Residents opposed to a proposed development were united at a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 21.

Residents opposed to a proposed development were united at a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 21.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

West Bloomfield Township board denies controversial development proposal

By: Mark Vest | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published December 1, 2022


WEST BLOOMFIELD — A controversial development proposal was resolved at a West Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 21.

Part of the meeting’s agenda included consideration of a request a developer made to rezone a location known as The Corners property from R-12.5 single-family residential status to a planned development district.

The Corners property is located at 2075 Walnut Lake Road in West Bloomfield, west of Inkster Road.

According to West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan, Walnut Lake Elementary previously operated on the property, prior to closing in the mid ’90s.

After that, he stated, it was turned into a multipurpose building, which is currently vacant.

A petition that was started in opposition to the proposed development stated that the property also includes a baseball diamond, a playfield and mature trees.

At press time, 3,082 people had signed the petition.

If approved, the proposal would have allowed the property to be rezoned into a 101-unit townhome community, Walnut Village, with the units available for lease.

Current zoning allows for approximately 20-25 units.

At a West Bloomfield Township Planning Commission meeting Oct. 11, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied.

The Planning Commission is a recommending body, and ultimately, the decision is left to the Board of Trustees.

In a 6-1 decision, the Board of Trustees denied the proposal from the developer, Walnut Lake Holdings, which purchased the property and partnered with a builder, Robertson Brothers Homes.

Jim Manna was the lone Board of Trustees member who did not concur with the motion to deny approval.

Prior to the meeting, a request was made via a letter from the developer to postpone a decision on the agenda item. The Board of Trustees unanimously denied that request.

When Kaplan inquired if any representatives from the development company were present at the meeting, nobody responded.

As was the case at the Planning Commission meeting, residents who opposed the proposed development showed up in large numbers.

“When hundreds, if not a thousand people are opposed to the project, that reaches us,” Kaplan said at the meeting. “We see the emotion; we know how much you love your home, you love your neighbors, you love your neighborhood. So for all those reasons, including the fact that the congestion on Walnut Lake Road and Inkster would be exponential, and that the lake and beach areas would be clogged, it’s just not the right project, and rezoning should not be granted.”

Despite not being in favor of the motion to deny the proposal, Manna said, “I love seeing democracy in action, and this is democracy.”

Following the meeting, when reached by the Beacon via phone, a representative from Walnut Lake Holdings declined to comment.

However, after the Planning Commission meeting, Jim Bellinson, who is a partner with Walnut Lake Holdings, said that there is a “great need” for the type of housing that was 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 said, “I believe if it were rented today, it would be the $2,500 range per month.”

At the Board of Trustees meeting, Manna referenced a study that the township paid to have conducted several years ago.

“We actually paid for a study from Lansing — what type of housing do we need, or what type of zoning do we need (in) West Bloomfield Township? … We started approving apartments. … We needed low-income housing,” Manna said.

During the public comments portion of the Board of Trustees meeting, one resident said, “The city has a problem.”

“We have difficulty getting people of color to work in the city,” the resident said. “We need to encourage younger couples … people of color, to move into the city.”

At the Planning Commission meeting, West Bloomfield Township Building Director/Zoning and Planning Manager Gordon Bowdell said that the proposed units ranged in size from 1,100 square feet to just over 1,300 square feet.

The petition stated that the proposed project was for 18 three-story buildings.

The proposed height of the buildings was 35 feet.

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

At the Planning Commission meeting, both residents and Planning Commission members expressed concern about the increase in density that would have occurred if the proposal were approved.

Another concern was the possibility that occupants in the proposed units could have access to Walnut Lake, which is already “overburdened with the amount of use in that lake,” according to Planning Commission Chair Katherine Hagopian.

Given that other buildings in the area are two stories, with the proposed development being three stories, not fitting in with the “character of the neighborhood” was also a topic of concern.

Other concerns were increased traffic and lack of enough parking to warrant approval of the proposal, as it would have led to a “spill-over into the surrounding areas.”

“This is a small community area with small community beaches, and it was zoned single-family. So when you’re purchasing a piece of land, in my opinion, that’s zoned single-family, you should build single-family,” Township Trustee Teri Weingarden said at the meeting. “If you’re gonna come to us with slightly more density, sometimes we approve — you have to give us really beautiful plans with proper setbacks and proper parking.”

Although Weingarden said that it’s not a bad project, she added that it doesn’t fit the proposed location.

“So I would say to the people (developers), if you’re building on this land, come up with something that meets the normal feel of the area,” she said. “I don’t want three stories; I don’t want to go from 20-25 units to 101 units. The density, to me, doesn’t make any sense in this location. I think we’re probably gonna deny this tonight, and if we do, I hope that they really look at what’s gonna fit the look and feel of the community and come up with something beautiful.”

Clerk Debbie Binder gave weight to the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the proposal.

“We ask our planning commissioners to serve — it’s really a job we give them; it doesn’t pay well,” Binder said. “Typically, we respect the decisions they make. In this case, I think they laid out a logical evaluation. I agree with their determination.”

Although Manna did support the proposal, there were aspects of it he was not on board with.

“Maybe not this density,” he said. “I would’ve never, ever approved this for lake access to Walnut Lake.”

From Manna’s perspective, some residents would have preferred for houses to be developed in the area, as opposed to apartments.

“No, we got houses everywhere,” Manna said. “Let’s bring vibrancy to this community; let’s have more people so we can have more walkers, (so) we can have more business for Ace Hardware or Market Square.”

After Manna’s comment elicited a negative response from multiple people in attendance, he said, “Put it anywhere, but not in my neighborhood. Let’s be constructive.”

Sylvia Whitmer is a resident in one of the subdivisions of the proposed development and has been for over 58 years.

Following the meeting, she said that she was “very pleased” with the Board of Trustees’ decision to deny the proposal.

“I think we are quite a close group of neighbors, for issues,” Whitmer said. “I don’t think anybody realized how we would react until we arrived here.”

Following the meeting, resident Jennifer Yanover cited high density and traffic issues as areas of concern about the proposed development.

She also took notice of how residents rallied together to express their objections to the proposal.

“I think residents would like both unelected and elected officials to know that we care about our community; we’re willing to show up for key issues,” said Yanover, who prefers that the area of the proposed development be turned into a park. “We’re gonna participate fully in the process.”

Resident Carrie Oakwood shared one of her concerns about the proposed development.

“My big thing was, we have to protect the ecology of the lake,” she said. “We have (an) obligation to do that.”