Tensions rose at the Meridian Township Board meeting on March 19 with the discussion of a mixed residential and commercial development called Newton Park on 26.11 acres of land at the southeast corner of Newton Road and Saginaw Highway (M-78).
Newton Pointe LLC and DTN Management Company are partners in developing the Mixed-Use Planned Development Unit that spans over 12,000 square feet of commercial space and 225 residential units. Still in its planning process, developers face public concern, especially from their soon-to-be neighbors at the Sierra Ridge subdivision.
To achieve all that is planned, the developers are applying for a multitude of waivers. According to the township’s Code of Ordinances, waivers may be granted by the Township Board in exchange for amenities, which are features of a development that can then be used by township residents. Over three separate waivers are being requested.
Brenda Rose, a resident of Sierra Ridge and an outspoken critic of Newton Park, said most of the amenities are specifically for residents of Newton Park.
“The amenities aren’t just things for the people who live in the community, it’s supposed to be things for the township as a whole,” Rose said.
Several board members and citizens also voiced other concerns. Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Newton Park has appeared in front of Meridian Township’s legislators.
The proposal reviewed at the Planning Commission’s Nov. 5 meeting showed issues with traffic flow. Potential problems with the amount of space on the property and the proposed trash compactor site were other concerns. These issues were addressed at subsequent meetings in November and December, in hopes that a resolution could pass. But the approval would never come to fruition.
The final blow came during the Planning Commission’s Dec. 17 meeting when it approved 9-0 Commissioner Alisande Shrewsbury’s motion to deny the MUPUD proposal.
REVISIONS AND COMPLICATIONS:
The planned development has been revised several times since its denial in 2018. Feedback about trash compactors were acknowledged and the developers moved them to the north end, away from the Sierra Ridge border. But spacing and boundaries of the development are still a concern.
The developers are requesting a 225-parking space waiver to increase the available area for parking, as well as a waiver to post freestanding wayfinding signs. The most controversial waiver requests are for setbacks, which will define the boundaries around the development.
Jerry Fedewa is a developer of Sierra Ridge, the neighborhood south of the Newton Park project. He said he wants to see the Newton Park project succeed, but has concerns about the setback requirements. The project will be building within 30 feet of Sierra Ridge’s northern border and will also be implementing a 5-foot buffer with trees planted around it to separate the neighborhoods. Fedewa said this takes up 15 feet of backyard space, which is not ideal.
“There’s no place in the backyard to play,” said Fedewa. “It’s too much, too dense.”
Fedewa said the planning commission denied the project in December because it was encroaching on Sierra Ridge, as well as being too dense. But at Tuesday night’s board meeting, the proposal was larger by one unit.
“Now they’re in front of the board with the same project and more,” said Fedewa. “So you know, they didn’t really listen. They said they listened, but they didn’t, they didn’t listen. Their proposal is as grandiose as the first one.”
Intruding into Sierra Ridge is an issue of setback requirements. For the MUPUD of Newton Park, the setback requirements are flexible.
“The setback is 100 feet, and they’re only 30 feet back,” said Fedewa. “Well, that’s more than flexible. That’s taking away from the spirit of the zoning and setback requirements.”
Fedewa said he’d like to see the project succeed, but there needs to be changes.
“I told the developers that sometimes less is more,” Fedewa said. “And I think that they’re kind of overlooking that aspect of it. They’re trying to jam too much into a small space.”
“I find it amazing that Mr. Fedewa said tonight that less is more,” said Meridian Township Board Clerk Brett Dreyfus. “I said that to him back in 2004 when he was proposing his project. He said no. Now he wants this next project to be less dense to help benefit his particular project that I thought he did not put too much thought into.”
Brett Forsberg, developer on the Newton Park development, said the project plan is nothing new. The property was approved for construction by the board in 2006, but it was never built due to the economy.
“We’ve been actively taking the feedback and making adjustments,” said Forsberg. “But this project is fundamentally the same that was approved by the board in 2006.”
Thirteen years later and Forsberg is happy to get the ball rolling again. He said there have been multiple public hearing processes to entertain feedback, and adjustments made according to board and citizen critiques.
“We very much care about citizen feedback and that’s why we took the time with the public hearings,” said Forsberg. “We don’t want to impact people negatively.”
Citizens requested an increase in green space, which will allow water to leak back into the soil and the wetlands. The development’s parcel is on four existing wetlands, but two are small enough (less than .25 acres) to build on, according to the town’s wetland ordinance.
Rose said the regulated wetlands are over 5 acres total, and shouldn’t be credited as a part of the 8 acres of pervious land provided by the development.
“I don’t know how you can claim credit for developing something that you can’t develop,” said Rose. “They’re not providing additional pervious landscape.”
The MUPUD #18044 is still being revised at every turn, and the developers said they are listening every step of the way.
“Development’s scary, and I get that,” said Forsberg. “When we build stuff, it’s that unknown of what’s coming, so the only thing I have to offer is look at our other projects, look at our track record. Our company’s been here for 60 years. We all live here, this is our home. We are part of the community … It’s very important to us to have a good reputation and build good projects.”
Watch the March 19 meeting on HOM.tv.