The City of Saline Planning Commission, which is holding two meetings this month, nevertheless had a full agenda at this week’s meeting. The agenda included discussion of new ordinances, discussion of early parts of the revised Master Plan, selection of individuals to hold various posts and a public hearing on a proposed zoning change to permit a development at 218 Monroe Street.
The land on Monroe Street is owned by Lance Holland and he would like to sell it to Mark D. Lewis of Lewis/Klein Properties. Lewis and his partner Richard Kaplan are planning to build 17 single-family units on the 4.6-acre site, including connected units.
The land is just south of Oakwood Cemetery and just east of Curtiss Park. It is north of the former industrial property that Johnson Controls recently cleaned up.
The developer requested that the zoning for the site be changed from Single Family R1-A to Single Family R1-C. R1-C allows for smaller lots and therefore greater housing density.
Before addressing the merits of the rezoning request, a resolution passed in 1998 that prevents site plan approvals on lands with outstanding tax debt was discussed. City attorney Nick Curcio had been consulted to see if this rule applied to rezoning as well and he said that it did.
Since the land apparently does have some outstanding financial obligations it was necessary to add a condition to any decision by the city that approval be pursuant to a resolution of debts.
Planner Doug Lewan gave a detailed assessment of the rezoning request and recommended that it be approved.
“Our recommendation here is that the Planning Commission recommend approval of the rezoning at 218 Monroe Street from R1-A to R1-C . . . based on three findings: the fact that we found that the zoning is consistent with the City Master Plan, we believe that the plan is compatible with existing and neighboring land uses and our initial indication would indicate that the area has available utilities adjacent to the site that would be able to accommodate the development,” Lewan said.
Developer Lewis spoke in behalf of his plan. He said that he had built Austin Commons and the River Ridge manufactured home communities in neighboring Saline Township. He proposed to build higher end homes in the $250,000 to 3000,000 range at the Monroe Street site.
Lewan had earlier pointed out that if R1-C zoning is approved, the developer could potentially build as many as 25 homes on the site. Lewis tried to assure them that he would not.
“We are committed to 17 units on this parcel, the parcel has some unique characteristics and no matter how you slice it or dice it - the project that we want to build - there’s no way we are going to be able to get more units than 17.”
When the public hearing was opened, only one citizen came forward to speak, Melissa VanDam of 222 Monroe Street. She was concerned about the high-density housing seemingly intended for the site.
VanDam said that other homes in the area were historic homes with one dwelling to a lot. She also expressed confusion about how attached condominiums could be considered “single family.”
City Superintendent Roubal explained that when the developer uses the CUP ordinance (Community Unit Plan) condominiums that are attached are still considered single-family units. Wildwood Condominiums is an example. VanDam still had concerns.
“It doesn’t seem appropriate to me to have such a high density community in that particular area,” she said.
In reply, Lewan spoke of the advantages of allowing tighter clustering of living units.
“Being able to cluster the homes to a certain degree, there’s a much greater likelihood that there will be greater open space and a much greater likelihood for natural feature preservation,” Lewan said.
No other citizens chose to speak on the issue so the commission voted to close the public hearing. Mayor Brian Marl then moved to approve the rezoning, with the previously stated condition.
“The development of this property is interwoven into a number of my personal goals as well as the goals and objectives of the City of Saline,” Marl said. “It is an attractive property and to see it developed will expand and grow our tax base. It will add residents to the downtown which directly relates to the viability of our downtown and the businesses that exist within our downtown.”
Commissioner Dean Girbach was still uncertain. He asked if a CUP was possible with the existing zoning and Roubal said it was.
Lewan explained that housing density was the issue.
“The density you get in a CUP plan cannot be more than the underlying zoning,” Lewan said.
With the existing zoning, the developer would not be able to include as many housing units because of larger lot size requirements. The R1-C designation would allow the 17 units and still enable the developer to save the best of the natural features.
After Bill Beardsley also spoke in favor of the rezoning, Marl’s motion was put to a vote. The motion passed unanimously.
Beardsley Named Chairman, Hoeft Vice-Chairperson
The commissioners moved on to some house keeping matters. With two new members on the board and chairman Jack Ceo having departed to join city council, a new election of officers was needed.
Bill Beardsley was voted in as the new chairman, Cheryl Hoeft as the vice chairperson and Scott Fosdick as secretary. Commissioner Girbach and Mayor Marl were appointed to the Special Projects Commission.
Master Plan Discussion
When the group discussed the implementation of approving a new master plan, they decided that new sections of the document should first be reviewed by a three-person steering committee before they are sent for consideration of the full planning commission. The steering committee would have access to the documents about two weeks earlier than the full commission.
Marl asked Beardsley and Girbach to volunteer for this duty and they agreed. Catherine Scull volunteered to be the third.
Lewan spoke glowingly about the level of citizen input he had received regarding the master plan. Both the October 27 Community Engagement Meeting and the continuing discussion on the MICommunity Remarks website provided an abundance of ideas.
In the October meeting, attendees voted on ideas they especially liked. The top five vote getters were: a water park, splash pad and/or pool; a connection between Mill Pond and Curtiss parks; Removal of Mill Pond Dam; a Saline to Milan canoe trail; and more trailways.
In addition to the Master Plan the commission also discussed the new ordinances for off-street parking and for signs. The parking ordinance is essentially completed and ready to move to a public hearing. The sign ordinance is still being tweaked by the attorneys to assure that it does not violate first amendment rights.
The next meeting of the Saline Planning Commission will be at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, January 27. Expect another full agenda.