Rochester Hills City Council members met into the early morning hours on Tuesday, January 23, to hear residents' concerns about traffic and safety related to a proposed childcare center at Adams and Tienken roads.
The meeting, which started about 7 p.m. the previous evening, included about four hours of public comments from nearly 40 residents, and discussion from city council members, city staff, the mayor, and the applicant for the project and his representatives.
The developer, Jeff Schmitz, of Rochester-based JS Capitol Group, is planning to build a 14,900-square-foot private school for early childhood education for about 162 students on about 1.6 acres of land at the southwest corner of Adams and Tienken. The childcare center, Premier Academy, will be the second location for Schmitz since opening the first academy in Oakland Township in 2009.
A site plan and tree removal permit for the project was approved in late 2017 by the city's planning commission, which also recommended city council approve a conditional use for the academy, which is required for final approval as the facility is located in a residentially zoned district.
Rochester Hills Planning and Economic Development Director Sara Roediger said child care facilities are permitted in residential districts under a special use authorization. While she said the facility isn't a residential home dwelling, supporting residential uses are common and acceptable in residential districts, particularly at main intersections where a home may undesirable.
Some residents living near the location asked city council to reject the special use permission, citing "horrendous" traffic conditions at the intersection and concerns for pedestrians and motorists. The location is in close proximity to Rochester Adams High School and Van Hoosen Middle School.
In addition to dozens of comments for and against the project, the city's planning department received more than 130 emails in favor of the project and 90 against. Several city council members also said they received hundreds of emails from residents regarding the project.
The intersection, which receives more than 30,000 vehicles per day, is not the considered the most dangerous intersection in the city. However, several at and near the location, including one that recently critically injured an Oakland County sheriff's deputy about 1,000 feet west of the intersection on Tienken, was the main cause for concern by residents. Several who spoke also said motorists commonly cut through adjacent subdivisions to avoid the intersection, which is prone to extensive backups.
A traffic study commissioned by the applicant determined the childcare facility would bring an additional 663 vehicle trips to the area each weekday, an increase of about two percent. To help alleviate traffic, the developer has agreed to make about a half-million dollars in road enhancements to the intersection, including extending a left-hand and right-hand turn lane on Adams.
Despite residents' concerns, city council approved the special use permit by a vote of 6-1, with councilwoman Jenny McCardell voting against.
Council president Mark Tisdel the city's ordinance requires council to approve a special use request if the applicant meets all of the requirements in the ordinance. The city's planning commission had already determined the plan did meet those findings.
Longtime Rochester Hills resident Lee Zendel said while nobody likes traffic associated with new development, rejecting the request would probably result in litigation against the city.
"I moved out here in 1971. I beat most of you. I tried to close the door behind me so you wouldn't come, but you came," he said. "Not only did you come to Rochester Hills, you came to Shelby Township and Oakland Township... we got traffic, and we are going to get more traffic. That's all there is to it."