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.