Smaller multifamily housing minimums approved by Grosse Pointe City officials

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 20, 2020

 Condominiums, like these historical units on St. Clair Avenue, are rare in Grosse Pointe City, and most are fairly large and have multiple stories.

Condominiums, like these historical units on St. Clair Avenue, are rare in Grosse Pointe City, and most are fairly large and have multiple stories.

Photo by K. Michelle Moran

GROSSE POINTE CITY — Future developers will now be able to create smaller condominiums and apartments in certain parts of Grosse Pointe City.

Following a recommendation from their city planners at McKenna Associates, the Grosse Pointe City Council members voted 6-1 during a meeting by Zoom Nov. 16 in favor of smaller minimum sizes for multifamily housing units. The council voted first while seated as the Planning Commission and then while seated as the council. City Councilwoman Maureen Juip cast the dissenting vote in both cases.

The City had previously mandated that all multifamily housing units be at least 1,000 square feet. Under the new guidelines, the minimum floor area is now 500 square feet for a studio apartment, 600 square feet for a one-bedroom unit, 700 square feet for a two-bedroom unit and 900 square feet for a unit with three or more bedrooms. The new minimum guidelines apply only to areas of the City that already allow multifamily housing.

City Planner Julie Connochie, of McKenna Associates, said they looked at national unit standards as well as the standards in other, comparable communities — including Plymouth, Rochester and Royal Oak — in their analysis.

“We are seeing an overall trend in multifamily units getting smaller,” Connochie said.

City officials hope the change will encourage new development. At an Oct. 19 City Council meeting, City Manager Pete Dame said the City’s master plan calls for multifamily or mixed-use residential development in areas such as the Village and on Mack Avenue.

“For the last 10-plus years, one of our goals with regard to the master plan was to increase density in the downtown Village,” City Councilman Christopher Walsh said. He said some Village landlords have been asking about being able to do a “vertical build,” which would be “ideal for condos.”

Jimmy Saros, a real estate developer whose business is located in the City, said there are many current residents of the Pointes who want to downsize to a condo or apartment but can’t find one. He said many empty nesters are also looking for single-floor living, which is rare in the condominiums available in the Pointes.

“There is a huge demand for condos in our community, but little to no supply,” Saros said. “I do believe there actually is a real need for this product. … I think most of these buyers are going to be Grosse Pointers who want to stay in the community.”

In addition, Saros said construction costs these days are high, so the cost of condos are in line with home prices these days when price per square foot is considered. And with housing inventories at “historical lows,” Saros said a number of young families who would like to move to the Pointes have been priced out of the market.

While most officials and developers favored the change, a couple of residents spoke out against it.

“I’m trying to figure out why we’re doing this,” said Stephanie Blatt. “People move here from big cities. … They want more space. They want the big yard. … This is not the type of community that was built for small apartments.”

She also said she’s worried more rentals will drive down property values, make it harder for homeowners to get financing to buy a home and lead to more transient residents with less pride in their properties.

Her husband, Brian Blatt, spoke as well.

“I don’t see Grosse Pointe as an average community,” Brian Blatt said. “I’ve lived in over 30 apartments … and they were all bigger (than these new standards). … You’re driving it down to smaller, less desirable units.”

City resident Robert Hindelang expressed his reservations, too.

“I don’t understand why we would want to do this,” Hindelang said. “I don’t see any need, and I don’t want to see any smaller units approved.”

After residents commented, Mayor Sheila Tomkowiak noted that the approved standards “are minimum sizes, not maximum sizes,” so developers could still create larger units.

“The minimums were lowered too far to earn my vote,” Juip said by email after the meeting. “Nevertheless, it is my hope that future developments will be aligned with the scale and character of our community.”

City Councilman Daniel Williams said he formerly worked in Northville, which is “abuzz all the time” because people live downtown. He said there’s a “huge demand in this area” for smaller living spaces, and it’s coming not just from 20-somethings, but also from retirees.

“While I respect and understand the concerns people have … I disagree and think this is an important step forward for the City,” Williams said.