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Neighbors Fight Back Against Proposed Apartments on Park Street

The Planning Board delayed a decision on whether to rezone a property at 404 Park St. from residential to general business.

Wednesday was the second time plans for a new apartment building on Park Street came before the city, and for the second time, Birmingham residents made it very clear: they're not happy.

Plans for a multi-family development at 404 Park St. were again delayed during Wednesday night's Planning Board meeting, with the city asking for more details and more compromises in light of loud criticism from neighbors.

On Wednesday, LPR Properties, owner of the vacant double lot at 404 Park St. — which borders Park Street, Oakland Avenue and Woodward Avenue — asked the Planning Board to consider rezoning the lot from R2 (single family residential) to B2C, or general business.

According to the plans, rezoning the property would free the developer from more stringent setback rules — or, rules which dictate how far buildings must sit from a property's edge.

An apartment building would have to be larger than a normal house, and according to the owner's attorney, "We thought that by requesting B2C, we would have the greatest flexibility to design a product that would meet everybody's needs."

Previous attempts to rezone, sell the property fail

This isn't the first time, however, that there have been requests to rezone the property at 404 Park St. Requests for rezoning there have twice been denied by the city — once in 1960 and once in 1988.

The lot has been vacant since 1989 when the single family home there was razed. The property has been for sale since 2006, with the last asking price set at $379,000.

According to plans submitted to the Planning Board, now is an appropriate time to rezone the property. The lot is "no longer ingrained within an established neighborhood," the proposal reads, and has become an "edge property." In addition, the lot is adjacent to several properties — including the parking garage and office building across the street — zoned for business.

In addition, the rezoning would be conditional on a voluntary restriction from the property owners assuring the city and neighbors that the property would only be used for residential use.

According to the plans, proposed rental prices for the development would be between $2,000-$3,000 a month.

Apartment building would bring down property values, residents argue

Wednesday wasn't the first recent attempt at rezoning the property, either. Rezoning was first discussed at the Sept. 19 Planning Board meeting, during which the board voted to postpone the matter so that the applicant could address several critiques from the city and neighbors, including the proposed design of the building and traffic flow.

While the new design includes plans for a smaller building with fewer units — six instead of 14 — designed in the "row home" style, neighbors from the adjoining Little San Francisco neighborhood still weren't happy with the plans.

In fact, neighbors submitted a petition to the Planning Board with 47 signatures Wednesday night, aruging an apartment building would be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood

"If it's an issue with setbacks, let's talk about multi-family with variances to setbacks," said Ferndale Street resident Michelle Erwin. "But moving to commercial zoning tonight with the limited information we have ... I think is very dangerous."

Erwin pointed out that the decision to raze the single-family home on the property was made by the current owner, and that attempts to connect the property to the nearby commercial area are illogical.

The property is still very much a part of the Little San Francisco neighborhood, she argued, and should remain part of the "neighborhood which we love, in which we live, and which we strongly believe in its present and unchanged form and zoning is an acknowledged jewel that makes Birmingham as special as it is."

Residents also stood in opposition to the idea of more renters in the area, noting apartments can bring property values down and renters are often transient residents and less likely to be invested in the neighborhood.

"When you come into Birmingham, you want to know you're not in Royal Oak," resident John Gleeson said. "This is Birmingham."

'We do have a need for rental properties in this community'

Meanwhile, Frank Flynn, the real estate agent involved with the property, assured the Planning Board that LPR Properties' president Richard Lambert is a long-time property owner in Metro Detroit. He noted when Lambert purchased 404 Park St. in 1988, the property was "distressed."

"He wasn't used to being a residential landlord," Flynn said. "It was a drug house ... The house was in rough shape ... There were a fair amount of police runs there."

Flynn pointed out that their price point of $379,000 isn't overpriced for the neighborhood, noting that a property at 385 Ferndale that's half the size of 404 Park St. and backs onto an office building recently sold for $299,000.

"We've just had a hard time finding a residential buyer for this property," he said. "We do have a need for rental properties in this community."

Planning Board hesistant to 'go against the will of the people'

For several Planning Board members, residents' opposition was enough to convince them against moving forward. Still, several noted they were disappointed to see such blunt opposition to developing one of Birmingham's most notable vacancies.

"I wonder if you understand this well enough," Planning Board member Bert Koseck said. "We want to promote through the 2016 Plan residential development in the downtown. When we see it, we're excited about it because it's hard to do. The demand is there for quality apartments."

Still, Koseck said since this contract is between the developer and the residents most affected by the apartments, it's the residents who should make the decision.

"I would be hesitant to go against the will of the people," he said.

Planning Board members were also disappointed in the lack of details from LPR Properties, which provided only a few details about the new apartment design in time for the Wednesday night meeting.

"There is bluntly insufficient information," Chairman Robin Boyle said. "I think the neighbors should see the progress that's being made."

In the end, the Planning Board voted to continue the hearing until their Jan. 9 meeting, during which the issue will come back for consideration. Until then, city staff will research the history of contract rezoning in Birmingham as well as other residential zoning requirements.

GW November 19, 2012 at 01:53 PM
The residents have every reason to oppose this money grab. The property is single family residential. Who would ever want to have an extremely dense apartment building in their neighborhood? I have a hunch the developer doesn't live surrounded by renters. I'm guessing he's on some leafy street in Bloomfield Hills where the riff-raff is kept at bay. And one other thing: One of the Planning Board members always has a real attitude when he feels that members of the community cross him in these meetings. The truth of it is, HE is the one who is out of order. Several members of the neighborhood detected an obvious bias on the planning board in favor of this project. (Sometimes their attitude seems like Build, Baby, Build!). The guy who is always snapping back at the community is an arrogant twerp.
ClassAct4 November 19, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Why doesn't the City purchase this land with the park's acquisition bond and develop a pocket park? The fund provided many millions of dollars to acquire and develop Barnum Park. This would fit in with the stated goals of the City to acquire park land when it becomes available, and to engineer a safe Woodward Avenue crossing point for residents to the east.
GW November 19, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Interesting idea. If money wasn't an issue, a little park would be great. That's really a pretty good idea. But here's another idea:The property was zoned single family residential when the current owner bought it. Why not sell the property so someone else can put up a house that conforms to current zoning? Maybe the owner needs to drop the price. That's how it works everywhere else in the world when you can't sell something.
MW November 19, 2012 at 07:58 PM
No. We don't need more empty lots in this town. So, giving an owner special rezoning privileges so he can sell the lot for more money because he tore down the existing house will solve this. No...wait...that might cause more empty lots to be created. Progress in Birmingham.
GW November 19, 2012 at 09:49 PM
This is not an either-or situation. The options are not big-ass apartment complex or empty lot If the property is priced right, someone will be happy to buy it. The owner bought the house and property, then tore down the house. That was his decision. What did he think he was going to do, put up a Wal-Mart there?
David Wilson November 20, 2012 at 02:31 PM
I can't imagine anyone wanted to build a home on that corner. It is very busy with lots of cars going by the house on three sides. I like the idea of a small park with some benches and a piece of art to make it interesting. If it does get built with apartments, they could be townhouse type places and make them high end to fit the rest of the street scene
ClassAct4 November 20, 2012 at 04:47 PM
If residents of the "San Francisco" area are interested in pursuing a pocket park in this location, they should contact the Parks and Recreation Board, attend meetings, and make their thoughts known. The City could take control of this important access point to Woodward Avenue. Birmingham voters have previously approved issuence of bonds for Park acquisition and improvement, for example, the Barnum and Shane Parks expansion and improvements. In addition, this would be a great location for a safe pedestrian crossing for us "east siders" from the Poppleton and Pembroke Park areas.

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