(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 21, 2016)
Ferndale, MI – The north side of E. 9 Mile from Leland to Paxton could be the site of a 112-unit apartment building called Ferndale Apartments if a proposed development goes through. The initial plans were presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday by Wolf River Developments. The project meets zoning requirements, and meets the requirements for parking, but falls short of the Planning Commission’s desire for ground-level retail.
According to Mike Dowdle, a partner in the project, the target audience is millennials. “70% of the new apartment construction is aimed at the luxury apartment level. We want to be a step below that because that is where the demand is,” Dowdle said.
The apartment building stretches the entire block, with the addresses being 371-475 E. 9 Mile. Buildings currently on the block, which currently house the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce office and the FernCare Free Health Clinic, will be razed to make room for the development.
The proposed structure is 4 stories tall (50 ft) with a common area on the roof and a common greenspace area that includes a fenced-in dog run at the back of the building. The leasing office and 3,000 ft of office or retail space would be in the middle of an otherwise nondescript façade. Materials would be a mix of concrete, metal and wood with a simple, modern look, and a raingarden would help to mitigate runoff as well as add green space to the lot. The initial concept calls for screened in ground level parking primarily underneath the building, with some spaces in the back off the alley.
According to the documents submitted to the Planning Commission, “The apartments would have granite counters and all kitchen appliances, individual HVAC units and washer/dryer in each unit. The second through fourth stories will have a mixture of studio, one bedroom and two bedroom units.”
Most apartments would be studio or one-bedroom, but 29 would be two bedroom.
There would be 139 parking spaces, plus 16 on-street parking spaces that the city could meter. There would also be two areas for bicycle storage, fitting 26 bikes in each area. The parking exceeds the requirements, but is also problematic for the commission. Several members of the commission talked about their desire to have retail or office facing the street. Across the street from the properties is the Credit Union One building and parking structure. “If you have nothing at the ground level you’re creating a canyon there,” said Planning Commission member Ian Williams. “It’s a long blank space for pedestrians.”
When asked why there was not more retail or office space, Dowdle gave two main reasons. The first is that he’d been told that parking would be the primary concern, and thus had been a primary feature. And second that he felt there was not enough demand for retail and office in that area. He stated they were too far off Woodward to support those kinds of businesses, particularly with Credit Union One across the street having vacant office space. He said that banks are more likely to fund a space that meets existing needs, than funding retail space that may or may not be fillable.
However members of the Planning Commission said they are expecting growth to happen from Woodward to Hilton, and that approving businesses that fit in with the city’s Master Plan will encourage that growth.
Wolf River Development has not built in Ferndale before, but they are credited with their role in redeveloping the Michigan/Grand River Corridor of East Lansing with similar projects. Those apartments also had a lower price point than other new developments, making them ideal for students.
A resident from Vester Street was concerned over the building putting the homes behind it in a shadow, even showing a computer simulation of the building blocking out the path of sunshine.
Wednesday was the first introduction of the concept and there was no vote taken. Dowdle said that he would not rule out the possibility for changing plans to accommodate more retail, but said that a requirement like that would likely put an end to the project.
Ferncare Free Clinic and the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce have each made plans to relocate so their current homes can be demolished. The Chamber will be moving into the Credit Union One building, and FernCare will be moving to the shopping plaza at 9 Mile and Hilton at the end closest to Hilton.
The move means increased ongoing costs for Ferncare. They had been leasing their current space for just $1 per year thanks to the generosity of Credit Union One who owns the property. FernCare President Ann Heler said the new landlord has given them a good deal, but that the rent is more in line with market value. There are also other costs associated with the move. “Once we know all the costs we’ll put out a press release and hopefully people will support what we are trying to do,” Heler said.
She anticipates there will only be a two week window with no clinic sessions, and that the new facility will be ready the first week of December. “The new clinic will be just as nice, and we’ll be just as welcoming,” she said. Those who would like to donate to help FernCare with the move can do so at http://ferncare.org/donations/.
There are several proposed developments in the works through Ferndale, which is experiencing high demand for residential spaces.
More information about the initial concept are available online HERE.