At the meeting, it became clear that we were approaching the question over the development of the subject property from different angles. On the one hand, as planners we understood that the vacant property would be developed eventually. On the other hand, residents attending the meeting wondered why the City needed to do anything with the property, assuming it was public land. So it was across that span that our public open house needed to bridge to get meaningful responses to the question: how should this 21-acre parcel be developed?
Clearzoning, Inc. facilitated the open house on behalf of the City of Novi, who was recently presented with a proposal from a property owner to amend a consent judgment on an undeveloped parcel that currently allows up to 170,000 sq ft of commercial development. Our challenge was to ask for public input on the permitted development, current demographics, and recently completed market assessment – without dredging up bad feelings about past litigation involving the property.
The parcel in question is part of an overall planned unit development that was approved by the City of Novi in 1991. The project was originally conceived as a mixed use development that included detached and attached single family residential along with commercial uses to serve the new neighborhoods. The concept was heavily influenced by the New Urbanism movement of the late 1980’s-early 1990’s and was unlike anything developed in southeast Michigan. If the property had been built as planned, with residential dwellings all within walking distance of a central commercial core that contained a mix of retail and restaurants, it would likely have influenced similar developments in the region. Even today, a true “village center” concept that successfully blends residential and commercial in a non-resort setting has not been completed in Michigan, where traditional strip style commercial predominates.
Fast-forward to 2015, when the property owner, finding difficulty with the development of any retail for this parcel, approached the city with a plan to build 189 units of multiple family residential, rather than any of the up to 170,000 sq ft of commercial allowed by the consent judgment. The proposed development is limited to two stories at a density permissible by the ordinance. The property owner is asking the city to support an amendment of the consent judgment. Before moving forward with this request, the City asked Clearzoning for a land use study to better understand the market, the land use in the area, and the needs of residents surrounding the property.
To approach this open house, we prepared colorful infographics that highlighted demographic information about the area, land use, and a timeline that provided the background for the project without dwelling too much on the past litigation itself. Looking back, we found the original mixed use concept intended for this area to be compelling, especially given the residential development that has occurred surrounding this project. Our displays included images of mixed use developments around the country at different scales to help residents visualize what mixed use developments can look like.
Residents, speaking out at the meeting and in written comment cards left behind, expressed concerns over the scale of permitted commercial development as well as over the impact of multiple family residential on the local schools, traffic patterns, and property values. While several residents still support the idea of keeping the parcel undeveloped or developed as a local park, more seemed to be open to the idea of a mix of residential and neighborhood commercial uses. Big-box commercial development is generally not favored.
As the land use study concludes, Clearzoning will be working with the Master Plan and Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission to present development recommendations based on the market assessment, public input, and other factors affecting land use in the City.