Townhomes in the works after Farmington sells Maxfield Training Center

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published May 31, 2024

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FARMINGTON — Officials in Farmington may be walking around with an extra spring in their step these days as the city has some closure on a long-anticipated project.

After being vacant for approximately 12 years, the Maxfield Training Center, located at 33000 Thomas St. in the city’s downtown, was purchased by Robertson Brothers May 17 at a price of $690,000.

The approximately 3-acre parcel of land was previously owned by Farmington Public Schools, operating as a high school and then a junior high school before becoming the Maxfield Training Center.

It is now set to become Hillside Townes, consisting of seven three-story buildings with 53 townhomes.

Farmington Mayor Joe LaRussa said that the closing is a combination of relief and excitement.

“We finally get to activate a long-dormant property in the middle of downtown Farmington,” LaRussa said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to bring 53 new families, customers, residents, to an area of the city where they’re going to have a ton of advantages, in terms of being able to walk to just about everything — every service or product they could possibly need.”

The city entered into a purchase and sales agreement for the property in 2019, and following that, Robertson Brothers, a residential developer, agreed to purchase the Maxfield Training Center in 2021.

According to Tim Loughrin, who is the vice president of land acquisition for Robertson Brothers, the units are expected to be about 1,300 square feet, with two bedrooms and a one-car attached garage.

At the State of the Cities address earlier this year, LaRussa referred to the project as transformational, because aside from adding housing, it will serve as a vehicle for the “total” reconstruction of Thomas Street, with water and utility infrastructure upgrades, as well as walkability and Americans With Disabilities Act improvements.

Site amenities are expected to include new landscaping and pedestrian connections. As part of the project, two single-family homes will be removed.

For some, perhaps the most exciting part of the project is a ribbon park, also known as a pedestrian promenade, that is planned to connect the site to Grand River Avenue and the adjacent Riley Park.

“It will extend through the site to provide enhanced access to the Shiawassee Park staircase,” a press release from the city of Farmington states. “The property is located in the heart of Downtown Farmington and is expected to be a key part of Farmington’s growing vitality.”

The park has LaRussa’s attention.

“The addition of the promenade park and the connection to Shiawassee Park are public benefits that will accompany the project that are adding immense value to the housing portion of the project,” he said.

Although he said that it is too early to say exactly, Loughrin expects the sales price for the units to be in the low $300,000s.

“We’ve already started some of the asbestos removal in the building, and our intent is (in) the next two or three weeks or so to start demolition on the building and the two homes between Thomas and Grand River this summer, and then our intent is to have … all the land development, including paving, done by the end of the year, and then, hopefully, going vertical with some of the buildings late this year, early next year.”

Loughrin said that Robertson Brothers builds the units as they sell them, with a model set to be built.

“I’m guessing we’ll probably sell roughly two units a month once we open for sales — probably mid next year,” Loughrin said. “So doing the math, (it’s) probably a … two- to three-year project.”

Farmington City Manager David Murphy also weighed in on the project.

“The City has been working on this project for more than five years,” Murphy stated via the release. “So much tedious and detailed work has gone into this development. I’d like to recognize retired Building and Planning Director Kevin Christiansen for his dedication to this project, along with City Attorney Tom Schultz of Rosati, Schultz, Joppich & Amtsbuechler, P.C.; Eric Helzer of Advanced Redevelopment Solutions (ARS); City Engineers OHM Advisors; the City Council; and the City Administration.”

Although Robertson Brothers is responsible for the construction, LaRussa said that the promenade park is “our baby” and that the city will be overseeing the installation of it.

Loughrin is well aware of the park’s importance to the city.

“That’s been a driver of the design from day one,” he said. “That’s something that’s been important to the city, so we’ve worked with them to make sure that there’s that connection. … We’ve worked very well with the city on how that’s ultimately going to be (an) experience for the public to be able to traverse through our project and go from downtown to the park. … For us, those were two great amenities, so we were happy to accommodate that request from the city.”

Loughrin said that the site is “great” and one that Robertson Brothers had been looking at for many years.

“We’re still as excited as we’ve ever been to get going on it,” he said.

Sometimes, development proposals can result in pushback from residents, but according to LaRussa, “I wouldn’t say there was a lot of opposition.”

“I don’t think there was any opposition to the type of housing that we ended up picking,” he said. “Most of the feedback … was mainly aesthetic and maintaining lines of sight so that neighbors could still kind of take in the view of downtown Farmington.”

LaRussa said that the final site plans were unanimously approved by Farmington’s City Council.

He also touched on a subject that some of the city’s taxpayers may find of interest.

“The proceeds from the sale will go to the general fund, which is where we took the money from to purchase the property in the first place,” LaRussa said. “It’s going to bring our fund balance to a very healthy level, meeting our policy goals, for like a rainy day type of fund.”

LaRussa said that Farmington residents have consistently asked, “What’s going on with the Maxfield Training Center?”

He can now give a firm answer, and he acknowledged the diligent work of “multiple city councils” for helping the deal come to pass.

“Seeing it happen while presiding as mayor is going to be a very gratifying experience for me,” LaRussa said. “I’m a results-oriented person, so anytime we can see tangible results, that’s really what’s exciting. … When the model and the first units fill up, that’s when it’ll maybe hit me. Right now, it’s still a very abstract concept, but once we start seeing shovels in the ground and buildings going up, then it becomes something a little bit more exciting for me, in particular.”