2018 year in review: Proposed new Deeplands subdivision pits neighbors against developer in Grosse Pointe Shores

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published December 28, 2018

GROSSE POINTE SHORES — Residents living near a proposed new subdivision on a nearly 8-acre parcel at 55 S. Deeplands Road remain locked in a verbal and legal battle with the developers.

Residents have charged that the development violates their subdivision’s deed restrictions — an issue that remains in court — and say that it would negatively impact property values; reduce the peace and tranquility they’ve enjoyed for years; increase traffic; and jeopardize the safety of children, pedestrians and cyclists, among other concerns.

Rich Russell, a Grosse Pointe-based developer who runs The Russell Co., has said that the development of high-end new homes would produce increased property tax revenue for the Shores and would improve property values in the community. Russell, who lives in the Shores, would be building homes and selecting architects for his partners in Deeplands Development Co.; DDC would be the actual developer for the subdivision. The owners of DDC — which is based in Grosse Pointe Farms — are Jennifer Peck, Peter Eckrich and Christopher Stroh.

After a proposal to build 18 homes along an 815-foot cul-de-sac was rejected by the Planning Commission and the City Council for fire safety and other reasons in early 2018, Russell came back with a new plan that calls for 16 homes along two cul-de-sacs, both of which are slightly over 400 feet long. That’s in keeping with city code requiring that cul-de-sacs be no longer than 600 feet.

Residents have been especially critical of the developers’ removal of trees from the parcel. Russell said 114 trees had been taken down — including some removed by DTE Energy — and some additional trees would have to be removed in the future because they weren’t healthy.

“There are numerous trees that have major decay (and) rot,” Brett Marshall, arborist for the Shores, said during a Nov. 20 City Council meeting. Because of that, Marshall said, the city could expect more trees to come down.

Russell said a tree survey of the property, conducted by Brian Colter, the forester for Grosse Pointe Park and City, counted 347 trees on the parcel originally. The developers intend to plant 217 trees, including arbor vitae and other trees along the stormwater detention basin, Russell said.

“We’re going to increase the urban forest,” he said.

Peter Macuga, a resident on neighboring Sheldon Road, accused Shores officials of not following their own rules regarding the preservation of wooded and shrubbed areas.

“Cutting took place on this property consistently and persistently,” Macuga said Nov. 20. “(Trees and bushes) were cut in violation of this ordinance.”

Residents asked that the city hold off on making decisions about the development until after a decision in the deed restriction lawsuit — which could come in spring 2019 — but City Attorney Brian Renaud said the Shores “has a duty” to act on the preliminary plat in a timely fashion.

“The city is not a party to deed restriction,” Renaud said. “The city doesn’t have standing to enforce deed restrictions.”

He said the Shores could only table a vote at the request of the developer.

During the Nov. 20 meeting, the council concurred with the Planning Commission and unanimously approved a preliminary plat, with conditions recommended by the Planning Commission. Those conditions include a “substantial tree replacement program” that needs Marshall’s approval and includes an updated tree survey showing trees remaining on the property, as well as trees that have been removed since DDC acquired the parcel; modified plans showing the extension of sidewalks along the full length of both cul-de-sacs; proof that there’s adequate space for spruce trees and spruce tree root balls proposed for the stormwater detention area; possible landscaping for the cul-de-sac islands or entryways; and demonstration of plans to use a variety of trees rather than a single species.

“This is the biggest development we’ve been faced with in a long, long time,” Mayor Ted Kedzierski said. “Our governance is based on what’s best for the city. … We’re not going to do something that’s going to damage our community. … The developer has property rights. You (as residents) have property rights. We have to balance those.”

Russell said the plan — including civil engineering designs for sewer and water lines and the like — could be in front of the Shores Planning Commission again as early as January. That meeting was slated, at press time, to be taking place at 8 a.m. Jan. 22 at Shores City Hall. An agenda hadn’t been finalized at press time, so it wasn’t known if this matter would be considered at the Jan. 22 session.

If approved, Russell said, this would be the first new subdivision in the Shores since 1977.