Planning Commission takes closer look at clustering

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published May 4, 2016

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In an effort to strike a balance that would allow more homes to be built closer together on parcels in order to preserve green spaces and natural features, the Troy Planning Commission took a look at some developments in Auburn Hills during a special site-visit study session April 26.

The council and Planning Commission agreed to re-examine the cluster option, which amends required setbacks and density in return for more open space, after the council approved the woodland protection ordinance Feb. 8. The ordinance does not apply to single-family homes, only developments requiring site plan approval.

The woodland protection ordinance allows exceptions for dead, dying, diseased, and undesirable or invasive species. It also protects landmark trees — which include beech, pine, spruce, red and sugar maple, oak, chestnut, dogwood, and pear, among others, each with a specific diameter at breast height — when possible, or requires replacement or mitigation if those trees are cut down.

The guidelines require landmark trees that cannot be preserved to be replaced at a 100 percent ratio. Trees not considered landmark that are taken down in woodland areas must be replaced at a 50 percent ratio.

Troy City Planning Director R. Brent Savidant said the city’s current guidelines for the cluster option — requirements that include preserving 30 percent of open space — are hard for developers to comply with. He said that preserving 20 percent of open space would be easier for developers to adhere to.

The Planning Commission and the Troy City Council held a joint study session on the cluster option April 18.

“It allowed us to have a dialog to make sure we’re going in the right direction,” Savidant said.

The new guidelines the Planning Commission are considering, which the council would have final approval of, would allow single-family attached homes, or duplexes, under special use approvals; require that the developments have frontage and access to a major roadway; restrict the maximum size of each individual unit to 1,500 square feet; and allow more flexibility in return for sustainable designs, including green infrastructure, buildings and naturalized stormwater management.

Troy City Councilwoman Edna Abrahim said the 1,500-square-foot requirement for the maximum size seemed “realistic and feasible.”

“Smaller homes don’t have to be ugly homes,” said Planning Commissioner Tom Krent.

Commissioners and council members discussed the notion that the cluster type of development would not be a good fit for all neighborhoods in Troy.

“There are different areas in Troy” said Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek. “We need to protect property values.”

Troy City Attorney Lori Grigg-Bluhm told the council and commissioners that, if adopted, the cluster option language in the text amendment could limit the areas within residential districts where the developments would be permitted, so long as it would apply equally to everyone.

The Planning Commission visited four cluster developments in Auburn Hills April 26, including Heritage in the Hills, which is a senior gated community near Squirrel Road and Tienken Road.

In an email memo to Savidant, Shawn Keenan, assistant city planner for Auburn Hills, stated the development has had a waiting list since it opened.

“It is so successful a similar, development is being built across Squirrel Road,” Keenan said.

“It was a great trip,” Planning Commissioner and architect John Tagle said of the April 26 site visits. “It showed everybody what could be done and what could be attractive to buyers.”

He added that the challenge would be to attract developers to build an end product that would add quality to Troy.

“We’re an upscale community. We want to preserve that,” Tagle said.

“We’re working on the draft language,” Savidant said. He said that the Planning Commission would consider text amendment for recommendation to the council in coming weeks.

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