By Rosemary K. Otzman
After a lengthy discussion at its regular meeting on Nov. 12, the Van Buren Township Planning Commission voted unanimously to table a request for an amendment to the Victoria Park site plan so homes can start being built.
The commission was ready to approve the request for revised single-family architectural elevations with minor recommendations from planning consultant Sally Hodges of McKenna Associates, but the representative of the builders balked.
Hodges had recommended that proposed architectural plans be slightly changed to assure houses are substantially different from their neighbors. She suggested three plans be changed from brick to stone and one plan be changed from vertical siding to shake siding.
There were eight revised plans for different sizes of homes, with two elevations each, presented by the builder for approval.
The Victoria Park Planned Residential Community, at the northeast corner of Ecorse and Morton Taylor roads, was approved in 2006 and went into foreclosure during the recession. Its PRD agreement expired.
Various infrastructure elements and several homes were constructed on the site before the PRD expired.
In February 2014 a consent judgment was entered into between the township and the new property owner specifying terms under which residential home construction could begin.
Among the conditions of the consent judgment is planning commission approval of any proposed architectural plans that differ from the original PRD-approved plans, as is required by Section 4.54 of the zoning ordinance.
The standards of 4.54 require, among other things, that the dwellings look different from each other to avoid monotony in a development.
Jeff Gibbs said he was asked to represent Allen Edwin Homes before the planning commission. He said there are 88 developable lots in the development and Allen Edwin has half of those.
He said they have made a lot of upgrades in the last 1-1/2 years that they’ve owned the property and they want the plans to be accepted as presented and not with McKenna’s recommendation.
“Having just half doesn’t relieve you of the responsibility,” Hodges said, noting the elevations presented all have the same roof pitch.
Commission vice chairman Donald Boynton read part of an Oct. 14 letter from Dan Merrivale that he felt might compromise the approval.
Gibbs said in the consent judgment there was a provision for administrative approval for changes by the planning director or his assignee if someone wants something different.
Hodges counseled the commission members that they would be voting on their motion and would not be approving the letter.
“I don’t feel the changes are that substantial,” Commissioner Joan Franzoi said of Hodges’ recommendation. “Sally has been very generous in correcting this. If it was me, I’d say go back to the drawing board.”
Township Treasurer Sharry Budd, who sits on the commission, said she agreed with Franzoi. She said the development was supposed to have a neighborhood, walking feeling with front porches and it doesn’t have that.
Gibbs insisted that there were eight plans presented and each plan had two elevations. He said the building permits won’t be granted by the township unless they are different. He noted Allen Edwin has 44 sites under contract.
“There will be three different to the right, three different to the left, and three different across the street,” Gibbs said. “At the time of the building permit issuance it will be determined.”
He asked that the commission tell the reason in the motion to deny.
Hodges said there is no recommendation to deny. She said the eight different homes must comply with the ordinance.
Commission chairwoman Carol Thompson said the permits come back for administrative approval and the designs selected are market-driven from the eight designs the planning commission approves.
“I work with the builder who is doing this,” Gibbs said. “The ordinance will be met.”
“I think the planning commission should set the eight elevations,” Budd said. “It should not be left to the head of the building and planning department.”
“SJ Jacobson Blue Victoria owns over 200 lots in the township,” Gibbs said. “Allen Edwin is the largest builder in Michigan. There is no reason we can see why they wouldn’t be approved…”
“The consent judgment states the administration can approve changes,” Hodges said. “We are requesting a few minor changes.”
Thompson asked the commission’s options and Hodges said they could keep the elevations and when the builder comes in for a permit, it could be determined if the elevation is right.
“Does that make sense?” Thompson asked of Gibbs and he said it did.
Commissioner Carl Johnson suggested the commission approve the request, based on Hodges recommendations. He said the changes are so minor and they are spending so much time on it. “Stone/brick, shake/vertical siding.”
Budd said she would rather see the changes and not put the onus on the head of the building and planning department.
Dave Nummer of Wade Trim engineers was asked for his recommendation and he said they have done most of what they were supposed to do. He said pending action at that evening’s meeting, he will be meeting with the township DPW chief.
Hodges said they could change her recommendations to be created as optional elevations.
“Maybe this should be brought back and ask the applicant to bring back changes,” Johnson said. He made the motion to table the request and it was carried unanimously.
“I think we’re very close,” Thompson said.
In other business at the 56-minute meeting on Nov. 12, the commission:
• Approved a tree-removal permit for Costco Wholesale to construct a depot/truck terminal on a 71.84-acre site located behind Bayloff on Belleville Road at the north township boundary line with Canton. Because they do not have enough room on the site to plant 374 trees as required by the ordinance, Costco will pay the township $130,900, which will be put into a tree fund for trees to be planted in places such as parks to benefit the township as a whole; and
• Gave final site plan approval to Costco’s 347,720-square-foot Warehouse / Depot project. The Costco representative Peter Kahn said, “We feel like we’re very, very close to resolving the final issues … we will comply with any changes asked for, so we can start moving dirt.” Hodges said although Costco has a small frontage on Belleville Road, they will have to put in a sidewalk and handicap ramp. Engineer Nummer said Bayloff, next door, was built in the late 1990s and the developed site is not currently up to standards, but that’s a different project involving Costco and Bayloff. He said a meeting was set with the county the next day to facilitate the new traffic light and discuss the storm system.
By Rosemary K. Otzman