Saline Planners Recommend South Monroe Condo Development to City Council

 08/29/2016 - 13:28
Damian Farrell (left) is assisted in presenting his plans by Darby Kolano of Reinhart.

The Saline Planning Commission has had two meetings this month, both with public hearings, concerning only one project. That project, at 207 Monroe St., has been under discussion since 2014 and has finally lead to an approved site plan.

Damian Farrell of High Meadow Development, LLC, won a competition of sorts versus Peters Builders to obtain the right to develop the property. Since that time, the original design has been through many changes.

In June the Planning Commission voted to rezone the property from R-2, single and two-family family residential to R3-A, multi-family residential to facilitate Farrell’s latest site plan.

The current plan calls for a 30-unit condominium development consisting of three buildings, each with a 9,690 sq. ft. footprint. The buildings would be identical, containing eight ranch-style two-bedroom units and two small one-bedroom units. There would be access by elevator.

The buildings would have three levels with the lowest level being half underground and used for parking. This design allows for ample green space.

On August 10, the planners were asked to approve a combined preliminary and final site plan for the project. No citizens spoke in the public hearing.

Planner Chris Atkin, from Carlisle/Wortman, summarized his analysis of the project. He noted that the zoning is limited to two story buildings, but since one level is at least half underground (and the roof is flat) it is not higher than permitted.

He praised the landscape plan. It includes a mini-park, green space at the back of the property, two rain gardens and a retention area planted with flood-tolerant species. He had questions about some remaining aspects of the plan, so he suggested that only preliminary approval be granted.

City Engineer Roubal also reviewed the plan and added his own conditions for final approval. In addition, contract engineering firm OHM studied the plan, adding their conditions. All agreed to recommend preliminary approval.

“This has been a pleasant experience for everybody because of Mr. Farrell’s thoroughness and his willingness to speak to the neighbors,” Roubal said.

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Planners asked various questions about the site plan. Among other things, they were interested in Farrell’s plan to keep a historic barn on the site and use it as a community center.

The barn would be refurnished with a kitchenette upstairs and a balcony on the east side. Maintenance would be the responsibility of the condominium association and paid for by their monthly fees.

The preliminary site plan was approved unanimously leading to a second meeting on August 24 for final approval.

At this meeting there was public comment. Donald and Donna Zak, who live on the north border of the property were arguing with the developer even before the meeting began and made public statements during the meeting.

Atkins and Roubal said that the developer had been very responsive with respect to the additional requirements. For example, the developers added two new barrier free parking slots and submitted a suitable lighting plan.

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A tree study counted, 129 trees and the developer said that 74 trees (57.4 percent) would need to be removed for the project. This included two large trees that he hated to lose.

Both Atkins and Roubal recommended approval, as did OHM.

Commissioner Steven Diebol asked Farrell if he was using LEED Concepts in his design. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a process of getting green certification for construction projects.) Farrell said he is not pursuing LEED certification but he is pursuing green concepts.

His major focus has been on energy efficiency and indoor air quality, he said. The buildings would have six-inch thick exterior walls instead of the usual four and there would be double walls between units.

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During the public hearing, Don Zak said he had been away for many months on a work assignment and apologized for his late entry into the discussion. He was concerned about losing the access he has enjoyed for 22 years across the 207 Monroe Street parcel to People’s Park.

“The developer has worked with people on Mark Hannah Court to allow them egress from their back yards to the park, but that doesn’t include us,” Zak said.

Donna also spoke. She said that she and her husband had been excluded from ongoing negotiations with the developer, that the neighborhood group only consisted of people from Mark Hannah Court on the east side of the development.

Planning Commission chair Bill Beardsley wondered how it might be possible for the Planning Commission to grant a personal easement to the couple. Roubal suggested that it is outside their jurisdiction. Such an arrangement would have to be made by City Council as part of the Development Agreement, not as part of the Site Plan.

Nevertheless, the conversation continued for over 15 minutes. Marl said that as he understood it, people that had had been granted access to the park would continue to have access, but Farrell said it wasn’t so simple.

South-going Zaks and other neighbors to the north had created a well-worn path across the property, even though it has been privately owned, but there was some legal precedent for access by the neighbors to the east.

“The rock and a hard place I find myself in is if I start to grant easements along the north property line where do I stop?” Farrell asked.

He said that he sympathized with the Zaks, but feared that if he made a special arrangement with them that other neighbors to the north would want similar privileges, resulting in a devaluation of the land.

Marl finally interrupted the discussion saying that he didn’t want the commission to be “distracted by what in the grand scheme of things is a very minor issue.”

“I think this is a good addition to our community,” Marl said. “It adds some new architecture, some new housing with a very different look within a close proximity to our downtown. It helps us accomplish a number of goals.”

Beardsley agreed. Marl moved to approve the final site plan, with the remaining conditions, seconded by Cheryl Hoeft. The vote to approve was unanimous.

Bob Conradi's picture
Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.