Farmington Hills council tables new Sarah Fisher plan

Farmington Hills officials have again tabled plans to redevelop the former St. Vincent & Sarah Fisher Center property, over continued concerns around density.

Novi-based Optalis Healthcare in May proposed a 140-bed skilled nursing facility on the north side and 371 senior apartments on the south side. The property at 27400 W. 12 Mile Rd. has stood vacant for more than 15 years.

Officials criticized the apartments as too dense and lacking creativity. They tabled the proposal until July 12, extended at the developer’s request to August 9.

Sarah Fisher St Vincent Center redevelopment
This is an example of Robertson Brothers Homes townhomes shown during Monday’s city council meeting.

Optalis CEO Raj Patel said Monday the company’s new partner, Robertson Brothers Homes, proposes 154 owner-occupied townhomes. Plans for the nursing facility have not changed.

‘Highest and best use’ 

Council members in May suggested high-end, owner-occupied homes for downsizing seniors, but that’s not what Robertson Brothers has in mind. Tim Loughrin, director of land acquisition, said townhomes are “the highest and best use for the project.”

“It’s the logical transitional land use between office, commercial, medical, retail… It also provides attainable new homes in this market,” he added.

The proposal targets two buyer segments, Loughrin said. One-bedroom units for professionals and two-bedrooms for smaller families are organized around courtyards for each cluster and central parks. All have open floor plans, “bonus” room options, and decks.

Lower density, deed restrictions

Council member Valerie Knol appreciated improvements to amenities, a move to owner-occupied homes, and changes to parking, but wanted to see density reduced. She also asked about guaranteeing that owners would not end up renting out the homes.

Council member Ken Massey shared her concerns and asked about deed restrictions to prevent rentals.

Loughrin said a typical Robertson Brothers community has about 10 percent rental units. A master deed for the property can list specific restrictions, he added.

While the company could reduce density by about 13 units, Loughrin said, “this product cannot build at 8 units or 10 units per acre, even if we got the land for free. It’s the land development costs.”

‘Enclave’ project not a fit

Mayor Vicki Barnett gave the proposal a flat no. While Farmington Hills doesn’t have enough housing for new homebuyers, she said, the other “underserved” market is higher end ranch homes for downsizing seniors.

“Personally, I can’t support a project like this going into a neighborhood with upscale housing… when I know there is a market for these other homes,” she said, adding the senior housing would also fit better with the skilled nursing facility.

Loughrin said an “enclave” project like that, with far fewer homes selling in the higher six figures, would not fit fronting on Inkster Road. He asked for approval of the proposal with 13 fewer units, but city attorney Steve Joppich felt the project lacked necessary details to move forward.

Officials tabled the discussion to no later than the council’s first meeting in September.

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