Farmington candidates respond to Training Center, city hall questions

In late October, Farmington residents Marcia Bawol and Mary Williamson sent Farmington Voice these questions with a request that they be posed to city council candidates:

1. Candidate’s position on the development of the Maxfield Training Center.  Is she/he in favor of high density rentals or owner occupied condos or townhouses? For the incumbents – why did you choose a developer who has proposed high density rentals as opposed to high end owner occupied condos?

2. What is the real estate tax revenue generated by apartments vs. high end owner occupied condos? Please provide dollar amounts.

3. My understanding is that there is a city master plan draft that proposes moving City Hall and Public Safety Department out of downtown and using that space for residential. Do you support this?

Responses are listed below, in the order in which they were received.

Greg Cowley

1. A Maxfield project concept was submitted to the City (and reviewed by the Planning Commission) by the developer selected by the FPS (Farmington Public Schools) Board – NOT the City. Because the PUD (Planned Unit Development) process has not been completed, it would be improper for me to comment until the project reaches City Council.

I do support a project at Maxfield that conforms to the elements listed in the Farmington Downtown Master Plan, density is one element for consideration. Given the sizable purchase price density will be requested by the developer to contribute the return on investment required for a successful investment. This City Council did not choose the developer, FPS did, they owned the Maxfield property.

2. Estimates are rough but $250,000 per year once Brownfield incentives are applied could be the revenue. Some of Farmington’s largest tax payers are apartment complexes, and this would be similar.

3. The Downtown Master Plan ignores City Hall, I believe a mistake, given its location and potential for redevelopment. Some years ago, a discussion was had to relocate City Hall and the Library in a new shared complex because both buildings are in need of a sizable investment to maintain. These discussions were taking place as school buildings were becoming available and could be repurposed, this is what good managers do, find solutions to complex problems. I support projects that are good for Farmington and its citizens, what that looks like at this time for City Hall is yet to be determined.

Bill Galvin

1. The MTC site is owned by Farmington Public Schools (FPS). They are autonomous from the cities of Farmington and Farmington Hills. FPS selected the developer through their usual public processes.

As many of us know the proponent made an initial presentation to the Planning Commission in a preliminary introduction in May of 2017. Many friends and neighbors expressed comments about the initial presentation.

The city is following orderly steps in the planning process. As of this stage a public presentation has not been made to City Council.

Many believe the initial pictures shown at the Planning Commission meetings in May are the final proposal.

The fact is those preliminary pictures are not the final development. They were initial concepts from the proponent that created feedback and stimulated community dialogue.

I am confident the developer listened to our community’s comments. They are back at their drawing board taking your concerns into consideration for a revised proposal in the near future.

Developers and our citizens have a right to a fair public hearing and planning process for every proposed development. It is unfair, and potentially litigious, for a seated or future council member to pre-judge a development before a presentation is made to City Council.

I value the collaborative planning process and community dialogue as equally important to the outcome. I will preserve the rights of our citizens and the developer to a fair public hearing as part of the planning process.

The developer, planning commission, city council, downtown development authority and school board have an obligation to listen and work together. That is how we do things in Farmington and I will continue your traditional approach.

I am confident the proponent for the MTC site is listening to our community. I know I am.

2. This is a great question.

The school systems collect different amounts depending if the property is a homestead or not. Properties not occupied by the owner are considered non-homestead. This includes apartments, rental houses and businesses. They all pay a higher non-homestead property millage tax rate that goes directly to the school systems.

From the perspective of the city there is no revenue difference among apartments, condos, businesses or single family homes. The city charges 14.000 mills for general operations and 1.500 mills for roads for a total of 15.500 mills. The city cannot charge a different millage rate to any property.

It is important to note that our community has two separate budgets – a City budget and a Downtown Development Authority budget. The primary purpose of having a Downtown Development Authority is to promote development within its boundaries and then capture, or keep the additional tax revenue for the benefit of the services within DDA.

In Farmington, our downtown is important to each of us in many ways. The ability to capture taxes from new development provides a way forward for our DDA to improve services for Downtown Farmington.

One example is the Farmington Road Streetscape idea. It is desired by many of us. New development in the DDA would provide the financial growth necessary to pay for that.

The Farmington Downtown Development Authority captures and keeps taxes from many sources. The total the DDA captures is 26.0670 mills. For every $1,000,000 of new taxable growth in Downtown Farmington, our DDA’s budget grows by $26,067.

New taxable growth in the City, and outside of the DDA, is taxed at 15.5 mills. For every $1,000,000 of new taxable value outside the DDA the city receives an increase of $15,500 in tax revenue.

3. The City has many plans and planning tools. They include many of your ideas accumulated over several years.

Some of these ideas are public projects. Examples include Farmington Road Streetscape, sewer maintenance, Shiawassee Park improvements, creation of a Rouge River Trail, road improvement and water main upgrades.

Other ideas and topics require public and private sector cooperation and solutions. Moving city hall, redeveloping the old courthouse and FPS properties while preserving the sled hill, improving Grand River business community eastwards are specimens.

When we look at the potential of any of these ideas we need to ask probing questions about the economics and delivery of services.

Our city hall is unique because it is also our Public Safety Department and jail. The most obvious question is how would this impact our public safety? Would it improve or reduce response times?

Our Public Safety and police department parking lot are next to the public library. Do we want children witnessing a handcuffing scuffle while returning a book?

Many people enjoy visiting city hall. They pay their taxes and water bills in person while running errands. As we move further into the 21 st century how much of that experience will be transitioned online through technology?

Looking at the infrastructure, how much would it cost to continually repair and maintain a city hall building built in the 1960’s? How much money are we losing with outdated energy systems?

And lastly, would a sale cover the cost of new construction? How much tax revenue would be created? Also, how much tax revenue would be lost at the new location? Would our tax payers be willing to pay any of the difference?

I am always willing to listen and engage citizens in a 360 degree dialogue. I think that is what makes me a successful member of your City Council and led to two consecutive terms as your mayor.

I am also a firm believe that the market is always right. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the oil market, stock market, or real estate market. The markets are always right.

In the scenario of moving City Hall, the markets answer every question I have posed above. That is why your City Hall and Public Safety Department remain at 23600 Liberty Street.

If you want to discuss any item in your city planning tools I have an open door and open phone line. Tell me when you and your group want to meet. I will buy the coffee. Let’s talk.

Jeff Scott

1. Let me start with the last part of your question first. The property is not owned by the City but the Farmington Public Schools. Just as any other property owner, the schools have the right to utilize their property as they deem fit (within the guidelines of the currently adopted zoning ordinances). Several months ago, the school district put out a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) to developers for the sale of the property.

As a side note: The City of Farmington recently put out an RFP for the sale of the old courthouse property on Ten Mile Road. Since the City owns the property, we could dictate that any new development at that location would be owner occupied. I am happy to say that the City recently entered into an agreement for the sale of the property where 14 new single-family owneroccupied homes will be constructed.

Multiple proposals were received for the Maxfield site. Some proposed owner-occupied condominiums and others for rental apartments. Based upon the quality of the proposals and the selling price, the School District selected the current developer, AC Acquisitions, which proposes a rental residential development. The next steps in the development process are the municipal reviews and approvals. This is where the project currently stands.

Our city council as well as our planning commission can only review and comment on the merits of a proposal which has been presented to them. Remember, the property owner has the right to utilize the property as they deem fit. As a City Council member, it is my responsibility to make sure the owner’s property rights are preserved and to speculate on any preconceived design requirements would be inappropriate.

Preliminary design proposals have been brought before the planning commission and two public hearings have occurred. I believe the developer has heard the public’s initial concerns regarding issues such as; the scale of the project adjacent to the historical neighborhood, the traffic impact on the adjacent historical neighborhood and sufficient parking for the residents and their guests.

I am confident that the developer will address and incorporate the majority of the comments resulting in transformative project our community can embrace and be proud of.

2. The City does not see any difference between owner occupied condominiums or rental apartments with regards to the real estate tax generation for the city. The amount of the taxes generated is based upon the total value of the project. The City of Farmington’s current tax rate is 15.5 mills. However, it should be noted that the School District benefits with rental apartments since apartments are taxed at a non-homestead rate (9.7184 mills higher).

To complicate matters even further, since the Maxfield Center is in the downtown, the Downtown Development Authority would be the entity to capture the tax increase. The DDA captures 26.0670 mills (or $26.07/$1,000 of assessed value) Therefore, if the resulting state equalized value of Maxfield Training Center were $10,000,000, the TIFF funding increase to the DDA would be approximately $260,670/year.

This would be by far the most significant TIFF increase the DDA has ever seen. It is through projects like this where funding would be available to undertake other capital projects in our city, like the Farmington Road streetscape.

3. Look around at the condition of City Hall. It is old, energy inefficient and in many areas, does not meet the needs for the delivery of efficient services of today. Looking to the future, significant money will need to be budgeted for the miscellaneous renovations and repairs to the aging facility.

However, developers have expressed interest in the land where city hall now stands. If the property were to be sold and a new mixed-use development (retail with residential and/or office) were to occur on the site, the proceeds from the sale would go a long way to fund the construction of a new City Hall at no additional costs to our taxpayers.

To date, there have been no serious detailed proposals or studies of such a project. My leadership, experience and training allow me to provide the necessary perspective to envision and evaluate scenarios such as the relocation of City Hall. Key traits required of a City Council member in order to provide and maintain efficient and sustainable services to our community and lead Farmington into the future.

Joe LaRussa

1. I am in favor of executing the City’s Master Plan, which states on page 3-3 (or 26/108):

– Maintain a well-balanced and diverse mixture of housing types, opportunities and prices in the City.

– Provide additional opportunities for home ownership through conversion of rental properties to condominiums or infill redevelopment with condominiums.

The link to the master plan is http://farmgov.com/City-Services/Economic-Community-Development/Planning-and-Redevelopment/MasterPlan_090713.aspx

Our master plan is clear in calling for housing development other than multi-family housing. If we want to deviate from this plan, the bar should be set very high in terms of resident buy-in and economic benefit to the city.

I am not an incumbent, but I have performed a modest amount of research and I have found that the City Council did not choose the developer for the Maxfield site. This selection was made by the school board prior to the sale of the building to the city. After reviewing the minutes of the school board meetings and publicly available documents, it appears to me (and I could be wrong) that the primary selection criteria was the offer price for the property, with consideration of the development project concept’s creativity. I haven’t found any analysis or evidence that the future tax revenue for the City of Farmington was considered in the developer selection process.

2. As a non-incumbent, this is a difficult question to answer. The comparison here rests on the taxable value of the property options and the millage rates. Millage rates are the easier variable. City operating millage rate is 14 mils. I could also include the road millage at 1.5 mils but to keep the math simple I’ll focus on just the City Operating millage since that’s a “general fund” whereas roads is a specific-purpose millage.

Looking at the site, I would speculate that 20-25 townhomes or condos could be built on that site depending on the size/square footage. The market-value of these condos is purely speculative at this point, but I’ll estimate a market value of $250K owing to the location of the property (prime downtown, park access, etc.). Assessed value for residential property in Farmington is roughly half of cash (market) value (see attached report, page 53), so the assessed value would be $125K/unit. Total assessed value would range between $2.5M and $3.135M. So, at 14 mils, the range of tax revenue would be between $35K and $44K-ish per year depending on the number of homes.

In contrast, a large apartment structure with a market value of between $15M and $20M would lead to assessed value of between $7.5M and $10M, leading to a tax revenue range of $105K and $140K/year.

Over time, and assuming stable property values, this three-fold difference magnifies. A 10-year forecast would show over $1.0M in new tax revenue for the apartments versus $350K for 20 condos.

Again, not being an incumbent, I can only estimate and make assumptions. I can say that if elected I will learn this math, make any corrections, and share it with anyone who asks.

3. As a member of the 2016 Downtown Master Plan Update Committee, I can say that the plan update we recommended to the DDA and the Planning Commission does indeed call for redevelopment of City Hall and adds some amenities for the library (Conceptual Development Project E in the plan). Here is a link to the agenda packet for the planning commission’s December 12, 2016 meeting: http://farmgov.com/getattachment/b36f6ee0-53b1-4c3f-8220-302824564bc5/161212.aspx

If you look at page 61 in the packet (page 54 of the draft master plan), you will see the project concept. It is a mixed-use concept that does not exclude the continued use of the building for city administration. The master plan is silent on where City Hall would ‘move’ to, so this is also an indication that the city administration could still reside in this location, just in a newer structure that also adds retail, dining, and residential capacity in a prime downtown spot.

I will note that this downtown master plan update has been approved by the planning commission, the DDA Board, and has been presented to City Council but has not yet been adopted.

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I hope this helps answer the questions. I’m happy to do additional research or provide more details if needed. I can assure Marcia, Mary, and any others interested in this information that if elected this is the kind of answer you can expect from me – thorough, thoughtful, and comprehensive with references to publicly available documentation for maximum transparency.

Maria Taylor

1. I’d prefer to see condos or townhouses. And, given the choice, I’d prefer them to be owner-occupied.

What’s more important to me than owner-occupied versus rental, though, is density. New construction at Maxfield will be a major change for Farmington – one that will literally alter the city skyline for decades to come. We’ve all heard the concerns:

If we bring in all those new apartments, where will everyone park?

What will this do to traffic downtown? Or in my neighborhood?

Is a supersized, ultra-modern apartment structure really the best fit for historic downtown Farmington?

I’m not in favor of a massive, ultra-modern, ultra-dense development like the one that’s currently being proposed. I’ve heard too many concerns that this kind of density is out of scale and out of character with our city. I’ve heard this from folks in the adjoining neighborhood and as far away as Farmington Meadows, down by 8 Mile.

They say it doesn’t fit. They don’t like it. And neither do I.

What we do need there is something that can transition between the high-rise Farmington Place on the west side and the 1900s-era neighborhood to the east. It needs to bridge the two and stay consistent with the downtown feel so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. My first choice for Maxfield would be something similar to The Orchards, the development that went in recently behind Fresh Thyme.

Cities like Plymouth and Northville have done a good job with bringing in downtown housing that complements the pre-existing area. So has Brighton. Farmington can follow their example if we’re deliberate in our decisions.

I’ve spoken with a lot of people while out campaigning door-to-door who’ve said that they’re on board with redevelopment at Maxfield if it “fits in” with what we already have. I agree! Done right, it will complement our city and bring more people downtown who want to join in the “Farmington” way of life.

2.) Without knowing the value of a proposed development, whether it’s apartments or condos, it’s impossible to give an exact number for revenues generated by either development.

A large-scale apartment complex may generate more tax revenue for the city than high-end condos. But the bottom line doesn’t tell the whole story. A high-density development would result in more traffic, more demands on parking, and potentially higher costs to the city in terms of infrastructure, wiping out any benefits touted by those who’re focused only on how many tax dollars it would bring in.

And those are just the costs that could be counted directly. What about the cost in loss of historic character that would result from a building that just doesn’t “fit”? Farmington’s authenticity is part of what sets our city apart. Jeopardize that, and our half-mile jewel of a downtown is at risk of becoming yet another run-of- the-mill suburb on the Metro Detroit map.

3. Never. None of the voters I’ve spoken with think it’s a good idea, either – and I’ve spoken with hundreds.

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