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  • Kevin Elliott

Dump to be developed as apartment complex

Plans to clean up a former illegal landfill in Rochester Hills moved forward on Monday, April 23, as city council unanimously approved amending a court issued consent judgement and a brownfield redevelopment plan for a 28-acre parcel of land at the northeast corner of Hamlin and Adams roads.

The property, known historically as the Christiansen Adams Landfill, was the site of an illegal dumping grounds that operated from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. Located on Hamlin Road, across from the recently renamed Innovation Hills city park, pollution at the site included thousands of contaminated barrels left at the site, some of which caught fire in the 1980s before being removed.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) conducted $4 million in remediation work at the site before eventually running out of money and stopping work. While a subsequent environmental study found the contamination hasn't leached into the adjacent city-owned property, thousands of cubic yards of contaminated soil remain on the 28-acre site.

In the mid-2000s, a developer proposed conducting cleanup operations at the site and rezoning the land to allow for a mixture of commercial office and retail developments at the site and along Hamlin Road. The city initially rejected the plan, resulting in a lawsuit and consent order issued to allow for cleanup and rezoning to allow for about 100,000 square feet of office development and approximately 72,600 square feet of retail space, said Rochester Hills Planning Director Sara Roediger.

In March 2017, the Goldberg Companies announced its intent to purchase the land and approached the city with an alternative plan that would include more extensive environmental cleanup operations and the construction of a luxury apartment development, Legacy Rochester Hills, consisting of about seven buildings with about 368 luxury apartments.

In order to develop the land as proposed, the city and developer would still need approval from the court to amend the previous consent judgement. The cleanup plan would also need approval by the DEQ. Further, the city's planning commission and city council would need to approve site plans regarding construction. City council's approval cleared the way to present the proposed plan to the court and DEQ.

Four members of the public spoke on April 23 in opposition to the proposed project. Among their concerns were increased traffic and density the project would bring, as well as concerns about the level of cleanup that would occur at the site, including the possible accumulation of methane gas from the former landfill.

City council members and environmental consultants representing the Goldberg Companies had lengthy discussions about how dirt and dust would be during the cleanup process at the site; the installation of monitoring equipment and methane gas ventilation measures; as well as the higher level of cleanup that would be required at the site as a residential development rather than the commercial development that has already been approved by the court.

In terms of cleanup operations, the plan would split the site into two main parcels, with Parcel A cleanup taking about three to four months, and consisting in the removal of about 43,668 cubic yards of contaminated soil, associated groundwater, and backfilling the soil; removal and disposal of another 1,500 cubic yards in specific hot spots; the installation of a passive vent system below all residential buildings; and a longterm maintenance and operation plan.

Parcel B, where the contamination is the highest, would take about seven years to complete, and include the removal of an additional 23,185 cubic yards of soil, groundwater and backfilling; the installation of a 1,400-foot hydraulic barrier around the landfill; a clay backfill wall on the western side of the landfill; a two-foot thick clay slurry wall on the eastern and northern sides; a two-foot thick clay cap over the landfill area; and a 30-year operation and maintenance plan. The plan also calls for landscape buffers adjacent to the residential properties.

Developers said the proposed plan would include about $12 million in cleanup and encapsulation work to contain contamination at the site, which currently doesn't have such containment measures. Under the previously approved plan, the developer would be required to spend about $3.5 million on remediation efforts.

Councilwoman Stephanie Morita, whose personal property abuts the proposed development, said she and her family opted not to accept about $3,000 in funding the developer is proposing to offer to adjacent property owners so that she could remain a part of the process without the appearance of any improprieties.

"The expectation is that there will be no dirt in the road or that adjacent pathway," Morita said in regard to efforts to keep contaminated dirt contained to the site. "If I see it, I will wake that mayor up at two in the morning, whether he likes it or not. If I'm telling you this now before you even cut down a tree, you can imagine what will happen after."

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