City Cannot Stop Builders Just Because It’s Unpopular

by CYNTHIA KMETT

Every city has lots of rules that govern building in their communities. It’s said that the developer can “build by right” if a developer meets all those rules, from zoning to setbacks to number of different models. Despite residents’ protests, neither a city council nor its planning commission can stop such building projects from moving ahead. To deny such building to move forward just puts the city in court. Sometimes they win, sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes projects do get turned down, but those usually involve changes in zoning districts. But there’s a new wrinkle in the decision to allow buildings. With many residents up in arms that builders can clear cut land of all the trees for a subdivision, and faced with very little remaining buildable land in the city, the cluster ordinance was developed. It has some pretty strict rules, but what it basically allows is for a developer who saves more than the ordinances requires in open spaces and the trees, they can earn a few extra homes on the property.

That cluster zoning designation was exactly what Davis Construction wanted to see council approve for their proposed development on E. Long Lake. east of Livernois. By right, Davis could build 10 homes on this R1-B zoned site. By providing 27 percent more open space, it allows for the preservation of trees, preservation of native habitat area, use of the best practices for natural storm water management, and even a private park site. Davis could also build 13 homes instead of just 10.

The site, however, is located between two streets which are part of the Sylvan Glen subdivision and these residents had some concerns. The Davis site is not attached to Sylvan Glen in any manner, not even by a sidewalk. No new residents will speed down their streets or walk their dogs in the neighborhoods. The kids in the Davis subdivision will go to Martell, which is out on Livernois.

The residents had voiced their objections first at the Planning Commission, saying it would ruin the character of the neighborhood, because the Davis homes would be on smaller lots, and particularly because the developer was proposing bioswales in the rear yards.

None of us currently have bioswales, but they are being urged by both the state and the county and will probably end up in building codes in the not-too-distant future. These are basically small garden areas with plants to hold rain runoff and filter out nutrients and dirt before the water flows into the sewer system. It is considered “a best practice.”

Residents, however, were very concerned that the bioswales wouldn’t be cared for and their property would become flooded.

To explain why this isn’t going to happen fell on the shoulders of Troy City Engineer Steve Vandette. He assured residents that even if the city approved bioswales for this development, which won’t happen, if it does at all, until engineering studies are done, there will still be the regular sewer pipes in the backyards to capture any rain overflow. Plus, this subdivision will have a detention pond, which is deeded over to the city and which the city will maintain. That news calmed many fears.

For those residents who said these homes, which will be priced to start at about $330,000 for a ranch, would bring down their property values. Troy Planning Director Brent Savidant noted that the City Tax Assessor Nino Lacari assures residents that in his many years in Troy he has never seen new housing bring down the value of the existing house abutting it.

Now, about those trees and green spaces. Despite slightly narrower lots, the rear yard setbacks in “by right” developments, have to be only 40 feet from the back property line. In the Davis development they will range from 60 feet to 75 feet, and be filled with trees all along three sides of the development.

Bet there are lots of residents over off John R who would have liked to be enclosed in this manner.

Council approved the site plan 6-1, with Councilman David Hamilton voting no.