Jill Keller purchased a home on Warner Street in Farmington last month, believing that a developer would be putting 60 condos on the former Maxfield Training Center site across the street.
Now, with a proposal for 115 apartments, she and another new neighbor have concerns about their property values falling.
“It seems like there was kind of a bait and switch there,” she said during a Monday Planning Commission public hearing on Midtown Farmington, a Planned Unit Development (PUD) proposed by AC Acquisitions.
The studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments would be housed in three buildings on the 3-acre parcel. Farmington Public Schools closed the former junior high school more than 10 years ago; the building remained largely vacant until AC Acquisitions in 2016 submitted a winning bid of $1.2 million to purchase and redevelop the property.
In March, FPS trustees granted a request to reduce the sale price by $200,000, based on the condo proposal, though that was never a formal plan.
Company representative David Cohen said Monday that discussions with company advisors and market research caused the shift back to rentals.
“The two products we looked at were multifamily rentals and condos for sale,” he told commissioners. “After doing a lot of market research, either would be successful. Overall, the need for long-term success, or lack of short-term failure, would be with a multifamily development.”
Cohen said the company expected to put $14 million to $15 million into the project, and none of the rentals would be subsidized units. The original and more modern project design, which proposed 180-plus apartments with underground parking, changed based on comments from the first public hearing in 2016, he said.
While they found no major “show stoppers,” engineering consultants with OHM Advisors said their biggest concerns are the lack of a connection to Riley Park on Grand River, and the need for a more well-defined and handicapped accessible public walkway to Shiawassee Park on the east side.
Parking, documents, fairness
Most who spoke Monday said the project is incompatible with the neighborhood. Primary concerns also included increased traffic and parking problems, particularly on Oakland Street between Warner and Farmington Road.
Rick and Jane Gundlach have lived in Farmington’s historic district for 40 years. Their home shares more than 200 feet of property line with the proposed complex. They talked about insufficient setbacks and buffers, safety, noise, soil erosion issues on the site, and what Rick called “significant deviation from the (city’s) Master Plan.”
He said the proposal is also missing documents that show how the project deviates from zoning requirements and a list of recognizable benefits to justify granting PUD status, which provides developers more flexibility in exchange for public benefits.
David Judge, who lives just north of the property, asked why the developer did not submit a “parallel plan,” which would show what could be built without going through the PUD process. He said Economic and Community Development Director Kevin Christiansen told him the developer was going apply for a waiver of that review.
“What can realistically be developed there with the required parking units, we really don’t know without the parallel plan,” Judge said. “It’s emotional, and we’re invested in our houses, you guys are all good people. When we hear things are going be waived… it doesn’t seem fair.”
But not everyone opposes Midtown Farmington.
Master plan envisions apartments
When Susan Lightner decided to sell her Farmington home several years ago, she couldn’t find a new construction rental close to downtown and ended up moving to another city.
“I think there are a lot of folks my age who would want to live in beautiful walkable downtown Farmington,” she said. “This may not be the right proposal, but I do think we need something that is new and upscale for downtown.”
Former city council member and mayor Tom Buck, who owns downtown property and a local business, pointed out that the 2009 and 2014 Downtown Master Plans call for higher density apartments on the site.
Those documents indicate the city could accommodate 400 to 500 apartments downtown and elsewhere in the city to fill the marketplace need, Buck said. The apartments, he said, would draw more millennials and professionals, who would shop downtown.
“If they move to downtown Farmington, when they’re ready to create a family, I think they’re going to buy in Farmington. We need to create that kind of cycle,” he said.
Dr. Natalie Nedanovski, who recently moved her chiropractic office into a downtown space that had been vacant for six years, said high density to her meant “an opportunity to serve more people.”
“We want more businesses to move downtown and see that thriving community,” she said.
Officials voted to table their decision on the PUD application until August or another future meeting.
Commissioner Steve Majoros’ motion included acknowledging the 90 minutes’ worth of public comments and a request for responses prepared by city staff, consultants, or the developer, “so that we can agree to move forward or kill this thing.”
Read more about the project in the meeting agenda packet, posted at farmgov.com. A video recording of the meeting will also be available on the city’s website.
Learn more about the Downtown Master Plan on the Farmington Downtown Development Authority website.