Review focuses on lot sizes, gateway and more
Posted on 06/30/2022
An updated version of the townhomes shows a contemporary style.Planning Commissioners delved into the topic of architecture, landscaping and aesthetics at the June 21 meeting as part of their ongoing preliminary site plan review of the Downs Planned Unit Development (PUD) while providing feedback to the development team of Hunter Pasteur Northville (HPN) following its June 7 presentation. That presentation showed several new home styles based on traditional homes in the Historic District and revealed a gateway entrance concept with a roundabout at the 7-Mile/S. Center intersection. The developer also showed updated concepts for the rowhouses and townhomes at the June 21 meeting.

The commissioners carefully reviewed multiple aspects of the topic as Hunter Pasteur Homes CEO Randy Wertheimer requested specific feedback to further refine the PUD preliminary site plan. City Planner Sally Elmiger, of Carlisle Wortman Associates, noted that half of the lot sizes for single-family homes were smaller than the minimum dimensions required by the single-family district in the city ordinance. Chair Donna Tinberg brought up Floor Area Ratio (FAR) standards – a .36 ratio that compares the mass of the house in proportion to the lot size – and
expressed concern about how the FAR standard would apply to the smaller lot sizes proposed by the developer. In this case, the development would be built from the ground up, and not be attempting to fit new homes into an existing neighborhood.

Elmiger said the project is meeting the FAR requirement for the smaller lots. For an undersized lot (smaller than the current minimum of 7,200 sf in R-1B), the ordinance permits a home up to 2,500 sf. If this provision were not in the ordinance, and only the FAR calculation of 0.36 was applied to the small lots in the project, the calculation would generate a home of about 2,360 sf in size. Alex Martin, of Toll Brothers, said they need 1,800 to 1,900 sf on the first floor of the home with the loft space for more bedrooms, and they could accomplish this within the 2,500 sf maximum home size.

The commission discussed the proposed lot sizes, and the pros and cons of the smaller lot sizes. Ultimately the commission decided to support the proposed single-family lots as shown on the plans as it offers residents options that blend well in the context of the neighborhood and general vicinity.

Relating to architecture, several commissioners suggested style changes to the townhomes. Among their ideas were to add a textural element to the trim near the roofline and vary the windows. They felt these changes would add some unique features to individual units in the grouping and soften the starkness of contemporary units. The overall request was to make the townhomes distinctively attractive and complementary to the new Downs neighborhood while drawing inspiration from the city’s other neighborhoods.

Commissioner Steven Kirk said, “My hat goes off to this developer. Thanks for hiring local architects.” The house/housing unit architects are Robert Miller of M Architects, and Greg Presley of Presley Architecture.

Commissioners were pleased with the extensive use of porches – which the development team said would be 6 ft deep by 8 to 10 ft wide on most units. Some would be smaller and corner units on the attached single-family homes would have wrap-around porches. Commissioners were keen on home owners using their porches to interact with pedestrians and neighbors.

The townhomes will have stairs leading to the front door and an activated stoop, reminiscent of those in Brooklyn. Those stoops, which serve a similar purpose as porches, will be surrounded by 10 to 15 ft. of landscaping. The Cady St. townhomes with flexible first-floor space for business do not have a front porch but do have two balconies on the back of the units.

Architect Andy West, of Elkus/Manfredi Architects in Boston, appeared at the PC meeting in person for the first time. He said of the apartments and luxury condo unit his firm designed, “The balconies are great places to sit and look over the street.”

The developer said there are more than 100 units with rooftop access. Those buildings (the apartments and luxury condos) will require a “doghouse” – a rectangular framed enclosure with a door that covers the stairs/elevator leading to the roof. It provides roof access but typically can’t be seen from the street.

Commissioners asked if the architect could recess some of the balconies so they are not hanging over the street in certain sections. The developer noted that could pose problems with water leakage but would look into it. Commissioners like the addition of balconies and want to ensure they are well-constructed and well-designed.

Commissioners also discussed the alley and private driveway widths in the portion of the development south of Beal St., and established that they would like to have the smallest widths that provide necessary emergency access, and work for the residents. The less asphalt, the better was the consensus.

Commissioner David Hay lives on Wing Ct. and says the street is 16 feet wide … barely enough room for two cars to pass when going in opposite directions. People have to put their garbage on the sidewalk for pickup. He doesn’t want to see the two-way private driveways any smaller than the width of his street. The site plan shows 12 ft., one-way alleys behind single-family attached homes and 22 ft. private driveways behind the townhomes, which allow for two-way traffic. That could change in a future rendition.

The developer plans to show an aerial rendering of the site plan at a future meeting so commissioners can better envision how the housing units, commercial space, streets, alleys, private driveways and green space all fit together.

There was also discussion about the proposed conceptual street gateway at 7-Mile and S. Center, with a landscaped roundabout. At a previous meeting, the PC supported a roundabout at this intersection, and asked the city to meet with Wayne County about the conceptual design. Wertheimer noted that the roundabout and gateway is a seven figure commitment and pointed out key features, such as planting 4 to 5” caliper trees that are 14 - 16 ft. tall. He said the slide from the June 7 presentation shows the intent of quality of the proposed gateway but isn’t the final concept. In addition to landscaping, the proposal shows a brick half-wall with lighting and signage.

Those elements – landscaping, signage, lighting and signage – are reviewed during the final site plan. Due to the scope of this project, it was important to show these concepts earlier in the process so commissioners could see how they relate to the site plan in terms of environment, style and function.

Of the gateway, Commissioner Jeff Gaines said the foundation (building) forms the gateway and the landscaping supports it. He said, “We want the architectural language to be, ‘Come on in and be part of it.’” To make a bigger impression, he suggested not having attached single-family homes right at the entry point to the Downs development.

Commissioner William Salliotte wants to see townhomes on S. Center. While the commissioners don’t want a canyon effect with tall buildings on both sides, he and others would like to see more substance to those first set of units/homes close to the gateway.

Tinberg noted former commissioner Marc Russell said there needs to be “A wow factor and a sense of excitement when you first enter Northville” from Sheldon Road. She agrees with that vision. The city’s wide vista comes into view once you crest Sheldon before reaching 7 Mile.

Many want to see an element of the racetrack that makes a statement in the gateway. Commissioner AnnaMaryLee Vollick said the developer may be able to recycle something “creative and quirky” from the Downs.

In response to a commissioner’s question, the developer said the intersection at River St. and 7 Mile, just east of Sheldon/S. Main, will have a crosswalk to Hines Park but will be more understated than the gateway entrance at S. Center St.

Public comment will be heard at the PC’s July 5 meeting on the topic of architecture, landscaping and aesthetics. Deliberations will start with a presentation by HPN for the river park, central park, and other public spaces, including a potential home for the Farmers Market. View the city website calendar for location and login details.

View the June 21 meeting video here.

Photo: Conceptual rendering of entrance at 7 Mile and S. Center. 

conceptual rendering of entrance at 7 Mile and S. Center