Bloomfield Township trustees adopted a master plan amendment of an area plan for South Boulevard and Squirrel Road, based upon advisement from Giffels Webster Planners, approvals from the township's planning commission and zoning board of appeals, and study of a 2017 land use study, at their meeting on Monday, July 23, but not before a contentious discussion amongst trustees and with some members of the public, including some who became so heated that they had to be removed from the meeting by police.
Township treasurer Brian Kepes recused himself from all discussion as he is one of the owners of the property, an issue that was repeatedly brought up by a few members of the public, as well as trustees Dave Buckley and Dani Walsh. However, supervisor Leo Savoie pointed out, “Brian Kepes has owned that property since long before he became a Bloomfield Township trustee, and long before he became a trustee.”
Walsh countered that it “didn't pass the smell test.”
Savoie said, “What you're saying is – it's a good project, other than Brian Kepes is involved with it. Every township board and committee has passed it unanimously.”
Rod Arroyo, partner and director of community planning at Giffels Webster, responded to Buckley that rather than Kepes being unethical in owning the property, in many communities he consults in “a member of council or a board frequently owns property in their community because they value their community, and as long as they recuse themselves, it's proper.” He further added, “You have the ability to amend the master plan at any time.”
Arroyo explained that the planning commission reviewed the current master plan for this portion of the township, as well as its vision for this area in August 2017. In December 2017, the township board reaffirmed the 2007 master plan. The master plan amendment recommends that the amount of land in the area designated for office and commercial use be limited. As currently zoned under a consent agreement, the entire parcel has been zoned for office and commercial. Arroyo wrote in a memo, “this location should be focused on neighborhood goods and services. It is envisioned that the South Boulevard frontage will continue to support small office activities. Non-motorized pathways and sidewalks should be included to accommodate and support walkability in this area.”
The area is comprised of two land parcels, of which the rear is recommended to be rezoned from office/commercial to multiple family residential. “The general character designation for the multiple family residential land use designation has been refined to include attached ranch units in addition to other housing types, including loft apartments, townhouses and stacked condominiums,” Arroyo wrote.
“This very low profile residential seems to be a good transition, and seems to be very consistent with what you might find in a transitional area,” Arroyo said. “In every situation, you have to determine what are in the best needs and interests of the entire community – here, the needs and interests of the entire township. The planning board felt this would be a good development for the entire township.”
While Walsh countered that the public wants it all residential, and “the reason I ran is to support the public,” because some of those living in neighboring communities have objected to the zoning changes, including the residential.
There used to be a commercial strip center on the property which included a Kroger, which closed several years ago.
Savoie responded, “We do listen to the public, but just because we listen does not mean we agree with everyone. We decide things we feel are in the best interest of the entire township.”
“If we don't adopt this, it goes back to the (original) consent agreement?” asked clerk Jan Roncelli.
“Yes, it goes back to the status quo, which is all commercial,” said attorney Bill Hampton.
“The long and short of it is, there is commercial there, and there will be commercial there, because the consent judgement decrees it. It will be 10 acres of commercial,” responded Savoie.
“One consent judgement covers the entire parcel, and one consent judgement is permissible for office. All is non-residential right now,” explained Alan Greene, an attorney for Manchester of Bloomfield, which intends to build the residential, as well as a township resident. “We look at what's best for the property owners and the community. You wanted us to go through this. I've prepared revisions to the consent judgement. Anyone coming in will be bound by the consent judgement. It goes with the land. It will lead to a hard corner with much smaller commercial.”
Trustees voted 4-2 to approve the master plan amendment change, with Buckley and Walsh voting against and Kepes recused.