By BETH ALTENA
Rockford City Council members heard some angry comments from residents opposed to the Tamarack Run condominium development on Monroe Street in downtown Rockford before unanimously voting to approve the project.
After addressing some other business, the council first heard from the senior architect of the project, Mark Miller of Prein & Newhof, who apologized to those who had been present at the Rockford Planning Commission meeting last month. He said, with minor changes, the presentation was the same. The change was to adjust the stormwater management to accommodate three to four inches of water rather than just one inch in a rain event.
“The site is low and wooded on the southern leg with wetlands and floodplains.” He described the property as L shaped broken down for descriptive purposes into four units, all under one ownership, as required for applying for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation. He said the development would eventually include seven ranch dwellings, fifteen townhome units and 27 units in loft dwellings.
He said the plan conforms with the city’s Master Plan, adopted in 2002 and with the North End Sub Area Plan (NESAP) adopted in in 2011. He said the NESAP suggested a senior living development, perhaps combined with adjacent properties to be an aging in place community.
He described the building and architecture as designed to follow NESAP guidelines, including the use of natural stone, pillars and arched rooflines.
Homes from this area, according to 2016 data, sell for between $99,000 to $180,000. Sales of the condos are expected to be in the range of $240,000 to $280,000 for the loft units, $250,000 to $280,000 for the ranch homes and $340,000 to $390,000 for the townhomes.
According to Miller, two traffic studies were conducted, one by the City of Rockford, one by Progressive A&E, and show there are 450 to 500 cars on weekends on Monroe Street, 750 to 800 on weekdays. The study showed that traffic can continue to operate safely and efficiently with the additional traffic from the development up to the capacity of 1,500 to 2,000.
Parking is calculated by dwellings, and exceeds the number required by the PUD process, Miller stated.
The development will include four stormwater and biotreatment cells designed to clean and cool stormwater. He said the plan was reviewed with Rockford’s environmental consultants and Trout Unlimited who like the plan.
Miller said that the Rockford Planning Commission, during their meeting on February 16 of this year, had asked the developer to work out a plan to handle more than the one inch of rainwater. He said the plans now are to prepare for a four to five inch rain event, runoff from a 25year storm.
The development will be built in three phases, Miller said. Phase One will be two ranch homes and two townhomes for four total units and a 24 foot wide street. Phase Two will be five ranch homes and thirteen townhomes. Phase Three will be the 27 units of the loft dwelling. The project will be served by public water and sewer, consistent with the requirements of the NESAP and the City’s Master Plan. The requirements for open space are fifteen percent, this development has 47.3 percent open space, which does not include yards.
Miller said from suggestions of reviewing the plans, the yards of homes were taken out of the measurement for open space, the concern about lack of connectivity in the open space was considered. “We felt that’s covered by Rum Creek walkways and sidewalks to Memorial Park,” Miller stated. “We have not yet completed deed restrictions and covenants,” which he said was normal for this stage of the planning. He concluded his presentation by repeating all of the requirements for a PUD, which he said are all covered.
City Planner Paul LeBlanc spoke next. “As you know, a PUD is very different from other zoning, such as commercial or residential. It’s very prescriptive. A PUD is designed deliberately to provide flexibility.” He said PUDs can help when a variety of uses are desired that might not be permitted in other zoning.
“Unlike others, there are lots of restrictions and the ability to modify restrictions. Before the PUD can apply, there are five qualifying conditions in terms of size, public utilities, etc. This meets them all.” He said there were a long list of other standards and criteria to go through, but in his opinion all the standard ones are met or can be met. He said even if council approves the project, there will be other meetings to approve other items, such as landscaping, lighting and signage, among others.
He said the sub area plan specifically suggested a senior living complex, and if that use was proposed, it would likely have more units than the condo development. He touched on the storm water consideration and said again, this would be on the final site development. He said landscaping, where possible, should be preserved to the extent possible.
“One area that contains vegetation is where the development will occur, where the loft will be built. Some trees will be removed, but not all. The whole southern leg will be retained in its current condition.” Lighting will be designed to minimize glare. Utilities, such as air conditioners and trash receptacles, will be screened. Emergency access is all accessible. He continued ticking off requirements that will be met, according to the presented plan.
“The proposed project appears to satisfy or can satisfy all requirements.”
Steve Oosting from Prein & Newhoff gave a short presentation on the sanitary and storm sewer and traffic study.
The meeting was then opened up to public comments.
Rockford resident Bob Stegmeier said he was very happy to see the developers looking into the three to four inch storm water treatment.
“Rockford is a terrible place,” he said. “For runoff.” He said there is 360 percent more water going down the Rogue River south of Rockford than before, and said he has friends with a house on Packer on the river who had water in their living room for the first time in 2013. He said Rockford is downhill in all directions and suggested the impervious surface of the farm market area contributes to flood problems.
A neighbor who said he is at “ground zero” for the building of the project called in “phenomenal” but said he’s been worried about flooding. He said much of the property is a swamp, and where is that water going to go. “I’m really happy and really glad you addressed that.”
Another neighbor to the project stated that her living room window is directly across where the driveway will be and is 22 feet from the curb. She asked the builder to consider moving the drive to face between two houses and he told her to plant some bushes. She also stated concern for sewer water, the driveway and the contamination. “I know there can be a better plan. Would you want to live across from a development with a driveway across from your living room.”
Former council member Gail Mancewiecz appeared to scold the current council. “I used to sit in those seats and asked a lot of questions and got beat up for it from you people and you people,” she stated. “The Squire only printed what it was fed from the City. I have emails that show Cliff Hill proofed those stories. The Squire has become a state run newspaper like you would find in places like Russia and North Korea.” She said she felt she was denigrated. “And for what? For money? People didn’t get to decide, they had this shoved down their faces.”
Planning Commissioner Cliff Hill spoke next, “I thought there weren’t going to be any personal attacks here. I categorically deny proofing anything that was in the Squire.” Hill went on to state that among seven candidates for three spots on City Council last fall, two of the candidates heavily backed this project and went down in defeat. “It was a resounding voter turnout. He said the number of people that voted for the candidates against the development earned fifteen percent of the votes. “Fifteen percent does not represent a majority of the people.”
Caleb Sower stood up next. He said he’d made it his goal not to say anything. He said he record the meetings and has repeatedly offered anyone to have the recordings but has never once been asked for them by the Squire. “Never once was I interviewed by the Squire. Never once was my wife interviewed by the Squire,” although both parties to the lawsuit against the development. He said people chuckled when Gail mentioned Russia and North Korea, but he’s read lots of emails from city council and past city council managers. “The City helped the Squire a lot.”
“We hear those people didn’t vote aren’t the people who live here. Ignorant people are allowed to vote. Ignorant people are allowed to be influenced by the media.” He wanted to know if everyone was fine with how our last four presidents were elected.
Mayor Steve Jazwiec said the City does not tell the Squire what to write. “We can put out press releases. If you have a beef with the Squire, you should take it to the Squire.”
Christine Sower also spoke, talking about how unfriendly the City is.
Mike McIntosh said he is on the Board of Directors of Neighbors For Neighborhood (who have sued the city against the development). “We are not asking if our basements will flood, we are asking when our basements will flood. Who will be held responsible? It will be called an act of God when it is truly an act of Greed. Why has our City fought so hard for this developer?”
He went on to say the city has appealed the case to the Michigan Supreme Court. “Cities don’t do that. Developers do that.” He reminded the council and audience that Judge Johnston called the agreement collusion. “I want to know what went on behind closed doors and what promises were made.”
He brought up the Squire as well, with Chief Jones being quoted as saying the neighbors are holding the development back. “For the three elected this fall, I am glad to see you here. You promised to represent all of Rockford. You’re representing the developer.”
Lynn McIntosh said she hoped everyone had read the transcript from Judge Johnston. “Isn’t the problem the City and the developer cooked this up because that’s what the two of them want? Why don’t you join the Neighbors? You think people voted for you want the condos. No. They thought you were good candidates.
She also complained about the Squire coverage, pointing out a headline that said how much the City could be sued for. She said the Squire reran an article about how bad Gail is. “No wonder Gail is angry.”
She said the last word is for Mother Nature and how the wetlands will be handled. “Let’s wait for Mother Nature to come to the table. Let’s table this.”
Tom VanderSloot spoke next. “The property isn’t going to stay undeveloped forever. There’s a position between fight and flight. Anyone could look at this development and not think it’s reasonable. There were buildings there before. There will always be some losers this is the greatest good for the greatest number. Go ahead and approve this project.”
The public comment portion of the meeting ended for council discussion.
Mayor Jazwiec said he had concerns about where the water would go and that’s been discussed.
Councilman Jerry Coon asked about taking out the dam from upstream and was told it wouldn’t affect the development because the dam was upstream.
New Councilwoman Cheryl Scales said she liked that the developer is going with a three to four inch storm water plan. She said she remembers the former Burch Body Works company. “It was a big structure. If you look at old pictures, it was wall to wall concrete. This will be much better.”
Regarding comments that the development only has a single drive, she said. “There are several single drive cul de sacs, they are not a problem.”
“My basement floods and I don’t live anywhere near a creek.”
“I just met Marcell (the developer) for the first time tonight. There are no back room collusion and discussion. You’ve heard everything I’ve heard.”
Councilman Terry Konkle said, “I’ll go a little bit further. Before election I knocked on plenty of doors and said to people, ‘Don’t vote for me if you’re opposed to this project.’ I’m convinced this will be better. We want Rockford to be represented, the whole town.” He said he put out that he was willing to talk to people opposed to the development and a couple people did, but the rest stayed away. “There’s no collusion here.”
Coon stated that the environmental concerns is why he is in favor of the development. “A lot of developers walked away from this. There was never any pressure put on us.” He said flood control is an issue but it will be dealt with.
“This property is going to get cleaned up and that’s to the benefit of all of us.”
Councilwoman Melissa Young stated that she heard a lot of questions about height of the lofts and she appreciated the developer spelling it out in feet, “I’m glad you showed us the height instead of saying three stories. That can vary.”
Mayor Jazwiec said he wanted to speak out about the accusations. “This all started at Kayla Rae Cellars, all open to the public.
“Cherly mentioned flooding. I’ve been here 20 yeas and never had flooding before. It seems like we have torrential rains now.” He said people looking at Judge Johnston’s opinion should be sure to look at page 46.
A vote was taken and the council unanimously approved the condominium project.