Almost four years after the city began working with architect Damien Farrell on his plans to develop 207 S. Monroe St., the future of the development is up in the air.
On Monday night, Saline City Council listened to concerns of neighbors who aren’t happy about the way the proposed development continues to grow. When the city called for proposals to build on the land, once owned by the city, Farrell proposed a development with seven duplexes. Today, he’s proposing a 44-unit condominium development.
Council also posed questions of city attorney Nick Curcio and city manager Todd Campbell.
When the work session was completed Mayor Brian Marl, understanding the development didn’t have the support of a majority of council, pulled two related motions from the regular city council agenda. Council was to consider rezoning a .19-acre site that Farrell wants to buy and add to the parcel. Council was also to consider a motion giving conceptual approval of the development – approval that is required, according to the city’s purchase agreement with Farrell – if the project is to go forward.
So where does that leave the development?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Mayor Brian Marl said after Monday’s meeting. “We’re in limbo right now. There was a lot of information discussed and conveyed tonight that people need to discuss and digest. We’ll bring it up at a future meeting, probably as a discussion item, and try to develop consensus and move forward.”
The project has experienced many delays. After council rezoned the property to allow Farrell’s proposal for 30-unit modular condominium community, the project came to a halt when the manufacturer of the modular units ceased business. The property became an eyesore and source of embarrassment for the city.
When Farrell was ready to resume, he returned to the city with plans for 44 units.
Neighbors along South Monroe and West Henry streets and Mark Hanna Court have organized opposition to the new plan. Jim Dell’Orco submitted a petition with the names of 56 people opposed to the development.
“I, as well as the 55 other residents of this small town, testify that we do not want this new 44-unit version of the proposed development to be allowed to move forward and we sincerely hope that this city council will take the thoughts and feelings of their constituents into consideration in deliberating this matter from here forward,” Dell’Orco said.
Residents have been upset by the loss of green space near Peoples Park since talk of development began.
City council is decidedly more sour on the new plan. Some, like Councillor Dean Girbach, became critical of the development the first time the project stalled and the property fell into disrepair. Councillor Christen Mitchell was not yet on council when it approved the rezoning of the parcel. She’s used social media to engage with nearby residents and advocated for their concerns at the council table.
The South Monroe Street neighborhood has been subject to several of the city’s more controversial issues. Along with the Fairdene development, the neighborhood has dealt with the wastewater treatment plant odors and the deterioration of the polluted Hoover property. There was also pushback when the city replaced the Peoples Park tennis courts with parking for the baseball diamonds.
Council’s questions brought several new facts to light.
Answering a question from councillors Girbach and Janet Dillon, city superintendent Gary Roubal revealed that without the .19-acre parcel Farrell wants added to the site, he would likely have to remove two units from his proposal.
Councillor Jack Ceo asked if Farrell might be able to sue the city for “taking” if the city rejected the concept of the 44-unit development after it had already agreed to rezone the property. Attorney Curcio said he didn’t believe that was likely because the city’s purchase agreement, which calls for council to approve the concept, is “above and beyond” zoning.
Answering a question from Councillor Heidi McClelland, Curcio said that if the development falls through and the property reverts to the city, the property would maintain its new zoning.
Councillor Linda TerHaar said she’d heard a lot of discussion about higher density – 44 units – but wondered if there was any consideration given to the actual number of residents expected in the development.
“Focusing strictly on the number of units might not tell us much about the needs we have for parking and the traffic impact,” TerHaar said.
The plan calls for 17 one-bedroom units and 27 two-bedroom units.
Councillor TerHaar asked Curcio to walk council through important deadlines in the city’s purchase agreement with Farrell.
The first deadline has already passed. It called for construction to begin within 120 days of closing. That deadline has a buy-back provision.
The second deadline calls for construction to be completed within 48 months of closing. That comes in January of 2021. Failure to meet that deadline would require Farrell to pay the city a $35,000 penalty.