The vision of Jay Wendt will continue to serve the city as new developments take shape
Posted on 09/28/2018
What would prompt a business owner to invest 40 years of his free time as a volunteer to the City of Northville to ensure that builders and developers abide by ordinances? For Jay Wendt, retiring chair of the Planning Commission, it was based on an affinity for the city and a belief that new development should enhance a city.

“I try to be positive. There’s give and take with ordinances; they have to adjust with the times. Developers often want things that go against the ordinances. It’s the Board of Commissioner’s job to work with them,” said Wendt, who announced his retirement from the board at the April 3 meeting.

For nearly four years, he was the Planning Commission liaison to the Board of Zoning Appeals. His preference though was to create and uphold the standards rather than defend challenges.

Educated as a physicist, Wendt’s occupation centered on sales. He owned an electrical supply company in Livonia, and sold it before retiring. As a board member, he was glad to be an outsider – one who didn’t work as a developer, builder or in real estate. He would like to see that continue with the new board member who is appointed to the vacancy.

“People like Jay are the reason Northville is such a special place,” said Pat Sullivan, city manager. “I can’t imagine how many hours Jay has given us over 40 years, but it has to be rewarding for him to drive through Northville and see all the great developments he’s helped shape with his leadership. We’ll miss him.”
When he first came to Northville in the late 1970s, he brought a broader vision of what building standards and growth should look like. Sometimes that went against the grain of longtime residents who wanted the city to stay just as it was. When an ordinance was changed, he made sure there was some benefit for the city.

One of the most important, yet contentious building projects he was involved in was the school built in 2007 at Our Lady of Victory on Orchard Drive. The board spent about one year wrestling with the process of review, changes, objections and eventual approval.

He recalled the resistance of residents who didn’t want a two-story structure in the neighborhood. Public meetings on the matter drew standing-room-only crowds. Residents got a chance to talk on the stage of the Northville Community Center for three minutes.

After two long nights of public comment, the Planning Commission considered those views and pored over the building plans to search for a compromise. The solution was to have one of the two stories become a lower level floor, partially built underground.

“We (the board) worked with neighbors and the church and almost everyone came out happy,” Wendt recalls. He added that the mayor and city manager kept the process moving by being available to residents and the builder.

Working with developers on historic buildings – such as the New Victorian Building (on Cady) and Village Workshop – was a sweet spot for Wendt. Although the Historic District Commission regulates exteriors in the historic district, the Building Department ensures that standards are met inside and out.

“The (different) owners spent a lot of time making sure things were right and worked with the city,” Wendt said.

Many may not know that a bowling alley occupied the corner where MainCentre, apartments by Singh, has resided since the 1980s. As a board member, Wendt was involved in the oversight of the new construction there.

Big changes are coming to the city, especially with Hunter Pasteur Homes under contract to buy the Northville Downs property for new residences (single-family homes, apartments and condos) and Cady Street primed for development. Wendt is proud of his advisory work on the master plan, which is shaping the direction of these landmark projects.

He predicts the Northville Downs redevelopment plan will take a lot of work with the Planning Commission and Building Department. He was one of the advocates for daylighting the river that is encased in concrete currently, and adding a public park along the waterway. (While this concept is in the master plan, details and costs need to be worked out.)

As a board member, he advocated for bringing more technology to town. He wanted to convert outdoors lights to LED lights, and add camera-linked timing devices to traffic lights to keep traffic flowing. In addition, he is a proponent of installing solar panels on homes in a manner that is aesthetically acceptable. The new commission will have to carry the torch on those matters.