Farmington council looks for Maxfield property developers

With one dissenting vote, city officials on Monday approved a document designed to draw private developers to Farmington’s Maxfield Training Center project.

Council members on September 2 reviewed the Request for Qualifications (RFQ), which asks developers to show how they would bring housing to the long-vacant property on Thomas Street. At that time, several officials objected to language that set a 124-unit limit, but it remained in the approved draft.

Maria Taylor David Delind Johnna Balk Farmington City Council

The number led council member Maria Taylor to vote against the RFQ developed by Carmine Avantini and Justin Sprague of Community Image Builders (CIB), and Eric Helzer of Advanced Redevelopment Solutions (ARS). Taylor pointed out that three of five council members said earlier that they weren’t comfortable with the high number.

“The whole reason that we bought this was so that we wouldn’t be in a situation with too many units… that cancels out the whole reason for doing this project,” she said.

Cap based on ordinances, TIF

City officials earlier this year finalized a deal with Farmington Public Schools to buy the 3-acre property for $690,000, after years of failed development proposals. Neighboring residents opposed AC Acquisitions plans for as many as 155 luxury apartments; a revised plan for 115 units stalled in 2018. The company withdrew from the project in 2019, after the death of owner Walter Cohen.

City council member Steven Schneemann also balked at 124 units. Avanti explained the number was based on factors that included the city’s zoning ordinance and calculating repayment of funds advanced through tax increment financing (TIF) for demolition and site cleanup.

“We wanted to put a cap on there, we wanted to have it high enough that we could have discussions with (developers),” Avanti said. “That’s a number they’d have to reach for. We’re going to be negotiating based on what kind of tax capture we can commit to the project based on what they’re willing to do.”

Schneemann said that a developer could argue the city’s desired amenities – a connection with Shiawassee Park and public parking – are already in place, and simply propose 124 units.

“My concern is if we’re not specific enough, we’re basically going to not come to an agreement with the developer,” he said.

Avanti said the larger number will attract more proposals, and “the bigger the pool, the better the opportunity for the city is to find that development you’re looking for.” Sprague added that officials could withdraw from an offer if a developer decided to “go rogue” and present something outside the city’s vision.

“My concern is the same,” Schneemann said. “We’re saying one thing and looking for another.”

Fewer units narrows the field

Taylor said she would be comfortable with putting 100 units into the RFQ. She asked what would happen if a developer came in with a 124-unit project.

“They’d have to show the numbers,” Avanti said. “Because we’re going to be offering financial incentives, they have to submit a detailed pro forma that shows the rate of return and expenses… We can put in 100, but that narrows the field of developers.”

He added that the city could negotiate with financial incentives to drop the number of units, and that officials could turn down all offers and reissue the RFQ at a later date.

“I don’t think we should negotiate for what we want… I think we should ask for what we want,” Taylor said.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe LaRussa asked about the state of the market, and Avanti said housing projects are the only ones moving forward. He said the State of Michigan has put a hold on incentives, and Farmington has tools other communities may not to help developers make their projects work.

Once the RFQ is released, Avanti said, developers would have 30-45 days to respond. Schneemann said he would support the document, but still had “serious concerns” about the types of proposals the city would receive.

“We want to put together a project that will be accepted by the public, that the council feels comfortable (with) financially, that the developer can make a reasonable return on and make sure that it’s managed properly, and a project that looks good on top of that, high quality,” Avanti said. “Those are things I think we’re all looking for.”

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