This natural wetland and woodland area, seen here July 7, may soon be cleared to make way for an apartment complex.

This natural wetland and woodland area, seen here July 7, may soon be cleared to make way for an apartment complex.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Planning Commission OKs apartment complex despite resident outcry

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published July 13, 2023


NOVI — Residents filled the Novi City Council chamber to its 140-person seating capacity, and still more filed in for standing room along the walls, into the media seating area, and into the Civic Center lobby during a Planning Commission hearing June 7 to voice their opposition to and concerns about the construction of a new apartment complex.

The complex, to be located east of Wixom Road and south of Grand River Avenue, near Deerfield Elementary School, would be called Camelot Parc. The site plans include three two-story apartment buildings for a total of 46 two-bedroom apartment units and 92 parking spaces. It will also feature a walking path through a wooded area.

According to Wixom Road Development LLC, the estimated cost of the build is $6 million, and it’s estimated to take a year and a half to complete.

The 8.78-acre site is currently zoned for single family residential, but the property owner is requesting a planned suburban low-rise overlay.  Introduced in 2010, a PSLR overlay is a land use category defined as an area for suburban low-rise units with a single-family residential character. It is designed to provide a transition between one-family dwellings and higher density uses, according to an Aug. 31, 2011, Novi Planning Commission memorandum.

The city’s 2010 master plan created the PSLR overlay district for properties near 11 Mile Road in the areas of Wixom and Beck roads.

“The intent is to have a high-quality, attractive product … which will be attractive to the surrounding areas and blend nicely with the Villas at Stonebrook project that we are connected to,” Jared Kime, of consulting, engineering and construction firm Atwell LLC, told the commission.

However, many residents disagreed, citing concerns over increased traffic, safety and density, as well as loss of wetlands, and many simply believed the area should either be left alone or used to build more single-family houses, rather than multifamily dwellings such as apartment buildings.

The site has three different wetland areas totaling 2.4 acres of protected wetlands, of which about 12% or 0.33 acres would be destroyed to build the complex, and 23 of the 153 trees on the property would be cut down. The developers are planning to replant trees elsewhere, but residents said that would not be a satisfactory replacement for the more mature trees.

Resident Rick Barrett said that he often sees wild turkeys, deer, racoons and other animals in that area.

“It’s really, really nice,” he said.

Barrett suggested that instead of building three buildings, the developer should only build two in order to protect the wetlands and the woodlands. To help with traffic congestion, Barrett suggested to have the entrance to Camelot Parc be off Wixom Road, instead of Stonebrook.

“Unfortunately, over the last 13 years we’ve found that Wixom Road has been inundated with traffic, and it’s going all over the place,” said Monish Verma, the president of the Shores Homeowners Association in Island Lake of Novi. The Shores HOA is one of nine HOAs in Island  Lake and consists of the 46 homes that are on the water. “I understand there will be development in the area, but when we hear the words, ‘This is going to be fitting in the space of the area,’ I am strongly objecting to that. This does not fit in the space of the area. … This is clearly a lower-cost development. They’re trying to fit as many units into one spot as they possibly can. I don’t know the impact on the schools, the Fire (Department) or the public, but I do know the impact on the roads. We already have a road problem, a traffic problem. We already have city police escorting children to school at a traffic stop. By putting in 46 more units in that area, you are going to bottleneck that area.”

Verma was referencing the fact that Camelot Parc would be sharing use of Stonebrook Road with the residents of the Villas at Stonebrook, for whom the road was built, and which is the sole way out for those residents.

“Increased population densities also mean increased traffic generation. Because of this, apartments should be located on major streets and should not be placed where they funnel large amounts of traffic through single-family neighborhoods,” resident Shaoqing Gong wrote in a letter to the commission.

Resident Steven Buchman said that he can hardly get his children to school because of the current traffic situation, let alone with the additional traffic that would come from a new apartment complex.

“I get out to Wixom Road, there is a line. That line just sits there trying to get onto Beck Road, and it can take 20 minutes now to go 2 1/2 to 3 miles,” Buchman said.

Buchman expressed concern for the dangers the traffic situation will create for children walking to the three nearby schools — Deerfield Elementary, Novi Middle School and Catholic Central High School. Buchman said that as a pediatric surgeon, he could say that if they add that complex, it is just a matter of time until there will be an accident causing injury to children in that area.

“There will be an accident, and children will be hit. Putting that kind of traffic and that kind of sprawl in that area, which has two schools right there with kids biking and walking, and increasing the amount of traffic is really dangerous,” Buchman said.

Resident Martin Hannigan expressed concern via a letter that properties at the Villas at Stonebrook and Island Lake will lose value as a result of a nearby apartment complex. According to Hannigan, local condos currently have a market value of $550,00-$600,000, and the single-family homes are valued at $700,000. He said that if the apartment complex is built, the condos and homes could potentially go down by 20% to 25%.

“The thing about (Camelot Parc) is that we cannot control the apt. developer whose sole purpose is to maximize their cash flow, possibly by attracting renters who use section 8 housing vouchers or other low income tenants, group home units, monthly or short term rentals. All of which does nothing to support our community of privately owned condos and homes,” Hannigan said in the letter.

Ernest Wheeler, an attorney and real estate developer, suggested that the apartments might be used by tenants as an inexpensive way to get into the Novi Community School District, which does not participate in schools of choice. He said that he rents properties in the Detroit area and that the majority of people don’t want a two-bedroom apartment or home, as they need more space.

“I have a lot of property in Detroit, and two-bedrooms is not that desirable,” said Wheeler. “I just don’t envision a lot of families rushing to rent two-bedroom homes. But I actually see many people taking advantage of the situation, where for $2,000 to $3,000 a month I could use this as a shell address and be right next door to Deerfield and some of the other fine Novi Public Schools and have five to six kids attending these schools while one person pays the rent and they don’t even live in the area. I can really see that happening. … I can see these addresses just sitting there while people take advantage of the schools.”

Following an hour of audience commentary citing their reasons for opposing the complex, and despite receiving a petition with nearly 150 signatures, as well as numerous written comments contesting the build and only one in support of it, the Planning Commission voted 4-2 to approve moving the plan for the apartment complex forward to the City Council. Michael Lynch and Edward Roney voted to deny the build. However, the commission did order that a traffic study be conducted.

“We don’t choose the projects before us, and on this particular project, this is a project that conforms, and so we have to look at the intent of the zoning ordinance and if it meets the intent of the zoning ordinance, and look at that as a whole. We can’t say, ‘It meets the ordinance but we don’t like what’s there.’ We can’t just say we don’t like it,” said Planning Commissioner John Avdoulos. “If the applicant has come forward and has provided all the evidence, and with everything that is required, then that’s our charge. So taking out the emotional side of it and just looking at the ordinance, the staff has reviewed this and other members of the city have reviewed this — engineering, landscape and traffic, wetlands, woodlands, facade, fire, and planning, as it relates to the ordinance — and they’ve recommended approval.”

Planning Commissioner Gary Becker said that he is always concerned when they make exceptions that they are setting a precedent for future proposals requesting variances. He said he usually looks for past actions by the commission when making a decision. In this case there was one that he felt was very similar to the situation with Camelot Parc, and that was for the Villas at Stonebrook, which also required a planned overlay, a special land use request, as well as requests for 14 waivers and variances. The requests included eliminating 25% of the existing wetlands on the property and removing 24 regulated trees. Becker said it was interesting, as it was brought forth by the same developer, Atwell Group. He said that the buildings at 30 feet are no taller than some of the single-family homes in the area.

“So, you see, if it isn’t the appearance of the proposed buildings that doesn’t fit, perhaps some consider that they don’t fit because they’re apartments and not residences owned by occupants,” said Becker. “Novi’s government leaders and a significant majority of the residents of Novi celebrate and enjoy the rich diversity of our community. The diversity of age, culture and economic status are amicable and admired, and they are part of the vibrancy of Novi. The foundation of this diversity is having a diversity of residential options to meet the needs of young single adults, young families, empty nesters and retirees. If meeting the need of an apartment option doesn’t fit our community, we’ll become a community that says, ‘Well, you’re welcome to live here if you can buy a $400,000 house.’ As if to say it doesn’t matter if in your current situation you only need an apartment, you’ll need to buy a home to live here. I hope we never become that kind of a community.”

The Camelot Parc proposition will next go in front of the City Council for approval. No meeting date has been set for the item, as the traffic study is still being conducted. During public comment at the June 26 City Council meeting, residents concerned with the development spoke to the council for an hour.