Planning Commission Works Toward New Vision for Troy

by CYNTHIA KMETT

The Troy Master Plan is a general statement of the city’s goals and policies and provides a single, comprehensive view of the community’s desire for the future. The current plan, known as Vision 2020, was finalized from the 2008 Master Plan with some revisions. It moves the city, especially the Big Beaver corridor, in a more urban direction.

The recession of 2008 and 2009 wiped out ambitious plans for the Big Beaver Golden Corridor. Vision 2020 was worked on by hundreds of residents, and they seemed to be leaning toward a more urban look for the city. The once-proposed Monarch complex, at the now contentious intersections between McClure and Alpine, was going to reach over 20-stories into the sky. Today, just the thought of a four-story apartment building at that locale has everyone in the neighborhood extremely upset and the city in a court battle with the developer.

When Blackrock bought the Kmart Headquarters site for just over $40 million, they came to town with plans that almost would have turned the corner of Big Beaver and Coolidge into the downtown long wished for in this city. But the recession changed all that, and the property was sold to the Forbes Company, which operates the Somerset Collection, for just over $14 million. We all knew the dream of a downtown had faded.

The problem today is that there is very little land left to develop in Troy, and there are all kinds of things people don’t like about the new buildings. Buildings have to be close to the street and Big Beaver and at many of the intersections in the neighborhood nodes. Buildings in the nodes can be tall, and many trees are cut down when anything is built.

If that’s not enough for members of the Troy Planning Commission to worry about, there’s the question of the city’s lack of diverse housing stock. In fact, colonials seem to be getting bigger, but all forecasts tell the planners that in another decade, no one will want those homes. Millennials tend to have fewer children and the senior population is on the rise. Most seniors would love a nice ranch, and that 1,500-square-foot home called for in cluster zoning is perfect for downsizing. Selling a colonial that cost you $65,000 in the 1970s, even for $350,000, will not cover the asking price of half a million dollars for a 1,900-square- foot ranch.

In fact, the few ranches that dot the full acre-sites in older Troy subdivisions, like Charnwood, are being torn down, and mini-mansions are taking their place.

One big problem is that Troy land is very expensive today. The going rate, according to Troy’s assessor Nino Licari, is about $400,000 an acre, and there are few parcels left where you could build more than a dozen homes. Builders have said, repeatedly, that after they buy the land and put in streets, sewers, and electricity, they need the bigger homes to make a profit. When the planners suggested builders stop putting all the garage doors on the front of a home and make them side entry, they said they can do it, it just costs thousands more, so it’s not a standard offer.

What builders have been ready to do is save more open land and trees with cluster zoning. But, alas, ranches are generally not part of the developments. You can, of course, order one.

The city has added quite a few apartments, but they are not low rent either. Especially if you’re on a fixed income in retirement.

So, what is the city to do?

They want to explore incentives so developers will build smaller homes, preferably ranches.

Planning Trustee Ollie Apahidean had some ideas about changing the rules on how homes can be placed on a site that looked pretty workable, at least sites on a major mile road. It seems doubtful that the city would want you splitting a lot and putting up two homes in the middle of a subdivision of single-family homes. Another stumbling block for changes to setbacks and site design might be that many older Troy streets are only 22 feet wide. A standard subdivision street is 28 feet wide with curbs and sidewalks.

The idea for the Neighborhood Nodes was to make the area more walkable. Trustee Tom Krent reminded other planners that some intersections in the city used to have a gas station on every corner. Height in the Nodes was a concern for Trustee Dr. Barbara Fowler. She said five stories just didn’t fit in the neighborhoods. She would really like three stories maxim.

There was some talk of making the northern border of the Big Beaver Form Based Zoning District straight across. Trustees seem to have forgotten that the reason the line isn’t straight is because it abuts single-family homes in many places and their job includes protecting the integrity of those neighborhoods.

The Planning Commission will continue to grapple with housing issues, so if you have any ideas, send them an email. The address is at troymi.gov under Planning Commission.