Large turnout for PC public hearing on Downs redevelopment
Posted on 03/17/2022
Proposed single-family homes are part of the preliminary site plan.
The Planning Commission’s public hearing March 15 on Hunter Pasteur Northville’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the 48-acre Downs project drew an audience of nearly 300 people. Many attended at the Northville Community Center, which was standing room only, and approximately 190 people viewed the meeting on Zoom.
In explaining the public comment section of the meeting, Chair Donna Tinberg asked the public to focus their comments on how the preliminary site plan aligns, or doesn't, with the criteria in the zoning ordinance and with the 2018 Master Plan. She noted the developer has observed changes made to the updated Master Plan (2021) however, HPN is not bound by it because it was finalized after the current application was submitted. Tinberg also reviewed expectations of meeting etiquette, asking respondents to be civil, respectful and stay on topic while keeping comments to five minutes or less.

Tinberg explained the site plan process moving forward: Once the PC’s deliberations are complete, they can make one of three recommendations to Council on the Downs site plan: approval, approval with changes or conditions, or denial. They can also refer the application back to the developer. If Council approves the preliminary site plan and PUD, then the project returns to the PC for final site plan review.

She noted there will be some give-and-take between commissioners and the developer to achieve the objectives of the zoning ordinance in exchange for the PUD’s public benefits.

Proposed public benefits include daylighting the river and turning it into a 9-acre public park along River St., creating a 1.09 acre central park on Cady St. and several pocket parks; potentially offering a new site for the farmers’ market; contributing toward the cost of preserving an historic log cabin (either on site or at a new location); and developing a gateway to the city from 7 Mile and S. Center. In addition, Seth Herkowitz, of HPN, said there would be increased tax revenue for the city, DDA, and Northville Public Schools.

As a refresher to the community and with new changes to the site plan, Herkowitz shared Hunter Pasteur’s vision for transforming the Downs into a unique new section of Northville that features a mixed-use development of single- and multi-family housing, commercial property and ample green space. He also noted that HPN now has a website devoted to this project:

At present, the Downs PUD preliminary site plan shows 474 housing units with a mix of townhomes, single-family homes, condos, high-end apartments, row houses and carriage homes. In addition, 16,000 sf – 17,000 sf of commercial space is proposed along Cady. Herkowitz noted that many of the housing units either have first-floor master bedrooms or elevators for greater accessibility for the growing numbers of seniors in Northville.

The developer indicated they are exploring changes to the site plan, including replacing 50 townhomes with 40 row houses along S. Center, and reducing the building height of some townhomes from three stories to 2.5 stories on one section of the street. These changes are being considered in response to public concern about having a canyon effect due to townhomes on both sides of S. Center as one enters the city.

“Constructive community input has profoundly influenced our plan and we are appreciative. I know we look forward to synthesizing community and commission feedback as we continue to refine our site plan during the PUD process,” said Herkowitz.

To address concerns about density, Herkowitz showed a chart that had the Downs density at 9.85 DU/AC (dwelling units per acre). In comparison, he noted the new Foundry Flask project has a 16.77 DU/AC. (The ordinance requires at least 15 DU/AC for property fronting on Cady St.) In addressing traffic concerns, he advised the public to read the traffic report audited by OHM Advisors and also recommended that a technical working group be set up to bring various inputs into the process.

In response to concerns about the new housing units having an adverse impact on Northville Public Schools, Herkowitz used school and census data to show school enrollment would be down by 200 students if no new housing units are built. Chair Tinberg stated later in the meeting, “A school district presentation during the 2021 Master Plan update process indicated that there is room for increased enrollment from this development within the existing school buildings.”

During the public comments, 53 people voiced opinions and/or statements about how the project either meets or fails to meet requirements of the zoning ordinance. In addition, 69 letters or emails were received on the topic. View those on the Proposed Redevelopment page. (The top concerns that were voiced included density and the impact on traffic. Those who support the project are eager to move ahead, citing specific benefits it will bring to the city.) Comments will be reported in the PC minutes (posted at a later date on the city website) and the public hearing can be viewed on the city’s Vimeo link.

Tinberg noted the PC will start reviewing the site plan in greater detail at upcoming meetings beginning April 5 and the public will be invited to comment after each topic area is covered, which at times may take more than one meeting. She noted the PC wants to be timely, thorough and thoughtful in making a recommendation to City Council on whether or not the preliminary site plan should be approved.