Farmington Hills council pans another Sarah Fisher proposal

With the former St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher property in Farmington Hills, city officials can’t seem to get what they want.

But it’s also tough to say what that property needs.

Jon Aldred for Farmington Hills City Council

Council members on Monday voted down the third iteration of a plan to redevelop the 31.5-acre parcel, now vacant for more than 15 years.

Apartments to townhomes

Officials in May panned Optalis Healthcare’s first proposal. They had no trouble with a 140-bed skilled nursing facility, but balked at the four, 3-story senior apartment buildings.

Optalis returned in August with new partner Robertson Brothers Homes. That company planned 152 owner-occupied townhomes marketed primarily to professionals and young families, but officials pushed for higher-end senior homes.

St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher property proposal
Robertson Brothers Homes’ latest St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher property proposal included 136 townhomes. 

On Monday, Robertson Brothers representative Tim Loughrin explained the new proposal, with 136 townhomes clustered in 27, three-story buildings. Proposed amenities included electric vehicle charging stations, a common area with public wi-fi, public art, a community garden, and nature-themed playscape.

Homes serve ‘missing middle’

Loughrin said the mid-to-high $200,000 homes serve the “missing middle” and provide inventory that Farmington Hills doesn’t have. For Robertson Brothers, new detached single family home prices start at $450,000.

“This is attainable housing,” he said. “This is where people can get into the new home market, which they simply can’t with detached housing.”

Council member Ken Massey asked whether high-end senior housing was completely off the table.

Loughrin said the site configuration and homes backing up to Inkster Road would make upscale housing a non-starter. The company would consider it with another Farmington Hills site.

“It’s very difficult to… get anything that would make economic sense with that type of product,” Loughrin said. “We’re willing to be flexible and work within the community as far as the aesthetics of it. But at the end of the day, it comes down to whether you as a body recognize there’s a need for this type of housing.”

‘Departure from what we expected’

Mayor Vicki Barnett expressed disappointment with the new plan. She wanted a lower height profile and decreased density, as well as continuity with adjacent neighborhoods.

“I think this is a real departure from what we expected and what I had hoped for,” she said.

Residents during a public hearing also panned the project.

“The project still has three stories, which we think are towering,” Jeff Dawkins said. “I think if you try to force that into the current proposed property… it’s not the feel that we’ve come to know from Farmington Hills.”

‘Math doesn’t work’

Before officials voted on a motion to approve the Planned Unit Development (PUD) plan, Barnett asked whether the proponent would try again. Optalis CEO Raj Patel said with the expense of preserving historic buildings, abatement costs, and site infrastructure, and without incentives, “the math doesn’t work.”

“I’m saying it would be difficult,” he said. “I don’t know is my answer.”

Loughrin said the property is “really a transitional piece” and near commercial buildings. Detached condos won’t fit, he added, and the company won’t build single-family homes backed up to Inkster Road.

“I don’t know what goes here. I don’t think you’re going to get single-family homes,” he said. “It sounds like it’s just going to sit there.”

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