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  • By Lisa Brody

Squirrel/S. Boulevard corner zoning, plan approved

After another contentious Bloomfield Township Board of Trustees meeting, the southwest corner of South Boulevard and Squirrel Road received approvals for rezoning and site plan approval for a mixed use development on Monday, August 13.

At the beginning of the meeting, treasurer Brian Kepes recused himself because he has an ownership interest in the properties, 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 2004, long before he became a Bloomfield Township Treasurer, and long before he became a trustee.”

Patti Voelker, township planning building and ordinance director, noted in her introduction of the site that the corner was “formerly known as the Burlington Shopping Center.” A credit union is on an adjacent parcel, with a vacant piece behind it.

“Manchester Squirrel, LLC and Auto City Properties, LLC are proposing a joint development and rezoning request as part of the site plan proposal for construction of a multiple family residential community and a corner commercial development,” she wrote in a presentation memo.

She explained that Manchester of Bloomfield's mixed use development site plan shows the parcels reconfigured through a lot split request to add the 2.13 acres of vacant property behind the credit union to a proposed 7.67 acres that would be multi-family rental residential, for a total of 9.8 acres of multi-family residential. The lot split would also create a new 2.3 acre commercial parcel at the southwest corner.

The entire parcel had been zoned commercial.

She said the residential site plan proposed 12 buildings with seven to nine units in each building, to be called the Manors of Bloomfield.

Trustees adopted a master plan amendment of an area plan for South Boulevard and Squirrel Road at their meeting on July 24, 2018, which permitted zoning and use changes on the property, allowing it to be transitional next to a residential neighborhood. The property is governed by a consent judgement.

The developers, represented by attorney Alan Greene, said, “The property is really a transitional area. The zoning has all been for business uses. All that property that had been developed had been a shopping center that we tore down.”

Part of the requested rezoning would allow restaurants, he said, “And we really think a restaurant would be a great use here,which is why we'd like to change the use.”

Trustee Dani Walsh asserted they were going against the township's master plan, and Greene explained that they weren't – “You've voted on your master plan, and you changed it.”

A few members of the public became rude and vitriolic when speaking out against the development, castigating Kepes for his ownership interest despite his recusal at each meeting where it was discussed, as did Walsh and trustee Dave Buckley. At one point, resident Bill McMaster was particularly chastised by supervisor Leo Savoie for calling Kepes “Brian Creeps.”

“It's absolutely unacceptable behavior,” Savoie said.

The small group of dissidents demanded all residential on the property, not multifamily, despite its zoning as all commercial.

Savoie pointed out that the township felt “20 to 25 percent commercial is a good compromise with residential, compared to all commercial,” he said. “Do the right thing with this development. This is a quality proposal for a property that has been vacant for 20 years after we had to go through a condemnation procedure.”

“Some people want 100 percent commercial; some people want 100 residential. This is what was presented,” said trustee Neal Barnett. “Developers buy properties; developers sell properties. It's business. To suggest something unseemly is going on – it's nothing different than goes on in other communities. A board member can own property as long as they recuse themselves. So to make it something unseemly is disgusting.”

Trustees voted 4-2 in approving all aspects of the lot split, rezoning and site plan, with Walsh and Buckley voting against. In voting, Buckley said, “I wish you luck. It's great, but I'm voting no.”

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