Many pieces to this major project
Posted on 09/27/2023
Intersection of Cady and Griswold...architect renderingAt the Sept. 18 City Council meeting, Hunter Pasteur’s Seth Herkowitz said the developer is seeking approval from City Council to approve the Downs development plan, negotiated by Hunter Pasteur and the city’s administrative team, to develop the Downs property in a manner that would benefit the city.

Turning the Downs from a brownfield site into a residential and commercial mixed-use development is one of the largest redevelopments in the state of Michigan.

He compared the framework plan to a jigsaw puzzle saying each piece is important. He noted the Brownfield Plan was finalized (by the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, in agreement with the developer) in December 2022.

Strategic public infrastructure
The river daylighting will be a joint permit process, between the developer and the city. EGLE is one of the agencies that needs to review the plan and approve it. Herkowitz anticipates it will take 12 months from the commencement of the permit application for the entire process to be complete, with all governmental and agency reviews. At that point, the River Park will take an estimated 12 months to complete and be ready in 2025. He said the developer will show the Planning Commission detailed plans for the parks at the final site plan review. Daylighting the river will be the crown jewel of the park.

Project scheduling
The demolition will begin upon the transfer of ownership of the property and is expected to take six months, clearing the entire parcel that covers nearly 48 acres. Daylighting the river will commence with the building of a channel and planting vegetation along the banks. After the first year of plant growth along the banks, the enclosed river will be daylighted. The performance bond is tied to the river daylighting and the demolition. At that point and before any vertical construction begins, the company will be fully vested in the project. As Council Member Andrew Krenz said, a graded and cleared parcel is valuable to any builder.

Herkowitz provided the company’s timeline for construction. They will start building north of the to-be-extended Beal Street. By the end of 2024, the row houses and condominium building should be complete. The apartments will begin construction in conjunction with Central Park later in 2024 and be complete in 2026. Twenty-two single-family detached homes west of Center will begin construction in 2024 and be delivered on a rolling basis from July 2025 through October 2026.

The last part to be built will be the south end of the project with single-family homes and carriage homes that back to the stormwater basins. He said the entire project should be substantially complete by the end of 2027, pending macro-economic factors, such as rising interest rates; the pace of sales; and other factors. Hunter Pasteur has added new partners, The Franklin Co. and BNV Earthmovers, to assist with the project.

City Manager George Lahanas said, “There’s a lot of benefit to the city. It’s a transformational project. It has the potential to increase the population by 15 percent.” He said, “This helps the schools, shopping and businesses.” They (the developers) will be repurposing an existing site - this is not suburban sprawl. It will be walkable to downtown so there won’t be a need to provide a lot of extra downtown parking). He also noted, there’s a potential 400 new water customers that will help with fixed costs for the water utility. In summary, he said, “I’m in favor of moving forward.”

City Attorney Tony Chubb said there have been a lot of closed sessions and individual meetings on the Downs project and he was confident that granting vesting when the north and south sections had been demolished, as requested by the developer, was appropriate in this case. “I feel very comfortable with the city moving forward,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Barbara Moroski-Browne asked Herkowitz some clarifying questions. One regarded the change in retail space – from 8,836 sq-ft to 7,972 sq-ft. He responded that during some of the negotiations there was a request to include public restrooms in the apartment building. That reduced the retail space in the lobby but a larger retail space will be added to the condominium building to make up for it.

Her second question pertained to the proposed walkway on the west side of the storm basin that would be in back of the carriage homes. Herkowitz responded there is only 7’ of space for a walkway and 25’ is needed to provide the necessary clearance from the vegetation at the basin’s edge.

Log cabin discussion
Bill Stockhausen, a resident at 218 W. Dunlap and board member of the Northville Historical Society, said he wasn’t notified that he and the task force supporting the preservation of the site’s historic log cabin would only have until March 1, 2024 to raise funds to preserve the cabin (repair and potential relocation). He and the task force want the cabin to remain on the site and be maintained as an historic feature by the Northville Parks & Recreation Dept. He also noted it would cost less to restore if it remained on site. However, if it had to be moved, he and other log cabin supporters are asking for the developer to assist with the cost. The development agreement calls for the cabin to be moved by April 15, 2024. After Stockhausen’s comments, the mayor said Northville Lumber said they would assist with materials to help preserve the cabin.

Public comment
Public comments were made by Northville residents Kathy Spillane, Nancy Darga, Jeff Snyder, Laura Genitti, D.J. Ware, Cindy Brazen and Ed Brazen, among others. The comments touched on:

• The importance of keeping a second roundabout at 7 Mile and Hines in the plan to allow for better traffic flow.
• The design details in the site plan don’t match what the River Restoration Task Force agreed to.
• The developer never met with nearby neighborhoods, as promised, to discuss traffic flow.
• There was not enough time for the public to review the Downs Development Agreement since it was posted with the agenda/package only two days before the Council meeting.
• It’s not a good idea to have the Development Agreement supersede the agreement the developer had with the Planning Commission to address tabled items (at final site plan review).
• Be considerate of the residents and businesses of Northville during construction, keep it manageable.

Regarding the deadline for finding a temporary location for the Farmers’ Market in 2024, Nancy Darga said the developer’s Oct. 1, 2023 deadline wasn’t achievable. Hunter Pasteur CEO Randy Wertheimer agreed at the meeting to extend that deadline to Jan. 1, 2024.

All council members expressed support for the Planning Commission, which is responsible to review and request needed adjustments prior to approving a final site plan. That approval and any conditions will be binding on the development agreement.

In other financials, the developer will put up $1.6 million for infrastructure improvements (roundabout design, water main on Cady, among other items) and receive 12 years of tax abatements on the apartment building. Council Members John Carter and Andrew Krenz said at the Council meeting they oppose using money from the General Fund for the city’s portion of the Downs’ infrastructure for several reasons, including limited future flexibility for use of those funds.

Council Member Marilyn Price said the stub connector (from inside the neighborhood to 7 Mile Road) is significant.

Mayor Brian Turnbull said he could have taken tonight’s comments from previous pages in the town’s history. He said, “The Planning Commission is the best that I’ve ever seen. I have great faith in them on the final site plan.”

In a vote of 4-1, the motion passed to approve the Downs Development Agreement as attached to the agenda and subject to 1) change the reference from apartment building to condominiums in 4.8 (b); 2) not require the walkway along the west side of the stormwater basin behind the carriage homes (4.6 (d) 4); and 3) delete the westerly portion of Lot 17, which was included in the PUD rezoning ordinance but is not part of the Downs, in a manner approved by the city attorney. Moroski-Browne dissented.