By CYNTHIA KMETT
In an unprecedented move, Troy City Council has decided to have a discussion in public on the Tollbrook rezoning project. The proposed apartments on McClure Street at Big Beaver were slated for a “closed session” discussion last Monday when Councilman Dave Henderson said he wouldn’t participate. He said he was tired of people saying the city was keeping things from them. Soon, Mayor Dane Slater said he wouldn’t participate either.
Well, City Attorney Lori Grigg Bluhm said if they didn’t participate, they would be in violation of the city charter. Well, the pair declared, they wouldn’t talk if they had to go there. They wanted to talk about settling, or not settling, this lawsuit in a public forum.
This idea definitely came as a surprise to other council members. Public discussion of pending lawsuits and their potential settlements has never been done in a regular council meeting.
The Tollbrook project is commonly called the McClure project. It is in the Big Beaver zoning district that allows transition from buildings on the main street to homes behind it. This proposal involves a proposed 140-unit apartment complex that would be five stories tall and transition down to three stories as it faced the residents’ homes on McClure.
It was a very hot topic in the spring of 2017. Planning Commission, after a couple of hearings on the project, unanimously voted to approve it. It appeared to meet all the requirements set forth in the Master Plan and city zoning ordinances when rezoned. It needed no variances.
But when it got to City Council in early May 2017, the council chambers were packed with irate residents, several making political threats against councilmembers in this election year.
The fight against the Tollbrook apartments was lead by Rocky Raczkowski, a former state representative who represented Farmington and Farmington Hills before moving to Troy, and who is now running for Congress. He was joined in vigorously opposing the project by former Troy Mayor Jeanne Stine in the fight against the apartments.
The residents prevailed, the rezoning was denied and Tollbrook sued Troy in Federal District Court, saying its rights under the U.S. Constitution has been denied and that council had acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. Tollbrook did not, however, win in District Court and filed an appeal to the U.S Circuit Court of Appeals. The sides were also told to mediate the question, which may be what’s on the table today.
But, since some members had no idea that Henderson and Slater would want to talk about this case in public, other members were less than pleased. As Councilman Ethan Baker observed, the city had won pretty easily in District Court and could well expect to prevail on the appeal. He as also surprised to see the developer, Tollbrook’s Arbam Stafa, in the audience last Monday, as if he knew what was going to happen when councilmembers didn’t.
Councilwoman Edna Abrahim added that she had read the confidential agenda and its 14 points for the closed session and had a number of questions to ask about potential directions council could take in this case. Councilwoman Ellen Hodorek definitely did not appreciate being blindsided by the idea of a public discussion, especially on this night without any warning. Councilman David Hamilton had not yet been elected to council, and stayed out of this discussion.
After a bit of heated discussion, the council did decide to discuss the case in open session at their next meeting. A good guess after last Monday’s council meeting is that anti-Tollbrook forces are already planning their strategy for the July 23 meeting.