New parking lot at Brownell approved by Grosse Pointe Farms council

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 20, 2020


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Grosse Pointe Farms and the Grosse Pointe Public School System have come to a compromise with regard to a new parking lot in front of Brownell Middle School at 260 Chalfonte Ave.

Responding to concerns voiced by city officials and some residents at a Sept. 14 Farms City Council meeting, school officials returned before the council Oct. 12 with a parking lot that was slightly smaller and required the removal of fewer trees. The council approved the revised plan by a vote of 6-1, with City Councilman James Farquhar casting the dissenting vote.

School officials noted that safety was the primary reason for adding a parking lot in front of Brownell. It will provide parents and other visitors a secure entrance where they can be vetted by school staff in the main office before gaining access to students or other parts of the building.

There is already a parking lot behind Brownell, but it’s not close to the school office.

Marc Chamberlin, senior architect at Ehresman Architects, told the council in September that cost was the main reason to build a parking lot in front of the school instead of moving the main office to be adjacent to the back parking lot. He said the front parking lot project was slated to cost about $650,000, while it would have been about $1.2 million to relocate and renovate the main office.

“We are trying to be fiscally responsible in terms of using those dollars,” Chamberlin said.

In response to a request from Farms officials to make the lot smaller, Joe Cangemi, a project manager with Ehresman Architects, said they reduced the parking lot from 16 parking spaces to 13 parking spaces. They’ve also reconfigured the spaces so that they only need to remove one tree, whereas the previous plan called for the removal of four trees.

Now that the fifth grade has been added to Brownell, “Student enrollment is up significantly,” Cangemi said. He said the school has added roughly 100 students this year, or 18% of the total student population.

Brownell Principal Roger Hunwick said school visitor data show that this revised parking lot should be adequate to accommodate parents picking up students early for hockey tournaments or other reasons.

City Council members Beth Konrad-Wilberding, Neil Sroka and John Gillooly noted that the school didn’t need the city’s permission for the parking lot plan and was working with city officials in the spirit of neighborly cooperation.

“When I got elected (to council) a year ago, I never thought I’d be arguing in favor of a parking lot,” Sroka said. “The school district is functioning as a good neighbor. … I think the reduction in (parking) spaces makes sense. … This is going to make it easier for (parents) to get in. This is going to make it safer for students.”

Gillooly thanked school officials for working with the city and making some modifications.

“The safety of our students and the safety of the staff is paramount, and having a dedicated ingress and egress is (important),” Gillooly said of the parking lot. “The spirit of cooperation (on this project) has been fantastic.”

Konrad-Wilberding — who noted that the new parking lot was “unsightly” for Chalfonte neighbors — asked if the parking lot size could be decreased even further, to 10 spaces, which would save the other tree. Cangemi and Hunwick said they would bring this up with school district administrators.

“We want to work with you,” Hunwick said.

As to parking lot lighting, school officials said the lights would be on a timer. Cangemi said he “wouldn’t anticipate them being on” during the summer.

“I don’t see them being on much at all,” Hunwick said.

School officials said they would see if the lot could be locked during the summer.

As part of its approval, the Farms City Council asked that the lights be shielded to prevent glare on neighboring residential properties. An enlarged landscaping bed and the replacement of any trees removed were conditions of the approval, as well.

Despite the changes, Farquhar said he still disagreed with the proposal.

“I just think it’s a waste of land,” Farquhar said. “We have a valid parking lot in the back (of the school). I’ve got some problems with this whole thing.”