Two weeks ago three competing interests squared off at a Saline City Council meeting. All were vying for the opportunity to develop the city-owned land at 600 N. Maple Road, land that up until recently had been vacant and listed for nearly a decade with little interest.
The Saline Arts and Culture Commission proposed creating an art district in that location. Livonia Builders proposed a subdivision of ranch homes which owner Danny Veri says are in high demand. Finally, the Three Oaks Group proposed a mixed development that would include housing for adults developmentally disabilities.
This past Monday, council members each shared their assessment of the plans. To the delight of many in the audience who had adult children with disabilities, Council agreed to move forward with the Three Oaks proposal.
Several council members spoke highly of the art district plan, but did not think this was the right place. The plan, as presented earlier by Matt Zahn, would also have required council to put all proposals on hold for over a year to allow the arts community time to formulate detailed plans.
“I’m willing in my capacity as mayor to work with Zahn and any other interested parties to identify an appropriate location and develop a strategic plan for financing and executing and realizing that goal,” Brian Marl said. “I think it’s just marvelous. However, I don’t think that it’s appropriate for this parcel and I’m personally not willing to hold onto this parcel for several years for something that may not ever come to fruition.”
Councilwoman Heidi McClelland is a member of the Arts and Culture Commission. Nevertheless, she supported the Three Oaks plan.
“I would love to see an arts and culture center in town,” McClelland said. “Being a member of the Arts and Culture Commission, that’s a project that’s near and dear to my heart, but I agree that this property is probably not the best place for that and it still needs some development before that can go forward.”
Council members also spoke favorably of the proposal by Livonia Builders, the company that is currently developing the former site of Houghton School.
The Livonia Builders plan would have utilized only the south end of the city property for actual construction, with most of the new homes located on the adjacent Escott property that they also planned to purchase. Councilmen David Rhoads and Dean Girbach expressed hope that development on the Escott property could also proceed, perhaps through a cooperative arrangement between the two builders.
Councilwoman Linda TerHaar expressed what perhaps many felt about the Three Oaks proposal.
“The Three Oaks proposal, I think, increases our heart and also increases our diversity, and I value it for that reason,” TerHaar said.
Both TerHaar and Rhoads encouraged the developer to add additional housing for disabled adults in phase two of their project. The current plan only includes accommodations for four.
TerHaar also expressed concerns about pedestrian safety. She noted that the sidewalk ends short of the development site on the east side of Maple Road and the crosswalk there is dangerous because a hill to the north makes it hard to see oncoming southbound vehicles.
As at the previous meeting several audience members took the opportunity to show their support for the Three Oaks plan. All were parents of DD adults living in Saline.
One parent got up and said an emotional thank you to City Council. Another, Linda Klenczar, spoke for many in describing the work of the Liberty Club and Liberty Housing of Saline in advocating for such housing options.
“The significance of this is that these people have worked for years to find a place for their adult offspring and when you grow up, go through the schools you know your bankers, your grocers, your entertainment options, your library, it’s very nice to be able to stay in the community where you grew up,” Klenczar said.
With Council having achieved consensus regarding the property at 600 Maple, City Manager Todd Campbell will proceed with arrangements to sell the property to Three Oaks Group.
After the meeting, developer Bill Godfrey of Three Oaks and Danny Veri of Livonia Builders shook hands. “I told Council they made the right decision,” Veri said.