This 80-year-old tree was planted in memory of the Saginaw Trail  — originally  a trail used by Native American tribes  —  which runs through the property of the John Almon Starr house.

This 80-year-old tree was planted in memory of the Saginaw Trail — originally a trail used by Native American tribes — which runs through the property of the John Almon Starr house.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Royal Oak Historical Commission, residents discuss future of Almon Starr property

By: Sherri Kolade | Royal Oak Review | Published January 10, 2018

ROYAL OAK — The for-sale sign at the front of the historical John Almon Starr house, 3123 Crooks Road, begs the questions, “What will become of this property?” and “Whose could it become?”  

The Law Office of Chisholm & Shuttie has owned the building and property for the past 25 years and has decided to put the roughly 1.3-acre site up for sale for $790,000.

John Almon Starr was the son of Orson Starr. The Orson Starr house is a museum located at 3123 N. Main St. in Royal Oak.

Ed Shuttie, attorney at the Law Office of Chisholm & Shuttie, said that the plan with him and his business partner, Don Chisholm, was to sell the building in 2017 or 2018.

He said that if a prospective buyer submits an offer to purchase the place, that “would be fine” — but just not all buyers.

When Bloomfield Township-based Robertson Homes came knocking with an interest in buying the property — to possibly build 15 three-story townhouses to the south of the Almon Starr house — people took notice. That is because the townhouses would cover the historic Saginaw Trail, located to the south of the property. The trail, originally an American Indian trail, ran from Detroit to Saginaw — through Pontiac and Flint — according to the law office’s website. 

Shuttie said that the prospective buyer submitted two offers to purchase the house over the last few months, and the law office rejected both letters.

“We could not reach terms and (are) currently not under negotiations,” he said, adding that his law office, Robertson Homes representatives, and the Royal Oak Historical Commission had informal discussions, but that was it. “We have never moved it to the next step, which would be a signed letter of intent or purchase agreement.”

He said that he thinks that Robertson Homes would be a good purchaser, but they could not come to terms; he declined to go into detail on the terms.

Tim Loughrin, land acquisitions and development manager at Robertson Homes, said in a phone interview that there is not much to say regarding the Almon Starr property.

“We don’t have any project to comment on; nothing has been proposed to the city,” he said, adding that he wouldn’t say that the idea of development on the Almon Starr property has been disbanded because it is far too early to comment on. “We’re interested in continuing to develop in Royal Oak — we’re looking at a lot of sites.”

A Royal Oak Historical Commission meeting took place Dec. 20 at the Leo Mahany/Harold Meininger Senior Community Center in response to the idea of townhomes. Dozens of people, including residents and city officials, filled a community room to discuss their thoughts on preserving the property sans development.

Candace Isaacson, Royal Oak Historical Commission chair, began the meeting by saying that she was contacted Dec. 19 by Robertson Homes representatives, who said at the time they have nothing to put in for consideration on the property.

“Whew,” she said, wiping her forehead as applause came from the crowd.

During the meeting, Isaacson and her co-commissioners spoke to the crowd about preserving the Almon Starr house, and even if there is no development in the works presently, there was still discussion of where to go next to ensure that potential plans don’t destroy the historic nature of the area.

“Let’s keep fighting — it is worth fighting for your history,” Isaacson said in a follow-up interview at the Almon Starr house Dec. 21. “I’m not opposed to new buildings in the city, but this is not the place for it. I can see this being several things: It can be a privately owned office.” 

Isaacson said during the meeting that the Historical Commission is a policy-making body and it has say in what happens to the house due to the Historical Commission being on the deed restriction for the Almon Starr house.

City Attorney David Gillam said during a phone interview that Robertson Homes representatives contacted the city’s Planning Department more than a month ago showing interest in acquiring the Almon Starr property.

“I think they had presented a conceptual design to the Planning Department, but there was never anything formally submitted,” he said. 

He added that the city advised Robertson Homes of some of the deed restrictions that were in place, “including the role that the Historical Commission would have, including approving potentially anything that was going to be built on the property.”

Gillam said that since then, the city has not had any further contact with Robertson Homes representatives regarding any kind of development.

He added that potential development would be subject to a regular review and approval from the city’s Planning Commission.

“Because it was never formally submitted, it never got to the point that anyone ever determined what the approval process would be,” Gillam said. “We’re not aware of any other proposal for development on the property other than what Robertson brothers discussed. … We’re in a position (to) kind of wait and see what develops.”

Royal Oak resident Marilyn Carpenter spoke at the meeting and said that she moved into the city, near the Almon Starr house, because she was assured by a real estate agent that the house would never be built up.

“(That there is no current plan to develop the property) thrilled us, because we loved the location. I don’t understand what happened to our society that thinks they have to sell to someone that is greedy to put three-story buildings on that property,” she said, adding that if the property would have been developed, parking would have been an issue. “There would be no parking except on the street. … We need to keep historic property historic.”

A question at the meeting was if people could purchase the Almon Starr property and live in it.

Isaacson said someone could, but the hefty price tag might deter people from doing so.

Another attendee asked if a similar business, such as a law firm, could purchase the property.

Isaacson mentioned that the house is not handicapped accessible and does not have a kitchen, though one could be installed. The property also has 12 spaces for parking.

Tom Regan, president of the recently reinstituted Friends of the Almon Starr House, said during the meeting that he doesn’t think it is the public’s responsibility to come up with the use part. 

“Purchased privately or publicly, we want it to be spared,” he said.

Isaacson said that the Historical Commission is “basically the only defense for that property” and she, like many others, just want the property to be preserved.

“Right now, we hear you loud and clear,” she said.

After the meeting, Isaacson said that the Historical Commission is going to approach the city with several ideas for potential use of the Almon Starr property, including as a community house.

“Our board voted for that (idea) for a community house; that is one of our ideas,” she added.

“I am hoping that the city does do some protections and does do a study on the house and the property, and then go from there as far as historically deeming it through the city and giving it (the deed restrictions) more teeth,” she said.

For more information on the law office and property, go to