Troy School District land sale/nature conservancy deal is off — for now

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published October 23, 2019

 This 7.69-acre site at Square Lake Road, west of Dequindre Road, which includes 75 acres earmarked for a nature preserve, all owned by the Troy School District, is back on the real estate market.

This 7.69-acre site at Square Lake Road, west of Dequindre Road, which includes 75 acres earmarked for a nature preserve, all owned by the Troy School District, is back on the real estate market.

File photo by Terry Oparka

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TROY — Plans for the Turtle Woods Nature Preserve derailed when the developer pulled out of the deal at the 11th hour last month.

Saying the delay in securing needed permits from the state threw off the timing for getting shovels in the ground, affecting the profit margin, Mondrian Properties, which has completed a number of high-end projects in Troy, pulled out of a $1.9 million land deal with the Troy School District.

Troy School District officials said they received an email Sept. 24 from Mondrian Properties on the 274th day of a 275-day due diligence period that it could no longer honor its offer of $1.9 million for the purchase of 7.69 acres of school-owned property along Square Lake Road, just west of Dequindre Road.

The deal also included the conservation of 75 acres as a nature preserve. Kerry Birmingham, the director of communications and strategic initiatives for the district, said Mondrian Properties emailed the district to express its intention to put a halt to the purchase unless the district accepted a significant price reduction, $500,000, citing Mondrian’s increased costs for the development.

Proceeds from the sale were earmarked for the construction of the new Troy School District Preschool. The $23 million, 72,276-square-foot, 26-classroom facility, which opened this fall, centralizes all of the early childhood programs available through the Troy School District for students ages 3-5, programs that formerly had been held at different schools throughout the district.

The Troy Board of Education and district administrators will now explore options to continue the sale of the property with a new buyer, Birmingham said.

“Though we are disappointed that this deal did not close,” Troy School District Superintendent Rich Machesky said in a prepared statement, “we are confident that a sale will be successfully completed in the not-too-distant future.”

On March 20, 2018, the board voted 4-2 on three items: to divide the 7.69 acres that front Square Lake Road from the 83-acre area known as Section 1, to establish a nature preserve and enter into a land conservancy for the rest of the portion, and to solicit a request for proposals for the sale of the 7.69 acres.

Board Vice President Steve Gottlieb and Trustee Elizabeth Hammond opposed all three items.

Board President Karl Schmidt and Trustees Paula Fleming, Gary Hauff and Nancy Philippart supported the items. Trustee Todd Miletti was absent.

In order to establish the nature preserve, the board negotiated the terms of a conservation easement with Six Rivers Land Conservancy and earmarked $150,000 in seed money from the deal with Mondrian Properties for the conservancy to begin to conserve the parcel.

“We waited as long as possible,” said Sahir Fakhouri, the sales manager for Mondrian Properties, referring to the permits needed from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on floodplain issues in order to move forward.

“We hoped for August,” she said, explaining that the delay pushed them into next year. “We were planning on going into the ground this year.” She noted that the deal was contingent on receiving the permits.

“We purchased three other sites from the Troy School District,” Fakhouri said. “We ran into a lot of snags with the natural characteristics of this property.” She added that the delays increased overhead costs and would have forced them to wait two or three years to complete the project.

“This project took a lot of my personal energy,” Mondrian Properties owner Joe Maniaci said. “It was with a heavy heart we had to drop this. It just didn’t come together at the end. We’ve done some phenomenal projects in Troy,” he said, adding that of the other three sites they purchased from the Troy School District, development on one is almost done, the second is in the middle stage, and “they are in the ground” with the third one.

Maniaci said they’d be willing to work with the Troy School District, going forward on other projects.

“The bottom line was they couldn’t do it without a price reduction,” Birmingham said.

She explained that until the property is sold, the Troy School District will not fund the Troy School District Preschool with general fund or bond funds, and the district does not intend to use funds from the sinking fund. She said the district will use tuition revenue from preschool and enrichment programs to fund costs for the preschool until the property is sold.

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