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Residents object to proposed apartment complex in their neighborhood

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published January 24, 2017

 The Harrison I complex is nearly completed, and the developer said it is almost fully rented. The Planning Commission recently approved plans for the Harrison II to be built nearby.

The Harrison I complex is nearly completed, and the developer said it is almost fully rented. The Planning Commission recently approved plans for the Harrison II to be built nearby.

Photos by Victoria Mitchell

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ROYAL OAK — A group of residents are hoping that their appeal to the City Commission will scale back a proposed apartment building in their neighborhood.

Earlier this month, the Harrison II received the green light from the city’s Planning Commission and is expected to go before the City Commission in February.

The group remains hopeful that the City Commission will deny or change the density of the project, despite a similar appeal failing to generate enough Planning Commission votes during its Jan. 10 meeting.

Group spokesman Brandon Kolo said they are not against development at Harrison Avenue and Knowles Street, but they do not support the current proposal, which the group believes goes against the city’s master plan, is too dense, and poses a health and safety threat to the existing neighborhood.

“The current master plan has an entire section on neighborhood preservation,” Kolo said, adding that the master plan calls for preserving and enhancing the character of existing neighborhoods.

The majority of planning commissioners voted in favor of rezoning the property at 531 E. Harrison Ave. from single- to multi-family and recommended the development to the City Commission. City commissioners will have the final say.

“It is a disappointment. This commission is tasked with making sure that the communities are standard and preserved, and I don’t think we saw that tonight,” Kolo said after the meeting. “While I disagree with them, I appreciate their decision. ... The next move is to go to the City (Commission), which we will all be there fighting to make sure the City (Commission) can at least hear our objections and not approve.”

Kolo said his group will refocus its message before speaking in front of the City Commission, focusing more on quality of life, safety and the density issue.

“To be clear, we are excited for these sites to be developed; we just ask that the commission does not recommend the development as proposed and hope that the developer comes back with a plan that is more aligned with the goals of the city,” Kolo said.

The Harrison II would complement the Harrison I and would be located to the north of the existing development on East Harrison Avenue.

The development would include 76 apartment units ranging in monthly rent from $1,795 for smaller units to $2,795 for about 1,500 square feet. Plans show that  the building would have 128 parking spots.

Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Anne Vaara thanked the residents for voicing their concerns and said that she did take them into consideration.

“I think this is a very difficult site, and a very difficult corner, because it is a transitional zone,” she said.

Vaara said the area consists of single-family homes to the north, a recycling plant to the west, an industrial area to the south, and then the new Harrison I complex to the southwest.

“I think this is an appropriate use of the site,” Vaara said, adding that she had some density concerns but felt it was appropriate for the site.

“I like to see this higher-end development south of Lincoln. I think it’s going to add a lot of value for this particular corner,” she said.

Developer Robert Wolfson said the housing unit would be high-end, like the first building, which is nearly complete.

He described it as a classic design with a little bit of New York or Miami mixed in.

“We’re looking forward to building another project,” he said. “There has been a lot of things in the news lately about how many units are being built downtown, and I think that we’ve already proved that we’ve brought some people from downtown back to Royal Oak recently in our last project, and I’d like to continue to get us to where we’re one of the best projects in Michigan.”

Wolfson said the Harrison I project has already changed the “blighted” and “terrible” “eyesore” of an area that was falling apart with “vagrants” and graffiti.

“We took a chance, and we went ahead and built, I think, a phenomenal building,” he said.

Planning commissioners voting against the project included Dan Godek and Jeff Chase.

“To be quite honest, some of the residents’ comments kind of opened up my eyes. I’m concerned about the densi
ty here,” Godek said, adding that he knows there are some lofty developments in the area, but to the south are single-family homes.

During the meeting, Godek said that Wolfson has done some great projects in the city and that his only displ
easure on this particular project is the density.

“I just don’t feel that it’s right for the neighborhood,” said commissioner Jeff Chase.

Chase said he feels the first phase is perfect.

“I don’t think that Phase II is necessary to this size, stature and standpoint,” he said.

Other concerns voiced by Kolo and residents in the area include traffic, congestion and that the proposal required too many variances.

Director of Community Development Timothy Thwing said project deviations that were approved by the Planning Commission included changing the density requirement from 34 to 76 units for the property; changing the height limit from 30 feet to 38 feet; changing building setback requirements from 10 feet to 1 foot, or 18 inches for carports and garages, and 6 feet for the building; and parking from 152 spaces to 128.

Other concerns listed by Kolo and the group included stormwater detention, lack of need for rental properties in the city, building height, carports and garages that will abut residential yards, potential on-street parking in the neighborhoods, and pollution.

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