By BETH ALTENA
Rockford’s Planning Commission again considered a proposed condominium development for property on N. Monroe Street on the contaminated former Burch Body Works site Thursday, February 16. The meeting was also attended by Rockford’s City Attorney Dick Wendt, Planning Consultant Paul LeBlanc., developers of the proposed Tamarack Run condos, storm water specialists and the firm which will oversee the property cleanup. In the audience were several of Rockford’s City Council members and former members.
The meeting began with approval of the minutes from June 2015. When asked if there were any comments besides those related to the evening’s only item of business, consideration of the condominium project, there were no takers.
Chair Tom Sturr prefaced the night’s discussions by describing the history of the project. “About two years ago, almost to the week this project was brought to the Planning Commission to be discussed. We recommended to City Council to approve. They approved the preliminary but ultimately did not approve the zoning change to Planned Unit Development (PUD).” He went on to describe that the developer then sued the city, the judge mediated and the results of the mediation were approved.
“A neighborhood group sued to block that, and now it’s on appeal. The original approval has now expired and the developer has to receive approval again. That’s where we are tonight, just where we were two years ago.” He said the commission’s responsibility that evening was to review and discuss the proposal. Because the property will ultimately have to be rezoned, there will be other public hearings for the project.
Senior architect Mark Miller spoke first about the Tamarack Run development. He described the property as an L shaped parcel along Rum Creek bordered by Memorial Park on the north, touching on N. Monroe to the west and the Baptist Church to the east. Two locations on the property are identified as contaminated, including significant contamination on a parcel purchased from the City.
On November 3, 2016 the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality approved a Brownfield designation for the sites. On February 6, 2016 the MDEQ approved a permit for filling in floodplains there. One third acre of wetlands will be remediated, Miller stated.
He said the property is comprised of several parcels totaling 7.32 acres, all under one ownership. A conservation easement exists for parcel three, 2.84 acres equaling 39 percent of the total site acreage. This amount is “far and above” the 15 percent greenspace required for a PUD designation. Currently the property is zoned R2 which allows five units per acre. The entire PUD will have 6.97 units per acre.
Miller broke down the amount of structure for the site. .91 acres will be buildings (12.4%), pavement will comprise 1.17 acres (16%), boardwalks will be .02 (.3%), easement is .33 (4.5%), stormwater cells are .17 (2.3%), yards are 1.26 (17.2%) and the open space area is 3.46 acres (47.3%). “This is a very conservative approach to open space,” Miller noted.
Ranch units are seven, townhomes are 15 and the loft dwellings will be 27 units for a total of 49 units total when the development is complete. “All are condominium units, single family,” he said. The development is compliant with the City’s Master Plan, adopted in 2002. The proposal is also within the guidelines of the North End Sub Area Plan for the City, which identified the site as well suited for a senior living village. “It is not precisely an aging in place village, but the use is consistent.”
A rendering of a ranch home was displayed, showing a one and a half story building featuring natural stone. The pitched roof home is according to recommendation and is 19 feet at the roof midpoint. The townhomes are 27 feet at the midpoint of the roof and the loft building, which will be set farthest back on the property is 42 feet at the mid point, a three story building with pitched rooflines.
Miller noted current listings in the area run from $99,000 to $180,000 and recent sales run from $82,000 to $225,000 in the neighborhood. It is projected that the condo units will be available for $240,000 to $280,000; the townhomes from $250,000 to $280,000 and the ranch homes from $340,000 to $390,000, depending on upgrades requested by the purchaser. This will increase home values in the neighborhood.
Traffic studies show the additional homes will have little or no impact. A 14 day study showed 650 vehicles per day and the development is expected to add 250 additional vehicles to N. Monroe Street per day for a 900 vehicles per day total. A Progressive A&E study found the street’s capacity to be 1500 to 2000 cars per day, and speeds on the street are low at an average 20 miles per hour.
Additional parking is also expected to accommodate vehicles for the new residents. There are 35 surface parking spaces planned, 16 covered loft spaces, 30 spaces for the townhomes (two each) and 14 spaces for the ranch homes (two each) for a total of 110 space, twelve more than required by code.
A stormwater management system will capture and retain the first one inch of water, double the required one half inch. One inch of rain covers 94% of all rain events. The biotreatment cells proposed will not just clean the water but cool it before is is released to Rum Creek. “We had this system evaluated by Rockford’s environmental consultant and also by Trout Unlimited who both thought it was a really good solution because we are so close to a watershed.”
The development will be built in three phases. First two ranch and two townhomes will be constructed, including all infrastructure and the cul de sac road. Phase two will be five ranch homes and 13 townhomes on 2.07 acres. Phase three, the final phase, will be the 27 loft condominiums. All units will be served by public water and sanitary sewer.
City Planner Paul LeBlanc spoke next, explaining how the PUD must meet all the standard requirements and ran through each count in the city’s codes. He said the proposal was “very compatible” with the surrounding area.
One requirement is that the proposal “not contain uses injurious to health and public safety of the community, and be consistent with the spirit and intent of a PUD district, which could not be met without the use of a PUD.
“Not all properties are created equally,” LeBlanc said. “Some are much more challenging. The proposed development does take advantage of the PUD to accommodate the natural features of the site.” He said the development meets all site plan requirements. He noted there didn’t seem to be a lot of connectivity for the dedicated open space. “There didn’t seem to be any provisions for trails to encourage or allow use of the open space.”
Highlights of the design include excellent stormwater treatment systems, landscaping, buffers and greenbelts, lighting designed to minimize glare, appropriate screening to shield abutting properties, and very well covered especially the three story building, which will be very well screened, LeBlanc said.
Other standards to code that have been met include: Emergency access to the property is appropriate, the building design is compatable or enhances the existing neighborhood. “Based on all of that, my recommendation is that the development appears to satisfy or can satisfy all the requirements for a PUD.”
Alan Riley of Barr Engineering said his firm was retained by the City of Rockford in 2016. He said they will be responsible for oversite of the cleanup, including a former drum storage site and two acres in the northern parcel. He said he has met with the DEQ and the development team. Cleanup will include the future monitoring of properties after the excavation and remedial work and the post verification of the site. Furthermore, City owned property adjacent to the site will also be tested. He will provide the City with updates and progress reports during the remediation process as well as prepare a completion report.
The Commission then opened the meeting up to public comments. Chair Sturr reminded everyone to be brief. “There are about fifty people in the audience, if everyone speaks for three minutes (the limit), that would add another two hours to the meeting.”
Realtor Jim Fase took the podium first. “I would like to speak in favor of moving Tamarack Run forward. It meets all the requirements. I’d like to see the City move forward.”
Tina Johnson, of ReMax United, also spoke for the project. “I have 71 names of buyers interested in buying property here. Not a week goes by I don’t get calls. Today I had two, they all share a love of Rockford.” She talked about the advantages of living downtown Rockford and ended, “This journey has not been easy.”
Lynn McIntosh spoke next. She told LeBlanc that he had reported in 2011 that any development on the property should have two ways in and out. She also spoke about the contaminated wetlands and the visible contamination there. “How do you protect people from that”
She also noted the property has not yet been mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). “It will be mapped by FEMA in a year, why not wait a year” At that point she had used up her three minutes and asked others to take over at the podium and reading a letter she had started to read.
Dale Goosen continued with the letter, which was from a hydrologist with concerns over the floodplain and neighbors downstream.
Tom Rich from ReMax stood next. “The need for housing in Rockford is at a crisis point. Empty nesters are buying up what would be gateway properties for young people and first time buyers.” He said the developer has looked a little bit into the future and none of the proposed buildings have basements. “It’s distressing to see our community bogged down. This provides much needed housing.”
Linda Goosen spoke about a blurb from the Chamber written by Rich describing the dissenters of the development as a “small group of neighbors.” She said over five hundred people signed a petition against it. She expressed safety concerns over the one drive, the wetlands and contamination. “We could put 25 to 32 condos there. Why do we have to put too many condos there” She said she doesn’t believe it needs to be rezoned to a PUD.
Caleb Sower thanked the developer for a much improved PUD than last year’s. He said the same data was used for two different traffic studies, so they really shouldn’t be called two different traffic studies. He also went over the background of the project, the lawsuit, and the settlement which is under appeal. “We were worried it would be overly friendly, that the City and the developer colluded. It is in appeal.” He said every action the City takes seems to be for the developer and not for the residents.” He also offered a recording of the meeting “so you can get your quotes right.”
Gail Mancewicz, former council member who did not retain her seat in the November election stood to speak. “I sat in those seats as city council and voted no to the condos. Those same concerns exist today, there are no new issues. I’m very disappointed in my community for the castigation and humiliation. For what For money I can’t even in good conscience encourage people to live here anymore.”
The next speaker said she doesn’t live on Monroe Street, so she appreciated the visual presentation. “I have to stand against this. Ms. Mancewicz was treated horribly. I thought our newspaper was a newspaper. Things aren’t always the way they seem. Whoever is responsible for treating her that way should feel immense shame.”
“When we are mentioned, we are mentioned as a small number and shrill.” She went on to say she loves Rockford and talking about Rockford, but it should be inclusive and welcoming. She said you can’t treat Ms. Mancewicz like that and be welcoming.
Carl Stites said that it is the job of the City to do what’s in the best interest of most of its residents and the vast majority of residents want this. He said you can’t please everybody. “The bottom line is the majority of people want to see this happen.”
The next speaker said she doesn’t live anywhere near this development. “I want to be one of the ones to join a walking community. There is nothing for sale here. I’ve been looking for months. Overall this would be a wonderful development for my family.”
Another speaker said he is within 300 feet of the development and thought he was supposed to have received a mailed notice of the meeting. He only found out about it today. He said there are discrepancies and concerns overcomments made tonight. He said Mr. Miller said property values could be raised, but that this would be an opportunity for lowerpriced buyers. “That’s a discrepancy.”
Christine Sower identified herself as a party to the lawsuit. She said the City’s position in the lawsuit is that the property is already rezoned to PUD. “I hope you’ll investigate. I hope you’ll listen to the circuit court audio. I’m not your adversary. I’m just protecting my home.”
Sue Popma said she is not a near resident to the development, but feels it is important to listen to the people who talk about contamination. “Also listen to the smaller developer. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of cooperation between the people and the developer.”
Mike McIntosh said he had a question to start about the additional two acres set aside for conservation. He said for two years his group has been asking for a smaller development. “The City of Rockford is siding with the developer, not the citizens of Rockford. With council as it is I think it will go through.” He took issue with being characterized as a small and shrill group and noted the Rockford Political Action group only seven people.
Janet Konkle thanked the Commission for serving the people of Rockford. She noted an 80 percent voting turnout in Precinct One and 70 percent in precinct Two. “The people have spoken. You are here to hear the people.”
Ken Phillips thanked the developer for a well handled presentation and joked that it was “maybe from practice.” He said the project is really improved, and Phase One and Two look good. The Phase Three (three story condos) really scares him. “The people who are standing for the project stand to make a profit. They don’t live in Rockford.”
Joel Cook said he has lived here ten years and he is really excited about this change.
Chairman Sturr closed the Public Comments section at 8:55 p.m. when noone else stood to speak. He said the size of a development is tied to cost. “Everytime you cut the number of units back, the cost of each one goes up. It’s a matter of market.”
Miller responded to concerns about flooding. “I work for an engineering firm. We make sure it doesn’t flood.” He talked about rain events and what happens when water needs to be moved faster.
Commissioner Jon Miner said he would like the developer to try harder with rain events, and get all the water.
Commissioner Dave Rassmusen clarified a comment, noting the City actually has more control when a development becomes a PUD than without one.
The spokesperson from Burr emphasized the vision of cleaning up contamination. “The last thing we want to do with this development is have people there and find contamination.” He said an upside of this agreement is City owned property will also be inspected and cleaned up at the cost to the developer. “If it’s contaminated, the Brownfield will pay for that property, too.”
Commissioner Tom Meester expressed his regret that Gail Mancewicz was no longer in the audience because he agreed with her comments on how she was treated and called it pretty disturbing. “She was treated badly. She was on the council to do her best for the City. Everyone here, either side, has the best interest of the city at heart. Let’s knock this off, it only causes hard feelings and grief.”
Commissioner Jim Scales acknowledged Mr. Phillips’ concerns over the “big building at the back” and density. He said causes distruption and traffic issues. “This neighborhood is a mix of uses right now. There is a school, a soccer field, a funeral home, these are going to be owner occupied condos that will be at a standard or above the existing.” He addressed the tall building is only seven feet taller than the other buildings. “It does not cause this to be out of line with the neighborhood.”
Sturr stated, “I’m for this development. We’ve tweaked it over the last two and a half years. We are at a point to send it to City Council. He asked for a motion to approve the PUD and rezoning for the 49 unit project known as Tamarack Run. Dave Rasmussen made the motion seconded by Tom Meester and the motion was unanimously approved.