A proposed development at The Corners property on Walnut Lake Road has been a source of controversy in West Bloomfield Township.

A proposed development at The Corners property on Walnut Lake Road has been a source of controversy in West Bloomfield Township.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield residents opposed to proposed The Corners development pack Planning Commission meeting

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 20, 2022

 West Bloomfield Township officials and residents spoke about a proposed development at a Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11.

West Bloomfield Township officials and residents spoke about a proposed development at a Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 A proposed development at The Corners property on Walnut Lake Road drew a large crowd to a West Bloomfield Township Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11.

A proposed development at The Corners property on Walnut Lake Road drew a large crowd to a West Bloomfield Township Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Residents filled a boardroom and spilled out into the hallway during a West Bloomfield Township Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11.

Part of the meeting’s agenda included a request for review and recommendation to the West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees for a proposed Planned Development District application.

The majority of those in attendance were there to oppose it.

During the meeting, Planning Commission member Ghassan Abdelnour said the commission has “never had a big meeting like this.”

The meeting included comments from a township official, commission members, multiple residents surrounding Walnut Lake and a representative from Robertson Brothers Homes.

A developer, Walnut Lake Holdings, purchased the property and partnered with builder Robertson Brothers Homes.

All of the residents who spoke at the meeting voiced opposition to the proposed development.

A change.org petition that was started in opposition to the proposed development had more than 2,800 signatures at press time.

What is being proposed is a three-story townhouse community consisting of 101 units for lease at a location known as The Corners property, 2075 Walnut Lake Road in West Bloomfield, west of Inkster Road.

According to a West Bloomfield Township agenda packet, the property is approximately 7.6 acres.

“In this matter, the applicant is seeking rezoning from a R-12.5 one-family residential status to a planned development district (PDD), which would lead to greater density in the area,” West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan stated via email.

Near the conclusion of the meeting, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied.

With the Planning Commission being a recommending body, the ultimate decision is now up to the Board of Trustees.

A Board of Trustees meeting is set for 6 p.m. Nov. 21.

According to Kaplan, Walnut Lake Elementary School previously operated on the property, prior to closing in the mid ’90s.

After that, he stated, it was turned into a multi-purpose building, which is currently vacated.

According to the change.org petition, the property also includes a ball diamond and a playfield.

One of the speakers at the Planning Commission meeting was West Bloomfield Township Building Director/Zoning and Planning Manager Gordon Bowdell.

“The current zoning is single-family, which would roughly commit about 20, 25 residential dwelling units,” Bowdell said. “The proposal is for rezoning to allow 101 residential townhomes.”

That comment elicited a negative response from many of those in attendance.

Bowdell continued.

“In addition to the density increase that’s being requested, they are proposing some deviations from our typical multi-family setback requirements,” he said.

Bowdell added that the proposed units range in size from 1,100 square feet to just over 1,300 square feet.

Aside from an increase in density, residents expressed concerns about occupants in the proposed units having access to Walnut Lake.

In addition to stating that she is “very concerned” about an increase in density, Planning Commission Chair Katherine Hagopian also addressed the issue of lake access for all of the potential new residents, if the proposal were approved.

“In my opinion, they should not have deed to the lake,” Hagopian said. “Walnut’s already overburdened with the amount of use in that lake and many of our other lakes in the area. … So it’s a huge concern.”

Planning Commission member James Matthews said that density is “an issue” with the proposal.

Matthews then added a comment that was met with applause from many in attendance.

“I think we’re a long ways from satisfying ourselves that we will not impact the quality of life for the residents,” he said.

The change.org petition states that the proposed project would be for 18 three-story buildings.

The proposed height of the buildings is 35 feet.

“The height is way too high for that area,” Hagopian said.

However, Bowdell said, “for clarity purposes, the height is proposed at 35 feet, which is the height that’s allowed.”

Robertson Homes Director of Land Acquisition Tim Loughrin was one of the speakers at the meeting. He defended the proposal.

“We believe it is an appropriate use of the land,” Loughrin said. “It provides a service for the community; it satisfies demand in the community. … The property is a private parcel of land. We’re proposing what we feel is the best land use. … We’re adjacent mostly to non-residential uses. Those are really important points to think about.”

Loughrin also addressed concerns about density.

“We don’t see this as high density,” he said. “They’re not stacked on top of each other. This is not a typical rental type of community.”

From Loghrin’s perspective, the project is a “high-quality development.”

Prior to the meeting, West Bloomfield resident Doug Schoenherr discussed a “wide-range” of concerns about the proposal.

“It really doesn’t fit in the neighborhood, which according to the PDD, it has to — has to fit in with the character of the neighborhood, and this by no means does,” Schoenherr said. “Everything in the area’s two stories; this thing’s three stories. … It just sticks out like a sore thumb. The structure doesn’t fit in the place they’re trying to put it … because it’s so dense, it doesn’t fit the guidelines that are in the PDD ordinance.”

Schoenherr also brought up a point that was later discussed during the meeting.

“One of the other concerns is parking,” he said. “They’ve got, like, just over 1 1/2 parking spaces, including the garages, per unit. … Those families are gonna have two cars, so there’s not gonna be enough parking. If they have guests over, that’s gonna be a nightmare; it’s gonna spill over into the surrounding areas.”

Another concern some have is an increase in the amount of traffic that would result from the project.

Although a traffic study was conducted on behalf of Walnut Lake Holdings and Robertson Homes, Bowdell said, “it’s better for any traffic study to be done by the township for reliability purposes. The Planning Commission can request a traffic study as part of this.”

Following the meeting, Jim Bellinson, who is a partner with Walnut Lake Holdings told the Beacon that there is a “great need” for the type of housing being proposed.

“It’s a very unique piece of property that is surrounded by very little residential,” Bellinson said. “It’s not totally affordable, but it’s (a) reasonably affordable rental property in a really nice area. … There’s a huge need for this type of housing, but people don’t want it, always, in their neighborhood.”

Bellinson did not disclose the amount the property was purchased for.

“As far as the rental price, I believe if it were rented today, it would be the $2,500 range, per month,” he said. “This is a piece of property that really calls out to be a rental property. It’s something that gets the property back on the tax rolls for the township, and it lights up an area that’s been dead. It’s got an old building on it that’s leaky. It’s a great project for the community, we believe.”

During public comment, one resident explained his concern about the units being potentially leased out.

“One major concern we have is the fact that this large, multi-unit development is rental,” the resident said. “We don’t know who will be in those units; we don’t know how many people. We’ve heard comments that there may be two, or on average, three people per unit. How do we know that? How do we know that there aren’t 10 people per unit?”

Another resident who spoke during public comment said that “the influx of people with this development is frightening to me.”

Someone else who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting doubted that things would ever be the same in the community if the project were approved.

“The proposed Corners (project) offends us and will forever negatively change the atmosphere of our sweet little village,” he said. “In essence, we feel that this is somewhat of a theft of our quality of life and our home values.”

Following the Planning Commission’s recommendation for denial, West Bloomfield resident John Denha said, “We are pleased, but the war’s not over.”

Schoenherr shared his reaction to the decision.

“It was a little unexpected,” he said. “I (thought) they would push it instead of making a decision on it. … We have to still show up again and let the township know that the voters do not want this.”

Bellinson discussed the next potential steps in the process if the Board of Trustees follows the Planning Commission’s recommendation.

“We understand what the concerns are,” he said. “We’ll look at each of those things and address them.”

Kaplan shared how the process works after the Planning Commission makes a recommendation.

“The township board has the final decision making on the Corners Project, regardless of the planning commission’s decision, but the township board pays great deference to the planning commission’s determination and findings, since the Commission members have vast, diverse experience on re-zoning issues,” he stated via email. “Of paramount importance to the township board, especially when there is a groundswell, is the opinion of the residents. When an (overwhelming) number of residents favor one proposition over another, township board members tend to devote deference to the residents.”