Proposed housing development on Deeplands to face new hearing

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published March 22, 2017

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GROSSE POINTE SHORES — After a proposed condominium project that never quite got off the ground, neighbors of the vacant home at 55 S. Deeplands Road now find themselves squaring off against another development they feel would have a negative impact on the area.

The roughly 8-acre parcel, better known as the “Stackpole estate” because it was once home to the Stackpole family, has been empty since the death of Stephen Stackpole on Jan. 31, 2014. A philanthropist and conservationist, he was responsible for the heavily wooded nature on the property, which attracted migratory birds. The park-like quality of the property is something nearby residents have cherished for decades, but development now threatens to reduce the dense urban forest in their neighborhood.

Rich Russell, a developer who would be building a proposed new subdivision for Deeplands Development Company, brought forward a plan for an 18-home new subdivision along a dead-end cul-de-sac street that’s approximately 815 feet long. During a presentation to the Shores Planning Commission Feb. 28, Russell said the purchasers of the homes would be selecting architectural styles for their homes.

The owners of Deeplands Development Company — which is based in Grosse Pointe Farms — are Grosse Pointe Shores residents Jennifer Peck and Peter Eckrich, and Grosse Pointe Farms resident Christopher Stroh. They have a purchase agreement with the bank to buy the Stackpole property, but only if the development is approved by Shores officials. Russell said all three of the partners in DDC attended University Liggett School and have “been here a long time” in the Pointes.

“We’re also interested in keeping the character and harmony of the surrounding neighborhood,” he said.

Russell acknowledged that this would be a change for the community.

“The last time a (new) subdivision was implemented (in the Shores) was 1977,” he said.

Local Realtor Kay Agney, of Grosse Pointe Park, who said she and John DeWald represent the sellers of the property, said that four homes in the neighborhood sold for an average price of $752,250 and had an average list price of $821,000. She said the price for the proposed new homes would be in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million, “which certainly doesn’t bring a negative effect to the surrounding neighborhood” in terms of property values. Agney said first-floor laundry rooms and other amenities common in new construction are desirable for homeowners.

“I think it really is going to enhance (the area),” Agney said of the proposed subdivision. “It’s a housing market we really need.”

A traffic report shows that the cul-de-sac length of 815 feet exceeds the city code maximum length of 600 feet. In addition, there would only be a single access point off of Deeplands, which the traffic report called “undesirable.” As stated in a memo from Patrick Cawley, of the Traffic Improvement Association, “Having a second access point would be beneficial as it will allow better circulation of service vehicles … a redundant access point for emergency vehicles and provide an easement location for looping the water main.” 

R. Donald Wortman, one of the Shores’ city planners and the vice president and a co-owner of the firm Carlisle-Wortman Associates Inc., said that the individual lot sizes and setbacks would meet requirements in the residential district, but the cul-de-sac length and diameter don’t comply, calling that “one of the main sticking points.”

“It exceeds the maximum length allowance and it doesn’t meet the minimum diameter,” Wortman said. According to the traffic report, the standard in Wayne County for a cul-de-sac is “a 43 feet radius to the face of curb of the bulb. The proposed plan has a radius of 32.5 feet for the curb.”

Public Safety Director John Schulte said the road dimensions also pose a problem for large vehicles such as fire trucks, delivery trucks and trash haulers, among others.

“You have two pretty tight turnarounds going in and out,” he said.

The width would require “a significant amount” of backing in and out, and it would be difficult to navigate for an aerial fire truck such as the one Grosse Pointe Woods has — a vehicle that would likely respond as part of the mutual aid pact to a fire in the Shores.

Schulte also recommended a looped water main instead of a dead-end main, in keeping with city ordinances, because if anything should cause an interruption in water flow, there might not be water available for fire suppression or general use.

The developers, who have been looking into ways to address the aforementioned issues, say change for that parcel is inevitable.

“No one sees an 8-acre residential home as a tenable residence in this day and age,” Stroh said.

“The property’s in disrepair,” Russell said. “There hasn’t been one offer to buy that property as a single-family home and fix it up. It’s past its prime.”

As a parcel with one home, Russell said, it has an assessed value of $1.5 million, and the owner would pay about $28,000 annually in property taxes. The additional homes would generate substantially more tax revenue for the city, he said.

But neighbors are alarmed by the density, as well as by the number of mature trees that would need to be removed with this proposal. They also believe the latest proposal would negatively impact their property values, increase traffic and make the neighborhood less safe as a result.

“This is a very special piece of property,” said James Case, who lives adjacent to the Stackpole estate in the 500 block of Shelden Road. “There’s really nothing else like it in Grosse Pointe Shores, and probably the Pointes. … It’s something that is very important to all of us.”

Case called on city leaders to enforce the ordinances and not allow this development, which he said “does not preserve the character of the neighborhood. … It’s premised on the fact that there needs to be 18 lots on this property. There’s no need to build 18 lots on this property.”

He said the proposed subdivision would “take down hundreds of trees.”

“We’re not suggesting that the property can’t and won’t be developed, but not by these means,” Case said.

Peter Macuga, another resident of the 500 block of Shelden, said he purchased his property because of the character added by the Stackpole property. As an attorney who has successfully handled sewage basement backup lawsuits against municipalities — including the Pointes — he said he fears that the number of new homes and additional impervious surfaces would overwhelm the city’s sewage system.

“This is a sewage backup of horrible proportions … waiting to happen,” said Macuga, noting the increased prevalence of heavy rainstorms in the area.

Russell countered that South Deeplands has a large storm sewer now, and because of elevation, the new homes wouldn’t result in backups.

“That water flows downhill,” Russell said.

Rhonda Schervish, one of the residents in that neighborhood, is also among those worried about the size and scope of this proposed development. She said a motorist hit a dog last year, and traffic is already a problem.

“We’ve got a lot of concerns,” Schervish said. “It’s busy enough. To put 18 new homes in there is crazy.”

As to whether he’d consider reducing the number of homes in the proposal, Russell said no, saying that these plans comply with city ordinances with regard to lot size, setbacks and the like.

“I don’t see where anybody would be happy with any number (of homes),” Peck said.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Feb. 28 to postpone a vote on the proposal to allow the developers to address some of the concerns raised about the dead-end water main, length of cul-de-sac and other issues.

Planning Commissioner Alan Broad, who lives next to the Stackpole property, recused himself from the discussion.

At press time, the proposal was slated for another review by the Planning Commission during a meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. March 28 at Shores City Hall. An agenda wasn’t available at press time. For an agenda or more information, visit www.gpshoresmi.gov.

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