Saline City Council voted to extend for one year a developer’s plan to build condominiums on South Monroe Street.
Damian Farrell, of High Meadows Development LLC, requested a one-year extension on the site plan for Fairdene, the long-awaited 30-unit development slated for 207 Monroe Street on land sold to him by the city.
In a letter to the city, Farrell said he was requesting the extension because of the state’s prohibition on construction, the potential for a recession, and delays he experienced with the city while trying to get permits.
The ban on construction has since been lifted but the economic uncertainty remains.
“The big question is what the market’s going to look like. My investment team is watching and waiting until we get some indication of the market,” Farrell told council at the May 4 meeting, held remotely due to social distancing guidelines.
Asked by Councillor Kevin Camero-Sulak whether the intended price range (mid $350,000s to low $400,000s) would change, Farrell again expressed uncertainty.
“I honestly have no idea. My prediction is we are headed into somewhere between a chronic and severe recession,” Farrell said.
Farrell said the project would have been further along were it not for delays at city hall. Farrell said he had timed the installation of the stormwater system, water mains and sanitary mains based on when he expected to receive the sanitary permit. He said he emailed information to DPW Director and Engineer Jeff Fordice for the sanitary main permit Oct. 23 and expected a six-to-eight week turnaround. When Farrell’s engineers enquired about the permit in January, they learned the information was still on Fordice’s desk. The application was sent after Jan. 28 and approved March 18. But by then the stormwater line and retention pond had been installed and some of the equipment needed for the work had been moved to a new site.
Councillor Christen Mitchell apologized on behalf of the city.
“This is not the expectation of hox business should be done in the city,” Mitchell said.
Councillor Jim Dell’Orco said he supported Farrell’s request.
“I sympathize with Mr. Farrell. The reality is that even in the absence of a global pandemic, the issues likely would have led him to have to ask for an extension anyway,” Dell’Orco said.
Dell’Orco asked if there was anything that could be done to improve the aesthetics in the meantime. Specifically, he mentioned the 20-foot dirt mounds.
Farrell said the topsoil needed to remain onsite for future backfill. He said the cost of removing the hills would be very high.
While council eventually unanimously agreed to Farrell’s request, there still seemed to be some level of apprehension with a project that has proved troublesome since the city chose Farrell to buy and develop the property in 2013.
“I don’t want the one-year extension to be a ‘wait and see what the market does’ and be back here in one year, saying ‘Now we need another extension,’” Councillor Janet Dillon said. “I do want to make sure there is forward motion within that year extension.”
Farrell said everyone in his company agreed.
“Not a single person on my team doesn’t feel the same way. But it is dependent on the market. If there are no sales in Saline, if the mortgage market changes, why build a project we can’t sell?” Farrell said. “I sincerely hope the market rebounds. But if there’s no market, would you spend millions of dollars?”
Dillon also expressed concerns for the safety of the site, saying standing water could cause a mosquito issue and that it might be unsafe for children who wander on to the site.
City Manager Todd Campbell said the city could work with Farrell to put proper signage about trespassing on the site.
Mayor Brian Marl moved the motion to grant the extension. It was seconded by Councillor Jack Ceo. Council voted 7-0 in favor.