Saline Planners Approve Huntington Woods Phase II, Liebherr Expansion and Foley Request

 08/31/2015 - 00:39

The agenda for the August meeting of the Saline Planning Commission was quite full. Among the issues discussed were three applications to build on or utilize various properties.

The first item was an application from the Shipman Company for final site plan approval of the proposed Huntington Woods Phase II development. The plan involves extension of Phase I roads and the construction of 41 new single-family houses on 19.5 acres of land.

A CUP (Community Unit Plan) allows the developer flexibility to build denser housing so that 40 percent of the property could be preserved as open space. This property has many attractive natural features worthy of preservation.

In addition to the detailed analysis provided by planner Doug Lewan and City Engineer Gary Roubal, the homeowners of Huntington Woods Phase I have closely scrutinized this application.

While Lewan’s critique did not request major revisions to the plan, he did ask for clarification of several issues. What was intended for the recreational space marked on the plan? Has ITC (International Transmission Company) approved changes that are proposed on their power line right of way? Wouldn’t a cul-de-sac be better than a tee? Will the developer present building plans for the new homes?

When developer David Shipman took the podium, commissioners reiterated such questions. First, he addressed the recreation issue.

“What I had in mind on that was just to provide an area that if homeowners, when they start coming in to the Phase II project, if they wanted an area for their children to play and some play structures we could have space for them,” Shipman said. “It’s more of an accommodation than it is an anticipation.”

He also said that the request for a typical building plan seemed like getting the cart before the horse. He said that individual homes are designed for the lot they are on.

Shipman said that ITC had approved the tee turnaround that would be on their property, but that they had not discussed proposed plantings.

The plan included a five-foot sidewalk to be installed along Monroe Street to the Saline River bridge. City Assessor Catherine Scull wondered how that was to be accomplished in a timely manner, given that it includes both township and city land.

Roubal said that this was “more of a long-term goal.” He said it would not be made a priority for about two years and then it would take more years to get it done.

Attorney Paul Fessler spoke for the Huntington Woods Phase I Homeowners Association. He presented a multipoint agreement that had recently been negotiated between the homeowners and the Shipman Company.

The agreement required that homeowners in Phase II form a separate association from Phase I. It stipulated that in many details of lot size and home design, “the language from Phase II will mirror that from Phase I.”

Furthermore, the agreement required that a Phase I homeowner be installed on a three-person architectural committee overseeing the construction of the five contiguous Phase II homes. This was intended “to prevent a startling change in the properties between the phases.”

The Phase I homeowners unanimously supported the agreement and Mr. Shipman also accepted it.

In the public comment session, Bruce De Maine proposed what he called a friendly amendment. He suggested that language be added to the plan to preclude paving or building on any of the open space at any time.

Commission chair Jack Ceo said that open space means different things to different people and it would be up to the residents to decide how the land was to be used. Lewan said that to pass such an amendment would require a series of highly unlikely events.

Commissioner Dean Girbach suggested that it would be strange to have two or possibly even three different homeowners associations in the same development. However Roubal pointed out that it was done in the Wildwood Subdivision, so it is not unprecedented.

Finally, the final site plan was put to a vote and the planning commission approved it unanimously.

Commission Fast Tracks Liebherr Site Plan

150826-saline-015.jpg Joseph Sfreddo, a project manager from Rand Corporation presents the site plan for a new building at Liebherr Aerospace Saline, Inc. 

The next big item on the agenda was a request for both preliminary and final site plan approval for a new building to be built by the Rand Corporation for a Liebherr Aerospace expansion. The building would be 43,500 square feet and would be located just west of the existing Liebherr building.

This building is to form the core of an approximately 100,000 square foot facility to be built in three phases. Furthermore, this larger building is to occupy just one of four quadrants on a 55 acre campus between Industrial Drive and Maple Road. The other quadrants would ultimately host similar structures.

It seemed a bit audacious to ask for preliminary and final approval at the same time, but the builder is in a hurry. They hope to break ground by October 1 and to have the construction competed by April 1 of 2016.

This apparent need for haste put the builders in the position of needing to comply with any conditions placed on them by the city. “We are at your mercy,” said Joseph Sfreddo, the project manager from Rand Corporation.

At the same time, most of the planners seemed eager to accommodate the builder’s requests. Beardsley cited a very positive history the city has had in working with the Rand Corporation. Ceo spoke glowingly of Liebherr.

“I’ve always been impressed with the nature and the character of the buildings and the kind of care that Liebherr takes in trying to be a good community member,” Ceo said.

On the other hand, Girbach was more cautious. There were a number of conditions yet to be resolved and he felt that a preliminary approval only would be more appropriate.

One of the issues that came up was the request for a parking area with 84 spaces when only 55 are necessary. Lewan made clear that due to drainage and pollution issues, it is in the city’s interest to minimize the extent of impervious surfaces.

There were also issues relating to aesthetics. The city has a list of architectural standards for the appearance of industrial buildings and this one did not meet them.

The solution given for both of these issues was that it made sense in view of long-term plans. The extra parking would be needed after future construction phases and the building would be more hidden when these are completed.

In any event, if the very industrial-looking structure is to be built as planned, City Council will need to grant a variance. Otherwise changes must be negotiated.

Beardsley moved that the combined preliminary and final plan be approved. It was passed with only Girbach dissenting.

Foley Petition Approved for South Monroe Street Office

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Thomas Foley of Saline River Properties presents his plans for utilizing 237 Monroe Street.

The final real estate deal to be considered was a petition for an amendment to the original site plan for 237 Monroe Street. Owner Tom Foley would like to use the existing building as office space, for sale or rent.

The property in question is across the street from the polluted site previously occupied by Hoover Universal and now being remediated by Johnson Controls, which had acquired Hoover. On the other side it borders the City Waste Water Treatment Plant.

There are questions about the soil at the 237 address as well.

“We know there’s probably certain issues with what is underground, but after reviewing this with our attorney . . . we added a condition clause as stated under part B that the city does not approve and expresses no opinion regarding suitability of the soil or environmental conditions on this site,” Roubal said. “That way the risk of reusing the property and building upon it, because of the existing building lies solely, we believe, with the property owner himself.”

There were several other technical questions brought up about the plan that were explained to the commission’s satisfaction by Roubal.

“This is a property that you just have to figure out how to make the best use of,” Beardsley said, “and it seems like that’s what Mr. Foley is trying to do.”

Tom Dishpan, who lives adjacent to Foley’s property, expressed concern about the sad history of this location that he fears has put his family at risk. He felt it was disingenuous for the city to keep mum about soil conditions. He was also upset that he was never given advance warning about the remediation work that started across the street this summer.

After additional discussion, the petition was approved unanimously.

Bob Conradi Is a retired pharmaceutical scientist who has redefined himself as a photographer and journalist. He has lived in Michigan for 36 years and in the Saline area for 10. He enjoys researching and learning about new ideas. Reach him at bobcphotography@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertConradi.