Planning Commission recap of Nov. 9 meeting
Posted on 11/18/2023
View of river park from one of two proposed pedestrian bridges. Architect rendering by Hunter Pasteur.The Planning Commission on Nov. 9 resumed discussion of lighting, landscape, and signage as part of Hunter Pasteur’s final site plan presentation for the Downs redevelopment project that will convert nearly 48 acres of land on the city’s southeast side into a mixed-use development with single-family houses, townhomes, apartments, a condominium building, retail and two large parks, one with a daylighted river. Commissioners, led by Chair Donna Tinberg, covered a lot of ground in the nearly four-hour meeting.

Park landscaping
Andrew Parin, partner at Grissim, Metz, Andriese Associates, presented the landscape plan for the parks and gateway design at 7 Mile and S. Center. The trees used in the parks and gateway are proposed to be a mix of large deciduous trees, evergreens and flowering trees (e.g., dogwood, crab apple and redbud). At several places at River Park and Central Park, trees are represented in groves to create a wooded area that also provides shade. The developer is including a two-year warranty on trees once planted.

There are 17 locations in the river park that are proposed to have amenities such as lighting, trash bins, benches and bike racks – all mirroring the DDA style used downtown – along with dog waste bags and a bike repair station. The final site plan shows four entrances to the river park and all are proposed to connect through 10-foot asphalt pathways, open to both pedestrians and bicyclists. OHM engineers will design the crossing improvements at Fairbook, which connects to the sidewalk that will link to River Park. At the gateway entrance, at 7 Mile and Center, Parin said the landscaping will frame the architecture on the east and west corners, which will be the primary focus, and it will be pedestrian friendly with sidewalks along 7 Mile on each side of the gateway.

River daylighting
Senior landscape engineer Matt Stone-Palmquist, of Barr Engineering, described how the river will be daylighted with a proposed curving bed. For reference to the depth and flow of the river, he compared the Middle Rouge River on the Downs property to a river in Farmington Hills’ Heritage Park. He said the daylighted river will have riffles – areas of shallow water that have a wave or ripple. He also noted the river flow from the daylighted potion will connect with the water that now flows under the Beal St. bridge in a “pool sequence.”

The riverbed is depicted with groupings of large boulders in several areas, which Stone-Palmquist said will provide access points to the river. He noted that all areas of the riverwalk in River Park will be ADA accessible except at the south side where the Middle Rouge River meets the Johnson Drain and there is a grade difference. The two bridges that span the daylighted river are designed to be 12 feet wide with wooden planks, 70 feet long and have a repeating arched pattern that complements the steel ornamental fixtures in Downtown Northville. Each end of the bridge is depicted with lights.

Seth Herkowitz, of Hunter Pasteur, said the developer and the city have already submitted a joint permit to EGLE for daylighting the river since there are pending deadlines for grants that could be applied to the project.

There are two sets of standards the developer needs to meet regarding lighting. One is the Cady Street overlay, which requires that lighting be compatible with the type of lighting in Downtown Northville. The current downtown lighting is a mix of induction and LED as the city moves toward full LED lighting.

Herkowitz said his team considered the length between light poles in sections of Downtown Northville when developing the lighting plan for the Downs property, and propose installing a light poles every 60 feet. He said those lights will emit 40 watts, 2,700 Kelvin temp luminaires to match the light, color and temperature of the downtown street lighting. “There will be a rhythm between trees and light fixtures,” he said, along with a lower cost to the city in terms of energy use and light pole maintenance.

The current lighting standards near the Downtown calls for light poles to have similar spacing as existing poles or about every 40 feet. The distance variation and other factors impacting light pole locations are being discussed by the developer, City Planner Sally Elmiger, OHM lighting engineers and city administration. A proposed solution on street lighting will return to the Planning Commission.

Commissioners questions and comments
Commissioner Bill Salliotte asked the developer to show a rendering of how the four large buildings in the site plan will look together, along with the landscaping. Herkowitz agreed to provide one at a future meeting.

Commissioner David Hay requested that the developer review two letters sent to the Planning Commission on behalf of Northville Tree Champions regarding trees on the Downs property. Herkowitz agreed.

Commissioner Steven Kirk firmly stated that he didn’t want to see the same trees line the streets, instead calling for a variety of trees that reflect the current tree mix along Northville streets. When Kirk asked about trees that will be removed on River Street, the development team noted approximately 12 trees are dead, diseased or will be in the way of the earthmovers and need to be removed, but they said many more trees will be planted there.

These are among the comments and questions brought up during the meeting. To review all of them, please watch the meeting video.

HOA governance
All homes within the development, including single-family detached homes, will be part of a condominium site plan, noted City Planner Elmiger. A Home Owners Association (HOA) will be created, with bylaws and legal authority, and will be responsible for maintaining items and amenities, such as pocket parks, alleyways, and roofs on attached housing.

Public comment

Nancy Darga, 516 N. Center, chair of the River Restoration Task Force (RRTF), said the task force has worked with Hunter Pasteur to help improve the composition of Central Park and the River Park. The developer’s engineering team met with the task force and its subcommittees to discuss the river daylighting and other environment aspects of the parks. While she noted there were differences over the sinuosity of the daylighted river, she said it will be up to EGLE to decide. Regarding the historic log cabin, she suggested keeping it near the river but adding a retaining wall around it; however the RRTF team is open to it being moved elsewhere in River Park.

As she approached the allotted five minutes, she turned her notes over to Dan Stedum, 375 Orchard Drive, who picked up where she left off. He said the log cabin would ideally have a garden around it and serve as a historical marker and a meeting area, potentially with some type of roof structure adjacent to it. He said it’s hard to fund raise for the cabin’s move without knowing where it will ultimately be placed.

Kathy Spillane, 487 W. Cady, said as chair of the RRTF sub-committee that evaluated Central Park and made recommendations, she was gratified to see that the developer is providing shade trees and unifying the pavement treatment between the promenade and the park to appear welcoming to all not just the residents who will live there. She is currently evaluating the lighting differences at the north quadrant of Central Park between the rendering and final site plan specifications.

View the meeting video here.

Below: Architect rendering by Hunter Pasteur of proposed Central Park.
Proposed Central Park