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Smart development: collaborative effort

In the digital world, a "collaborative development environment" refers to an online process of involving stakeholders to develop new software; however, the same concept can be applied to the analog world, where planning and building of major construction projects bring residents, builders and other stakeholders together in an effort to match developments with the community's character.

That's exactly what happened on Tuesday, May 14, at the Hackett Building in Bloomfield Village where an overflow crowd met to oppose a proposed community church campus pitched by Troy-based Kensington Church for the Detroit Country Day School property at 3600 Bradway Boulevard, at the school's Bloomfield Village Campus.

The church, which has gained a reputation as a mega-church of sorts due to its tremendous growth throughout southeast Michigan, entered into a $2.9 million contract in April to purchase the 3.5-acre campus. The church has since been investigating specifics on the site, including traffic patterns and proposed parking, as well as gauging the local community's support for the proposed project.

At the heart of the plans, the church proposed razing about 19,000 square feet of the campus's existing 36,000 square-foot building. Another 16,000 square feet would have been added to accommodate classrooms and other activities. In total, the auditorium at the campus would house about 450 for worship services, with additional activities on most weekends.

From the get-go, developer Cunningham Limp said it would be transparent in the planning process and listen to the concerns of neighboring residents. And to their credit, that's exactly what they did.

"We committed going in that if this wasn't something that they felt would be an asset and fit in with the community and they didn't want us to go here, that we would step aside and withdraw our request," Cunningham Limp CEO Don Kegley said after the May 14 meeting. "We had two meetings with them, and the process was fair and the people took the time to become educated and engaged. We are disappointed with the results, but we have no issue on how we got there."

Citing issues with traffic, noise and parking, some 600 Bloomfield Village residents signed onto a petition objecting to the project. With overwhelming opposition at two different public meetings, the church opted to stick to its initial promise and withdraw the project for consideration. Those in attendance gave the action a standing ovation.

We too applaud both the developer, local residents of Bloomfield Village, as well as Bloomfield Village officials for working together to bring the idea to the public in an open and honest process, and for organizing a clear and concise response. The process is a great example of what we can call a collaborative planning process that truly incorporates public sentiment and developer intentions.

Too often the words "transparent" and "public input" are thrown about without any real meaning. More often than not, public outcry opposing a project comes across as a vocal minority rather than a true representation of an entire neighborhood or community. Likewise, we have seen where those concerns appear to be ignored, so long as a development can be pushed through with legal justification. The result is often a development that fails to gain buy-ins from the community, resulting in economic failure, long-term resentment or both.

In this particular case, the opposition to the project was clear. Not only did residents take time to organize a response, they even provided the developer with annotated maps as to where the greatest opposition and support came. Likewise, the developer took steps to ensure appropriate information was provided to community members, despite the knowledge that opposition could thwart the proposal.

The process should serve as an example to other projects in and around the area that come before municipal boards in the future. By gauging true community sentiment on a development before going too far into the planning process – rather than listening to a vocally disgruntled minority – both developers and those in the community win. In cases where opposition is too great to overcome, developers can avoid failed projects before making larger investments. The process also assists developers in building a reputation of trust when it comes to future projects.

Of particular note in this case is the effort on behalf of residents in Bloomfield Village. Faced with an unfavorable development, word has it the community is now looking at ways to purchase the property themselves to establish their own community center. In other words, concern about neighborhood buy-in may lead to a literal buy-in by residents who want to see their own vision for the community become reality.

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