Residents fill the Sylvan Lake Community Center during a Planning Commission meeting March 5.

Residents fill the Sylvan Lake Community Center during a Planning Commission meeting March 5.

Photo by Sean Work

Residents rally in Sylvan Lake against apartment complex at former school

‘We are unique, and we intend to keep it that way’

By: Sherri Kolade | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 7, 2019

 Sylvan Lake resident Ali Griffith, who lives on Avondale Street, has a view out of her backyard that faces the former Whitfield School property on Orchard Lake Road. She said the potential development of a three-story apartment complex could block out her view of the sun, among other concerns.

Sylvan Lake resident Ali Griffith, who lives on Avondale Street, has a view out of her backyard that faces the former Whitfield School property on Orchard Lake Road. She said the potential development of a three-story apartment complex could block out her view of the sun, among other concerns.

Photo provided by Ali Griffith


SYLVAN LAKE — A March 5 Sylvan Lake Planning Commission meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Sylvan Lake Community Center, with concerned residents speaking out about a former school property possibly being developed into a three-story apartment complex.

The School District of the City of Pontiac’s former Daniel Whitfield School, 2000 Orchard Lake Road, was at the center of the heated debate during the over two-hour Planning Commission public hearing.

That potential development, as well as proposed amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance that could make way for the apartments, was discussed at the meeting.

The city’s website stated that the purpose of the hearing was to receive public comments on two proposed amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance.

The first amendment addresses the maximum lot coverage of buildings in single-family residential districts, making it 35 percent for all lot sizes.

The ordinance currently caps lot coverage at 35 percent for smaller lots, 2,800 square feet for medium lots and 25 percent for larger lots.

The second proposed amendment would:

• Permit multifamily uses subject to certain standards.

• Allow multifamily and mixed-use developments.

• Allow higher density for multifamily units, up to 20 units per acre.

• Increase the minimum area allowed for a planned unit development.

The Planning Commission tabled both zoning ordinance amendments at the March 5 meeting; a future meeting date to discuss the ordinance amendments was not available by press time.

During a Dec. 4, 2018, Planning Commission meeting, Brad and Steve Friedman presented their conceptual plan for the Whitfield School property, according to Planning Commission meeting minutes. Steve Friedman — who has been in community development for the last 40 years with commercial and residential developments — provided a site plan showing the surrounding area, including the new Sylvan Table restaurant at 1819 Inverness St., near Sylvan Lake City Hall; fast food restaurants; and the proposed development for the Whitfield property, called Sylvan Trails.

Sylvan Trails would be a “live/work place with luxury rental units,” according to the minutes. Amenities would include a pool and a clubhouse, a communal garden, a wellness center, a business and residents lounge, and an outdoor barbecue and patio area, the minutes state.

“This will all connect directly to the (Clinton River) Trail,” Steve Friedman said in the minutes. “It will provide a dog park along the trail for Sylvan Lake residents, which will offer a safe path to and from residents’ homes.”

He added that the trail area would be dedicated to world-famous artist Roy Gamble, whose painting “Mary’s Little Lamb” hung in the former Whitfield School, which closed in 1991 after 64 years due to school district budget issues, according to the city website.

Eric Fazzini, a city planning consultant from engineering firm Giffels Webster, told the commissioners that if they like the plan and the developer moves forward, there are procedures the Planning Commission would need to discuss.

“Typically, this type of development is mixed use, so it would be a planned unit development, PUD,” he said in the minutes. “This meets the goals and objectives of the master plan.”

He added in the minutes that the Planning Commission will need to pursue some zoning ordinance amendments to modify the PUD standards.

“There are three sections of the zoning ordinance that will need to be considered: the multifamily, number of dwellings per acre and dimensional parking,” Fazzini said.

Steve Friedman estimated that 180-220 units, averaging 1 1/2 people per unit for around 300 residents, would be housed inside the three-story development. That number quadruples the current density allowance, which is why the amendments are being considered.

During the December meeting, Mayor Aaron Lorenz thanked the Friedmans for investing in the city, as he said he is interested in the plan.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, speaker Pete Peters asked how long this would take before opening. Steve Friedman, who noted that he and his brother live in the city, said that once a plan is approved it would take around 18-24 months to build.

Speaker Nicole Menuck said the plan looks great and that the Planning Commission should commit to it and not drag out a decision.

During the December meeting, members of the Planning Commission all agreed that they liked the plan and would like to see it move forward, according to the meeting minutes.

Complicating the matter are legal wranglings over deed restrictions tied to the school property that may prohibit a three-story apartment complex, possibly allowing only a school, a church or single-family homes.

Local real estate agent Jan Hays, who has been a Realtor for 32 years — and who sells in and lives in the city — said during the March 5 meeting that Sylvan Lake is a “unique community” and there is a demand for single-family homes and townhomes.

She said that she put her life savings into the community, and she wants to keep the city quaint. And it wouldn’t be with a three-story apartment complex across from Avondale Street, where she lived 30 years ago.

Sylvan Lake resident Ali Griffith — a metro Detroit real estate agent who recently moved to the city — said that as brand-new homebuyers, she and her husband bought their property on Avondale Street last year because of the deed restrictions in place, which she said were lifted without notifying residents.

“It doesn’t quite look above-board,” she said in an email.

Griffith said that their home is adjacent to the Whitfield School property, and the idea of an apartment complex moving in “hit home pretty hard.”

She added that she and her husband moved from the middle of the state and bought their home in the city to be in a small-town environment surrounded by bigger, bustling cities around them, while people their age are moving to Royal Oak and Birmingham, she said.

She said her 1936 Sears kit home, among other kit homes, is something Sylvan Lake  boasts about.

A petition circulating against the apartment complex had over 300 signatures, one of them Griffith’s.

“I feel like changing the current guidelines to allow for a three-story building would personally impact my ability to get sun in my house,” she said, adding that the density would quadruple what the rest of the city allows for PUD variances.

“And I struggle with the overpopulation idea,” she said.

Lorenz thanked everyone for their opinions. He added that it is the job of the developers to “start the ball rolling” on what and how they want to develop the property, which set the crowd to groaning. Throughout the meeting, the gavel was used to restore order among people speaking out of turn.

Planning Commissioner Graham Cousens said during the meeting that “this is not a you versus us or us versus them. We’re fellow neighbors. The reason we are here together is because we’re going to solve this together.”

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