recommendation followed the Planning Commission agreeing to a conditional variance rezoning the vacant parcel from neighborhood business to multifamily residential and a site plan requiring five waivers from the city’s traditional multifamily ordinance.

The 13,545 square-foot property located at 1207 E. 11 Mile Road would serve as the home to 36 studio apartments with 40 parking spaces.

“The issue that the city faces and Amber faces is that there is a tremendous demand for studio apartments,” said Dennis Cowan, the attorney representing Amber Properties. He said there are many young professionals and snowbirds who want full amenities without having the space because they travel a lot or work and play outside of the home.

Cowan said research shows millennials have less stuff, don’t want to entertain in their living spaces and want to live alone. He said many also rely on public transportation and paid services like Uber, or they live within walking distance to their jobs so they don’t have vehicles.

“We think that this meets the market, which is a very important market right now, and a market I think Royal Oak needs to have,” said Cowan.

Some residents living on Rembrandt Avenue don’t agree and feel the project means tenant vehicles filling their street.

During the June 9 meeting, a handful of residents spoke out, saying they were worried about the lack of parking, the project’s assumption that tenants would rely on a failing metro Detroit public transportation system, and a development that doesn’t fit with the landscape of 11 Mile Road, which backs to residential neighborhoods.

“We are a Royal Oak residential area and we need to keep our residences as they are,” said resident Mike Byrne. “We moved here and we stayed here because we love Royal Oak.”

The proposed Amber Properties site plan received variances for the number of units and parking spaces because a piece of property that size under the city’s multiple-family dwelling ordinance would allow for seven apartments and two off-street parking spaces per unit.

“Regardless if it is a studio unit, or one-bedroom unit, or two-bedroom unit, it doesn’t change,” said City Planner Doug Hedges.

Hedges said the Planning and City commissions have the authority to waive the requirements under a conditional rezoning, which means agreed-upon waivers only apply to the petitioner’s project.

Without the waiver, the developer would be required to provide a minimum of 72 off-street parking spaces.

Cowan said the dwellings average 315 square feet, so only one person would fit, which is the nature of the project. He said Amber Properties agreed to include in the lease agreement that only one resident would live in each dwelling.

“The attractiveness of this particular location is you’re only several blocks out of downtown Royal Oak,” Cowan said. “So, we believe we have a project that is very consistent with what the master plan is looking for and, therefore, we do have some requested deviations. We don’t think we’re asking for the sun, moon and the stars.”

Resident Brandon Becker spoke before the commission June 9 also expressing his concern.

“As a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, I can’t help but look at the number of variance requests that are being asked for here in this proposal,” he said.

Becker said he supports development, but he is leery that the parking variance requested by Amber will be sufficient. He said that he feels it is naive to believe millennials don’t have cars.

“I drive by the site frequently; I do want to see something happen, but I don’t want to give it away,” Becker said.

Rembrandt Avenue resident Annegret Stroetges echoed the concern that no vehicle or only one vehicle would be used for each unit, saying it isn’t rational to believe that all of the tenants would be single, never entertaining friends or significant others.

She also said there is a fire hydrant at the part of Rembrandt Avenue where the development would be, which would push excess cars into the residential portion.

“These are unrealistic arguments from Amber: mainly people will walk to their employment in downtown Royal Oak, be out of town a lot of times for their job because they have jobs in Chicago, or take public transportation, which we as residents feel is totally unrealistic,” Stroetges said.

Speaking on behalf of the Rembrandt residents against the project, Stroetges said they are hoping to appeal to the City Commission to reject the plan when it comes before that body in the near future.

Two city commissioners — Mayor Jim Ellison and Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton — sit on the Planning Commission, and both support the project.

“We don’t have mass transit … and what we have is a big, vacant lot along 11 Mile Road, which we’ve targeted for redevelopment,” Ellison said.

Ellison said Amber’s proposal is a unique, well-thought-out plan with a proven developer, and the city has enjoyed successful partnerships with Amber Properties.

“Do they have enough parking?” Ellison said. “Probably not.”

But Ellison said it would most likely be fine most of the time and that neighborhood streets are public roadways. He added that some family homes have six cars, which spill out onto the streets.

“I’m all for this development. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is,” he said.

Poulton said the city has spent millions of dollars revamping that section of 11 Mile Road without a payback.

“When I’m looking at this project here, I’m thinking it might be the spark needed in order to rejuvenate the area,” he said.

Planning Commission Chair Clyde Esbri was the only dissenting vote on the site plan. He felt it would have a negative impact on the neighborhoods. He said he is fearful the project is too dense and that the neighbors will pay the price.

Esbri also sits on the city’s Traffic Committee and said that developments impacting neighborhoods is a real occurrence.

“It’s not a perceived problem; it happens,” he said.

Other waivers granted included setback, height and signage requirements.

The Amber building would reach a height of 35 feet at the roof peak, 5 feet taller than the traditional requirement.

Rent has not yet been determined and will be market-driven, but Amber Properties estimates anywhere between $800-$1,000. Amber Properties has six Amber apartment buildings in Royal Oak and others in Clawson and Troy.

The next City Commission meeting is July 16. As of press time, the agenda was not yet available.