For several years city property at 600 N. Maple Street has sat unnoticed and underappreciated. That has abruptly changed.
At a 90-minute work session Monday night, City Council members and others heard three proposals for building on the property. All of the presenters emphasized the unique advantages offered by this location. The city owns the 10-acre parcel and is seeking $810,000 for the property.
Architect Lincoln Poley presented details of the Three Oaks plan.
The first developer to consider this property appears to have been Three Oaks Group, led by Bill Godfrey. He had completed the most thorough analysis and planning for the site.
The Three Oaks proposal is a development with mixed housing types called Maple Oaks that would be built in two phases. When complete, it would include 10 single family lots with a mix of ranch and two story houses, 10 duplex townhouses and a four-unit condominium.
The condominium is a structure specifically designed to house adults with developmentally disabilities. A positive feature to this plan is that it fills an unmet need – housing for four developmentally disabled adults. On the downside, it is only for four.
However, many of the other structures will be built with special accessibility options that could make them suitable for seniors and perhaps for some adults with disabilities. Also, Godfrey said that a second condo for the disabled could be built in phase two if there is demand.
The building designs and layout for this project were drawn by architect Lincoln Poley of Ann Arbor. The needs of the developmentally disabled community were considered throughout.
“The idea for Maple Oaks actually started back in 2011 when we were approached by a Saline parent about building some housing for her daughter and others who had intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Godfrey said.
He said that as they explored the idea they discovered “a great deal of need” for housing for adults with developmental disabilities in the area, especially the kind that is integrated within neighborhoods. This led them to talks with Liberty Housing of Saline, an outgrowth of Saline’s Liberty Club for adults with developmental disabilities.
On their website, Liberty Housing says, “Our mission is to develop sustainable community housing for individuals with developmental disabilities providing a safe environment to promote independence, socialization, community involvement and the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Godfrey saw a way to help meet that need as well as tap the market for affordable and accessible housing by developing the Maple Road property.
Patty Rabe of Liberty Housing spoke for many when she described the needs of her own son with developmental disabilities.
“This May, Bill will end his school eligibility at the age of 26,” Rabe said. “We and many parents of disabled adults feel this is kind of like falling off a cliff. There is no clear next step in life for them.”
During the time for public comment, other parents of adults with disabilities also urged City Council to recognize their needs.
The proposal with the second most traction was from Danny Veri of Livonia Builders. Veri, who is currently developing the Cypress Ridge development on the old Houghton School property, spoke of the demand for single-story ranch-style housing in the community.
“Had we built ranch homes we would have been sold out in thirty days. There is a huge huge demand for ranch style products for empty nesters and just people who don’t want to deal with stairs anymore,” Veri said.
His plan is to build either 46 units as ranch style duplex condominiums or 39 detached ranch style condominiums. The development would be managed as a condominium association in either case with a price point in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.
This project is very dependent on the builder utilizing the Escott property to the south of the city property. Veri says that soil conditions are problematic in much of the city owned lot, such that he would use this part mostly for green space, a detention pond and an entry road. Much of the housing would be on the Escott land.
Veri said that he could reduce the scale of the project if needed but not by a huge amount. He said that the special considerations of the site require building enough homes to recoup expenses. He also said that entry off of Maple on the Escott property might be possible if it became necessary.
The remaining proposal was from the Saline arts community. They began preparing their plan only about four weeks ago when they heard that two developers were considering the property on Maple.
The arts community was represented by Matt Zahn and Mary Beth Rentschler. Their plan is to make the land an art district. They do not yet have a layout, nor have they researched soil conditions and architectural designs to accommodate their vision.
What they have considered is the size of the property and its location, both of which fit their vision quite well. They like the proximity to other community assets such as Saline District Library, the Senior Center and the Depot trail.
Zahn began his presentation by talking about the economic impact of art. He said that art (in a broad sense) has the second highest economic impact of any other category in Washtenaw County - “Bigger than U of M football.”
“The mayor of Chelsea indicated that the economic impact of the Purple Rose Theater is four million dollars to his community,” Zahn said.
The vision is to create a district where all the arts and art businesses would be gathered in one place. This would include fine arts, skilled craft arts, media arts, performing arts, culinary arts, a gallery, arts education, retail and services.
“What we are trying to do is create a fun, creative, collaborative environment for artists and community members – a place that people want to go – a destination,” Zahn said.
Saline has an arts culture already with organizations such as the Saline Fiddlers, The Saline Big Band, Saline Area Players and Two Twelve Arts - now celebrating their tenth anniversary.
Realizing the art district vision would require a lot of money, which they think they can raise through private and corporate donations. They have spoken with a few fund-raising groups, such as the one that recently raised money for work at The Arc.
While the presenters emphasized the advantages of the Maple Road location, Councilman Rhoads suggested that there might be other equally suitable properties owned by the Saline School District. They were dubious.
The arts group would like City Council to delay making any decisions about the Maple property.
“Give us a two-year window to work through this process . . . We’ll give you a quarterly update telling you where we stand,” Zahn said. “And then after a year we can sit down and have a heart to heart talk.”
“Are we making the progress that we need to make? If not, then we would even probably recommend that you need to sell the property. But we believe after a year we will have enough traction under the initiative that you’ll see that you want to stick with us.”