Farmington council chooses Robertson Bros. for MTC site

After months of study, Farmington city council members voted 4-1 Thursday to work with Robertson Brothers on redevelopment of the Maxfield Training Center property.

Community Image Builders (CIB) consultants presented a final report that included more details about the Robertson Brothers proposal for 59 owner-occupied units and the 124 market-rate rental units proposed by River Caddis. Both developers said they would remove all contaminated soils from the site; both looked to Brownfield and Downtown Development Authority tax capture to cover remediation and infrastructure costs.

Maxfield Project Robertson

Eric Helzer, with Advanced Redevelopment Solutions, said the analysis didn’t get into specifics, because the city’s development process will control how the projects would look.

“We wanted to make sure both developers will be good public partners,” he said. “Both of them demonstrated that.”

Same purchase price, different timeframes

Both companies agreed to a $1.25 million purchase price, although Robertson Brothers also offered a $750,000 option that would include no public amenities. River Caddis wanted to get started sooner, finalizing the deal in October of this year.

Robertson Brothers will be ready to purchase in March 2022. The company would also take longer to complete construction, an estimated 3-year process as opposed to a little over two years for the River Caddis project.

Helzer said property tax estimates were tougher to compare, but showed Robertson Brothers generating more revenues, assuming all of the 59 units are owner-occupied. However, market analyst Sharon Woods, representing LandUse USA, said apartments would likely add $1 million more in revenues for downtown businesses.

Renters would spend more locally

Woods said she was asked to specifically look at what the two projects would generate in retail expenditures for the downtown, and how would that translate in support for new business.

Owners will have slightly larger households, Woods said, and will spend more per capita, but a smaller share of their income, on retail. She said it would take approximately 90 owner-occupied homes to generate the same downtown spending as 124 rental units.

While homeowners are more likely to “jump in the car and export their dollars,” renters more often jump on a bike and shop at a local convenience store or restaurant.

“They’re a different kind of shopper and they have different preferences,” she said.

Carmine Avanti of CIB said that it is “extremely difficult” to site apartment projects, but “demographics show that the next generations coming along want more rental units than owner-occupied.”

“In 25 years, I think we’re going to have an issue with communities having too much owner occupied,” he said.

Schneemann the swing vote

During a January meeting, Mayor Sara Bowman and Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa said they favored River Caddis, while council members Maria Taylor and David DeLind backed Robertson Brothers.

That made council member Steven Schneemann the swing vote on Thursday, and he supported Robertson Brothers. He said the townhome proposal provides “significantly more tax revenue for the city.”

While he had concerns about the level of design, Schneemann said Robertson Brothers has the ability to “raise the bar quite a bit”. He also felt there was a benefit to the city in having owner-occupied homes, and owners “engaged on a higher level.”

Schneemann said “public outcry” played a large role in his decision. “I’ve not seen an issue where there were so many opinions shared from across the city over a sustained period of time, with such consistency.”

Mayor: River Caddis fits with long-time plans

Bowman believed the River Caddis project would “bring the most benefit to the most people in the community”. She said it provided more amenities and connectivity between downtown and Shiawassee Park and fit with plans developed for the downtown and city over the past 10-15 years.

“There are other locations in Farmington right now that are ready and primed for the housing style that Robertson Brothers is offering,” she said.

LaRussa eventually voted for Robertson Brothers, but said he would be looking for what he liked about the River Caddis project: a faster closing on the property sale and shorter construction timeframe.

“I don’t believe (community) feedback is as monolithic as it might seem,” he said. “I know there are those in the city who believe that higher density will benefit our businesses, and now we have the numbers to back that up.”

Townhomes attract millennials

Both DeLind and Taylor said the Robertson Brothers product would attract millennial homebuyers, who now represent a large share of the market. DeLind said the units are “the appropriate size, the appropriate scale, and the appropriate density for this site.”

Taylor pointed out that the city purchased the long-vacant Maxfield Training Center property to ensure a lower density project that would be acceptable to residents.

“This time, people are saying please build this project in our backyards,” she said.

The information CIB shared Thursday is posted on the city’s website.

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