Plans proceed on former Troy School District property

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published March 7, 2018

 Animal tracks, mostly deer, are visible in the mud on this path leading into Section 11, an 18-acre parcel north of Long Lake Road and east of Rochester Road.

Animal tracks, mostly deer, are visible in the mud on this path leading into Section 11, an 18-acre parcel north of Long Lake Road and east of Rochester Road.

File photo by Deb Jacques

TROY — The City Council will consider a rezoning request and cluster zoning site plan for Whispering Park, a 50-home proposed development on an 18-acre parcel of vacant land known as Section 11. The Troy School District previously owned the parcel, but never developed it.  

A group of residents in the Long Lake and John R roads area, who live adjacent to the parcel, had hoped to raise funds to buy the land and establish a nature preserve on the site — which residents say is home to deer, wild turkeys and other wildlife. They were unable to secure grant funding or secure a mortgage for the property before the request for proposals deadline of May 16 of last year. 

The residents raised more than $1,000 through a GoFundMe page and collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition supporting conservation of the parcel. 

 After a study on demographics and building usage, Troy School District officials and the Board of Education determined that the undeveloped, district-owned parcels of land — about 180 acres in total, including Section 11 — will not be needed to build additional schools, with the exception of a proposed early childhood learning center. 

The school board voted 4-0 to approve a purchase agreement with Mondrian Properties for $4.25 million at its June 20 meeting. Board President Nancy Philippart, Vice President Karl Schmidt, and Trustees Todd Miletti and Steve Gottlieb approved the agreement. Trustees Elizabeth Hammond, Gary Hauff and Paula Fleming were absent.

Rick West, Troy School District assistant superintendent of business services, said district officials received 14 proposals for Section 11 and spoke with the highest bidders Mondrian Properties, which has done a number of developments in Troy. 

Dianne Martin, director of resource assessment and management for Asti Environmental, which evaluated the parcels, said there are no regulated wetlands on Section 11.


Cluster zoning offers leeway on units
Cluster zoning offers density bonuses for restricting the unit size to 1,500 square feet, and for sustainable designs — including green infrastructure and naturalized stormwater management — and they require the developer to preserve 20 percent open space. 

The Planning Commission voted 7-0 to recommend that the council approve the rezoning and site plan at the Feb. 27 meeting. Planning Commissioners John Tagle and Philip Sanzica were absent. 

Joe Maniaci, of Mondrian Properties, is asking the council to rezone 200 feet at the north end of the parcel from environmental protection to residential, which he said is needed for rear yard setbacks for five homes. The proposed plan leaves most of the 200 feet in its natural state,  preserves 298 trees and maintains 31 percent of the site as open space. 

In 1982, the City Council rezoned the environmental protection portion of the parcel from residential to environmental protection to provide open space and a link to the Gibson Drain. 

If approved, Maniaci said he would offer 1,900-square-foot ranches, 2,100-square-foot one-and-a-half story homes and 2,750-square-foot colonials, all in three elevations. Lot sizes would range from 6,600 square feet to 12,603 square feet. Maniaci said that fences would only be allowed around pools or spas. 

In his other, similar developments, Maniaci said that the home prices start at $500,000. 

Ben Carlisle, of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, the city’s planning consultant, said that under traditional zoning, in which all the trees on the site could be clear cut and be in compliance with the city’s woodland ordinance, 44 homes could be constructed to the lot lines. 

The proposed plan features a collar of open space around the development. 

Carlisle said the Planning Department recommended approval of the rezoning and preliminary site plan under the cluster option. 

“We find it’s consistent with the master plan,” he said. He noted that had the Troy School District built a school on the site, it could have clear cut the trees if it wished, because school districts are exempt from city zoning requirements. 

City Planning Director R. Brent Savidant said that under the cluster option, with the 31 percent of open space he is preserving, Maniaci could construct 65 homes. 

Savidant said the proposed 50-home Whispering Park development is the fourth development to be considered under the cluster zoning option. 

Beatrice Eveland, who has lived on Allison Drive for 34 years, told the Planning Commission she is very emotional about the wildlife that makes its home on the site. 

“Why do we have to take every piece of vacant land that has trees and cut them?” she said. She added that she has concerns about “housing that looks like birdhouses” and her property value. 

“I know this has been green space for a long time,” said Planning Commissioner Karen Crusse. “The property owners (Troy School District) decided to sell. It’s their right.”