Builders Hit Snags With New Plans

by CYNTHIA KMETT

While plans for new developments continue to be presented to city hall, all is not going as smoothly as some builders might have hoped.

At last week’s Troy Planning Commission, Brian Najor of Najor Companies submitted an application for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) at the site located on the north side of Big Beaver, east of John R.

The site is currently zoned PUD 8, as it was approved as a PUD in 2007. A PUD allows f mixed use zoning on a site. The approved PUD project included 23 two-story townhomes in four buildings, two retail buildings totaling 16,000 square feet and a 3,500 square foot coffee shop with drive-thru. The project was never constructed, likely due in no small part to the recession, according to Brent Savidant, Troy’s planning director.

Now Najor has proposed a new project that includes two retail buildings plus four apartment buildings totaling 96 units and a small community center. When he first appeared last December, the plan had a drive-thru restaurant, which has now been eliminated.

But one thing has been added, and that’s garages on three sides of the project. This caused Najor’s snag. The planners seemed to like the rest of the changes that had been included in the site plan. For one thing, there wasn’t much information on the plans that told how high or how deep these garages would be. Najor said the garages are something that tenants like to have available. So the suggestion that the garages be eliminated didn’t meet with much enthusiasm by Najor.

There are residents on the north and east sides of the site. Residents don’t want to look at the apartments. One resident said that what would make them happy would be a 12-foot wall that would block their view and lessen the noise from Big Beaver traffic.

Another snag…the garages are at the zero lot line and don’t meet the city’s setback requirements, which were being suggested by the city’s planning consultant Carlisle/Wortman. Moving them out six feet would put them in the middle of the apartments’ road system. Wait a second, it turned out that since this is a PUD zoned site, the planners may allow the garages on the zero lot line.

After a good bit of discussion, planning commissioner Tom Krent had a suggestion that just might work. He said that rather than encapsulating the project in a 10-foot wall, they could step down the wall as it runs toward the front of the site along Big Beaver. Walls in Troy are to be 6 to 8 feet in height, but this, too, is at the planners’ option in a PUD.

Savidant suggested that Najor talk to the three residents who were in attendance to see what their thoughts were on the wall. This plan will return to the table.

It was even worse news for Akram Namou of Troy Star Hospitality when he took a project for two hotels on the northern part of a parcel, which was once part of the Magna site and that building on Wilshire Drive is now home to NSI. The proposed hotel site came when the property was divided into a very irregular parcel.

This site is in the Big Beaver form based zoning and the rule to make the area look more urban calls for just a 10- foot setback from the road. The problem here is that the parcel is nowhere near Wilshire Road. Namou was asking for a variance of 555.6 feet on the setback.

The property does have access to their site, according to Bud Design and Engineering Services through the NSI property. The firm said this provides access to the hotel site without an extension of Wilshire Drive. The reason for the move to the eastern side of the site is to move them away from residential residents, The residents, however, made an agreement with the former owner of the property, Magna, that the site now asking for hotel approval would only be parking and environmental protection, period.

The city has since rezoned the site to Big Beaver form based zoning, so the validity of the agreement was in question. Since the city is not part of the agreement between the residents and Magna, the city will not be part of enforcing it, even if it is still valid.

ZBA Chair gave each side one more chance to speak. The petitioner’s attorney, Patrick Butler contended that the agreement with Magna did not run with the land, and the only question on the table was the setback variance. That brought quite a tirade from ZBA board member Albert Kneale on the question.

The residents’ spokesman John Sharp, who had signed the original document, read the lines he says show the agreement does run with the land.

In addition, there is a section of the ordinances that says if the hardship was created by the original landowner, you can’t seek a variance.

But the city’s rezoning of the parcel may put all of this in question.

In the end, the ZBA voted 7-0 to deny the setback variance.