Residents turn out to oppose plan for apartments at former school site

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published May 2, 2017

 Residents watch as the Planning Commission discusses the apartment complex during the commission’s meeting April 25.

Residents watch as the Planning Commission discusses the apartment complex during the commission’s meeting April 25.

Photo by Mike Koury

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BERKLEY — Several dozen residents packed into City Hall April 25 for the city’s Planning Commission meeting to voice their displeasure about a potential apartment complex that developers are looking to build on an old school site.

The developers in question, Urban Properties Inc., want to build an apartment complex at the site of the former Our Lady of La Salette School, 2600 Harvard Road. Current plans would have the project consist of three parts: apartments in the three-floor school building, a new four-floor apartment building with parking located a grade below it, and eight townhouses.

The project would consist of 143 units that would be studio apartments, studio apartments with a den, one-bedroom apartments, one-bedroom apartments with a den, two-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom apartments with a den. There also would be a fitness room, a yoga room, an aerobics room, a club room, business rooms, meeting areas and a rooftop deck.

UPI President Bennett Terebelo said the target audience for the apartments is one-third young professionals, one-third empty nesters and one-third Beaumont Hospital employees.

The meeting itself was a pre-application conference for the developers to present their project and get approval from the Planning Commission to apply for a planned unit development, or PUD.

The commission had reservations about some of the details regarding the project, including a desire for more green space in the area, and that the new apartment complex would be 20 feet from the existing property line to the west.

“I personally don’t have a problem pushing this forward as your application for a PUD,” Commissioner Martin Smith said. “It’s a dynamic project, but that wall is going to be a problem for me. That’s going to be a big problem for me.”

Close to 20 residents spoke to the commission about their dissatisfaction with the project, with some residents who would live near the development even explaining their desire to move out of their homes if it’s built.

Tom Renshaw, who lives on Oxford Road, said it disturbed him that this is a rental project and that a lot of neighbors might feel good if it was something permanent, as it would give some ownership value to the property.

“To live right next to a project that’s some 150 units of rental, that doesn’t thrill me at all,” he said. “That doesn’t enhance my experience within my community. And there’s a lot of space there, and I’m sure there’s a lot of things that could be done with it, and I understand that it all boils down to a number of things — how many units, how many people, how much tax value — but that doesn’t take into consideration some of us residents who live very close to this project.

“I don’t intend to speak for everybody else, but for myself, I’ve already begun looking for a new home to live and move to. And I’ve put a lot into the inside of my home, but I don’t want to live next to a facility of this size and this nature. That’d been great if there was some commercial businesses out front and some properties. I get it, you’re not going to make as much revenue on it, but that keeps the community more sound.”

Renshaw said he doesn’t know anybody who lives directly around the area who feels this project is going help them in any way, and he has heard several neighbors say that they are ready to move as well.

“A number of us aren’t necessarily very tickled with what’s going on, and I just want you to know that, because I don’t want it to come from somebody else that we’re all on board with it and it’s a great thing,” he said. “We do not feel that way.”

Renshaw also touched on how the project could increase the amount of traffic in the area.

“It’s hard for me to get out now,” he said. “So now you’re going to add another 250 potential cars coming in and out all day long, right at the end of my street. I can’t get out half the time as it is. I’ve got to go through the neighborhood to get out. So I don’t believe the story we’re hearing that it’s not going to have a big impact. I mean, you’re talking about a lot of people and a lot of cars, and it’s going to create good things for the city, but for a lot of us that live near there, it’s not going to be a wonderful thing.”

Another resident who spoke out against the project was Oxford Road resident Chris Riley, who said he couldn’t be more upset about the renderings he’s seen.

“I moved from Ferndale 17 years ago,” he said. “I moved here because it was a bedroom community, not a transient community like Ferndale with a lot of traffic, a lot of rental properties. There was a reason I bought a house here, and I really enjoy this community, but I’m with Tom.

Everybody should have a buy-in. It shouldn’t be rental properties, and I will be right behind him trying to sell my house if this project goes through.”

Because this meeting was to decide if the developers could apply for a PUD, the developers had to show if the proposal has a recognizable benefit to the community based on a set of seven different criteria. The commission chose to vote on if the proposal is a high-quality architectural design beyond the site plan requirements for the site; whether or not it is a preservation or enhancement of historic resources; and if it is a complementary mix of uses or a variety of housing types.

The commission voted 5-3 to let the developers apply for a PUD. Smith said he wants to see what developers could come up with and to address some of the issues brought up in the meeting.

“I have a lot of reservations and everybody’s heard that,” Smith said.

Commissioner Mark Richardson was one of the three who voted against the proposal.

“I don’t think this is a good plan, as is, for the community,” he said. “I have reservations about voting in favor of this, fully recognizing that everybody wants to jump-start this and move ahead.”

Terebelo said they will hold another work session to discuss the project more.

“Once we finish with the work session, we’ll make decisions on what and when to apply,” he said.

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