Residential/Business Mix Would Cover 40% of Site, Or Not


The presentation of the “North Village Master Plan” was the focus of the March 28 Board of Trustees meeting.   The draft plan was created by the Downtown Planning Group (DPG) and includes green spaces for passive recreation; an amphitheater, a pavilion with restrooms, a network of paths, a small beach plus a mix of businesses, housing and parking on the 23-acre parcel which surrounds the Whitmore Lake Post Office.

McKenna project manager Paul Lippens spent nearly an hour presenting the plan and answering questions from the Board and the public. A PowerPoint of what was shown at the Board meeting can be accessed here.

A more comprehensive version of the same plan, including detailed survey results, is available in the Planning Commission packet provided for their April 5th meeting.  (I will extract this asap)

A lakefront park has been a hugely popular idea with township residents for many years. It was identified as a high priority in both the 1996 and the 2010 community surveys that the Planning Commission use when writing the overall township Master Plan. The township purchased the parcel, locally referred to as the Van Curler property, for $329,000 in 2016. It had been sitting idle for decades.

Lippens said the North Village plan was created with public input from surveys mailed to taxpayers, responses at the October “Trunk or Treat” ribbon cutting ceremony, a design workshop and interviews with six business owners in and out of Whitmore Lake. The results from the outreach were part of the process directed by the 11-member DPG and their six contracted planners/designers from McKenna.

The surveys showed that 61-64% of residents wanted a park for recreation only while 26-28% preferred the addition of businesses and residences. (11% “responded along different lines”).

The DPG preferred concept, dubbed the “Synthesis Plan”, favors the 26-28% respondents who wanted the mixed use in order to offset infrastructure costs. In addition to all the park amenities, the “Synthesis Plan” includes 35 row houses, 100 lofts and 23 retail/office/apartments.

Treasurer Lenore Zelenock questioned how the DPG reconciled their “Synthesis Plan” with the fact that residents favored a recreation-only plan by a two-to-one margin.

DPG member Jack Secrist said that although a large majority wanted only a park, he felt that during the public workshop, “their opinions evolved with the things we talked about and they left, by in large…not 100%...realizing that some of the development makes good sense.”

About 50 people attended the workshop (including DPG, Board and Planning Commission members), while more than 300 people sent in surveys favoring the recreation-only concept, but most of them did not attend the workshop.

DPG Chair Barb Griffith, who also chairs the Downtown Development Authority, said a park was always considered a means of attracting both new residents and businesses to the downtown area.  

She also said “I consider it a major flaw that we didn’t ask the question ‘Do you want a recreation-only park if it raises your taxes, or would you allow mixed-use development as part of the plan if it offsets the infrastructure cost?’”

“It’s hard to justify raising taxes, but maybe it’s time to send out a postcard and ask the community how we’d like to pay for the park,” she added.

The DPG “Purpose Statement” says that “The site shall be developed to minimize the fiscal impact to taxpayers…..and that development will subsidize public amenities.”

No other township park, public service or amenity pays for itself. Police, fire, medical rescue, the library, community center and schools all are financed with tax dollars.

Lippens said the DPG hopes money for subsidizing the infrastructure cost would come from selling about 40% of the park to developers.   It is uncertain is if the sale of the land would generate enough to cover the initial $2M of infrastructure cost.

Lippens said that once all three phases are complete, the plan’s total estimated value could reach $47M.   The figures are rough estimates. The $9M Phase One would include $2M for most of public park features like the beach, pavilion, bandshell, restrooms and parking, while the remaining $7M would be spent on mixed-use development.

Roughly speaking, financing a $2M park for recreation only would cost $25/year per household over a 20-year period, plus interest.  

($2M ÷20 years = $100,000/yr ÷ 4,000 households = $25/year. Plus interest.) 

Lippens said the next step is soliciting RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to see if developers like the project.  “The Board seemed to indicate it would be a good idea to test the market,” he said, but the Board didn’t ok the RFP at this meeting.

Once approved by the Board, the North Village plan will be incorporated into a new, comprehensive plan being devised for the entire downtown area, and both plans would then be woven into this year’s review of the township Master Plan.

In a related matter, Patrick Sloane, our township’s primary planner from McKenna, outlined goals for 2017 such as incorporating farmland preservation into the scheduled overall Master Plan review; creating a capital improvement plan; rewriting the sign ordinance and drafting a policy on marijuana dispensaries, among others.

In other action, the Board approved spending $38,000 to monitor water infiltration into the township sewer lines….a project that entails camera inspections of three of the largest sewer pipes of the Waste Water Treatment Plant system. The clay pipe sewer lines are more than 60 years old. Ninety percent of the cost would come from grant money, according to township engineer consultant Brian Reubel.


Watch the meeting with our 3-28-2017 Northfield Township Board of Trustees joint PC meeting LiveAgenda


Later this week we will post our photographs of the October Van Curler "North Village" park grand opening.