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2. Second Plan (2008)

New Student Housing Plan

In early March 2008, the developer contacted the Friends of Dicken Woods to let them know that the developer was going ahead with a new plan. Additionally, on March 6, a Planning Department staff member told us that the developer had submitted a new plan on March 5. We ordered copies of the planning documents submitted by the developer for members to review.

A quick look at the new plan revealed that the residence buildings would be 3 stories and 29 foot tall. The buildings seemed to be situated in the same manner as in the first site plan. The revised plans are for 480 students, 480 bathrooms, and about 492 parking spaces. This plan was considered a new plan and was reviewed by planning staff as such. The developer claimed that the submitted site plan fit within all regulations of the R4B Zoning district and as such did not need a Planned Project designation and is not subject to the extra requirements of a Planned Project.

The materials submitted with the petition for approval of the new plan expresses the developer's belief that the neighbors were primarily concerned with the height of the buildings and the amount of parking. We cannot imagine how they missed the concerns about water issues, environmental harm and traffic impact when we went before the Planning Commission and City Council. Our concerns about the impact of this development on water pressure in the neighborhood has been regularly dismissed by the developer, its consultants and some of the Planning Commissioners. Our alarm over the impact this development will have on the storm water drainage into storm sewers and watersheds has apparently been ignored. Our questions about the effect of this plan on the waste water system go unanswered. These are the fundamental issues we raised in our opposition to the original project. The developer's submission, however, says that they believe that our concerns have been addressed by reducing the height of the buildings and reducing the number of parking spaces.

We uploaded the the cover letters from the developer and its local attorney (see the document "3-5-08_coverletter.pdf" below under "Attachments") developer's second petition (attachment "3-5-08_petition.pdf"), the wetland permit application (attachment "3-5-08_welandpermit.pdf"), and the form identifying the significant trees on the property (attachment "3-5-08trees.pdf").

On May 18, 2008, the planning staff released its report recommending approval of the proposed plan. The staff emailed the report to us, but without the attachments. We picked up a hard copy of the report with the attachments. The Staff Report and the Attachments can be found on the Documents page.

On May 20, 2008, the Planning Commission held a public hearing and approved the proposed plan although the plan is contingent on a wetland mitigation report from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ). The MDEQ had found that the developer's experts had under reported the number of wetlands covered by state law and had provided less wetland mitigation than required for the total area of natural wetlands that will be destroyed by this project. We asked the Planning Commission to table the proposed plan until we had received the developer's mitigation plan and the MDEQ report on the adequacy of that plan. The Planning Commission ignored that request and approved the petition.

The good news at that time was that the planning staff, the developer and the Planning Commission no longer claimed that the project in its current form was a "by-right" development. The developer had made that claim in its petition that was filed in early March. A "by-right" development is one that meets all of the zoning requirements and arguably cannot be denied by the City. After the petition was filed, however, the developer learned from MDEQ that its wetland mitigation plan was inadequate. To get the project approved, the developer must convince the City to allow it to make a cash in lieu payment as a replacement for the mitigation. That decision is a discretionary act by the City and removes the "by-right" status from the project plan.

We remained concerned that the new plan failed to address our concerns about harm to the watersheds, damage to existing natural wetlands, and impact on the storm sewer capacity in our area. The plan would have a slightly smaller impact on water pressure and waste water issues. As far as we currently know, the plan also retains the use of an easement on the neighboring property for its wetland mitigation plan. Imagine the complexity of addressing surface water drainage problems if the development causes the problem but the developer blames the owner of the property upon which the wetland easement is located. The other neighbors already have difficulty getting the City to pay attention to the storm water flowing into the park and onto their land. If the City has failed to address the extant drainage problems, how will we ever get them to sort out the complex relationship between landowners and easement right of way?

The plan maintains the single drive access to the development with its impact on traffic unchanged. This drive combines pedestrian, cycle and vehicle traffic in one location without a traffic signal. The drive is to be located south of the traffic signal at Pauline and Maple. Its hard to imagine this plan working for all the traffic 480 student residents will generate. The petition for this plan includes a revised traffic study. A member of the coalition did a great job refuting the traffic study submitted with the first plan. We will review this plan with similar skepticism.

There is a significant concern that the plan as proposed does not meet the requirements of the R4B zoning. That zoning requires no more than 15 units per acre. The developer claims that each 4 unit apartment is a unit. By their count, the 120 apartments is well within the 225 unit limit. We believe that each of the separately leased bedroom/bathroom suites is a unit for purposes of this restriction. The 480 bedroom/bathroom suites exceeds the zoning limitations by a considerable margin. Moreover, the developer has promised in the past that if, as we believe, the remote student housing model proves economically unsuccessful, they will modify the design to make 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. That modification would likely also exceed the 325 unit limitation. 

The developer has done what the Planning Commission would not do -- admitted that the payment in lieu of adequate mitigation of natural wetland destruction is unlikely to be approved by the City Council. The developer has submitted a new wetland mitigation plan for the Grace Bible Church property that purportedly provides adequate mitigation for both the Church's project and the 42 North development. This plan will be reviewed in a public hearing before the Planning Commission on June 17, 2008. The Staff Report on the revised wetland mitigation plan can be found on the Document page.

Fair Housing Concerns 

Recently, we spoke to a law school professor who teaches fair housing law. We described the 42 North plan to rent exclusively to students and asked if that would be a violation of the fair housing law. He said that we would have a strong argument that it violates the Act. He said that restricting access to a single group implies discrimination against all other groups. Because 42 North would exclude some protected groups (elderly and married tenants) it is arguably a violation of the Act. We are continuing our research on this issue.

Planning Department Process

The Planning Department provided us with the "Petition Review Cycle" dates for this plan. Apparently, the Planning Department processes development petitions on a monthly schedule. February 25 was the deadline for submitting a plan for the February cycle. Because the developer submitted its new plan on March 5, they are in the March cycle. The dates in that cycle are as follows:

March 31 - Filing Deadline
April 1 - Developer Review Meeting (a plan is not officially received until this date)
April 2 - Notice of Acceptance or Rejection
April 11 - Advisory Development Committee (for certain large developments, where developer receives comments in person)
April 23 - Revised Plan due (revisions made in response to department comments)
April 30 - Notice Prepared for Newspaper (if developer makes required revisions)
May 16 - Staff Report Available (this is the kind of document that we used for our point by point rebuttal of the planned project)
May 20 - Planning Commission Regular Meeting (where the PC considers the Staff Report and can table, reject or approve the plan)

South Maple Group,
Dec 15, 2010, 2:25 PM
South Maple Group,
Dec 15, 2010, 2:26 PM
South Maple Group,
Dec 15, 2010, 2:26 PM
South Maple Group,
Dec 15, 2010, 2:26 PM