Re-envisioning the 48-acre site
Posted on 09/03/2021
View of the Downs and surrounding landWhen CEO Randy Wertheimer of Hunter Pasteur Homes (HPH) revealed new concept plans for the Downs at the Planning Commission (PC) meeting on Aug. 30, the commissioners and community responded with many favorable comments yet also voiced concerns about some aspects of the plan (see sketches below).

Two years ago, Wertheimer tabled pursuit of approval for a Planned Unit Development (PUD) after many residents complained about density, traffic problems and other issues. Those challenges haven’t disappeared, but his tenacity was strengthened through additional public input and by bringing together a new team to deliver on the vision for an expanded Northville that citizens could embrace.

The four-hour meeting, held on Zoom, attracted approximately 185 attendees, including commissioners, city officials and other staff. It was moderated by PC Chair Donna Tinberg, who explained that the presentation was a means for the developer to seek the commissioners’ input as well as public feedback about their concepts for redevelopment before submitting official plans. Letters from citizens were also entered as part of public comment.

Tinberg reminded guests that the Planning Commission continues to work on updating three subareas of the Master Plan and invited the public to the upcoming Zoom meeting on Sept. 7 at 6 p.m. Wertheimer said he and his team are following developments regarding the Master Plan Update and have altered some of the concepts based on commissioners’ refinement of the document and public input.

The sale of private property is between the buyer and seller and any redevelopment must adhere to city zoning ordinances and be guided by the Master Plan. In this case, HPH indicated they are following the market demand for new housing, mixed-use buildings (includes commercial space) and a unified appeal among citizens to daylight the river.

Prior to showing concept renderings, Wertheimer and his team talked about their roles in the project and explained the rationale. Wertheimer said he has taken the time to “listen and reflect” and improve on the plan he first presented two years ago. “I needed to develop the Cady Street neighborhood myself,” he said, after terminating the original plan to partner with Watermark Residential.

“I needed to bring the right team together,” Wertheimer said. “We wanted to blend world-renowned architecture with local architecture.” He said he sought partners that had economic wherewithal, a focus on excellence, an interest in developing a project unique to Northville, and high-quality execution. He said he and his team are here “for the long term.”

Members of the team include owners: HPH, The Forbes Co., Toll Brothers, and Oboran; architects and engineers: Elkus, Manifredi Architects, Neumann Smith Architecture, Presley Architecture and M Architects; landscape architect Grissim, Metz, Andriese Associates; and Seiber, Keast Engineering. Among those who presented at the meeting were Seth Herkowitz, of HPH; Wertheimer’s local partner Tim O’Brien; local architect Greg Presley; local landscape architect Randy Metz; Andy West, of Elkus Manifredi Architects; and Alex Martin, of Toll Brothers.

Mayor Brian Turnbull called this stage of the process, “the beginning of a journey.”

The Northville Downs property extends from 7 Mile midway up S. Center, with several parcels on the west side of S. Center, and along River St. and Griswold to Cady.

Re-envisioning the 48-acre site that now houses Northville Downs and vacant land, the concept plans show mixed-use buildings with ground-floor commercial space along Cady St. blended with condominiums and apartments that border a Central Park, a terraced green space larger than a football field. Other types of housing are also proposed (single-family homes, row houses, townhouses) and a daylighted river along River Street. The Cady Street concept depicts luxury condominiums and a separate apartment building with an outdoor pool. Those buildings would have first-floor retail and parking tucked behind the U-shaped apartment building and underground parking for the condos.

A universal appeal among participants was for the new Downs development not to look “suburban” or ultra “urban.” Most want architecture of new homes and other residential housing to complement the city’s historical architecture. Many liked the developers’ concept of creating a variety of home styles, all with front porches, based on styles from established Northville neighborhoods. For single-family homes, an alley along the back would allow people to park in their detached garages, and eliminate driveway crossings on the sidewalks.

The public space shown on the concept renderings is approximately one-third of the entire site, some of which is on a flood plan (near Beal St. Bridge) and can’t be built on. Density has dropped from 599 units in the original plan to 470 units in the concept plan. The reduction is from approximately 40% fewer apartment units. Seventy percent of frontage is three stories or less. In four-story configurations, the first floor is designed for commercial use.

The concept plan includes 174-unit apartments, 53-unit condominiums, 28 row houses, 160 townhomes and 55 single-family homes. There’s 17,500 ft2 of commercial space along Cady. Developers indicate that these choices cover all the demographics – from young residents, families, empty nesters and senior citizens.

Inspiration for street concepts, green spaces and architectural details were drawn from historic towns in New York, Pennsylvania, Baltimore and Brooklyn. The architects also used design elements from Northville’s Historic District. The Central Park concept is patterned after world-class parks. Bryanston Square in London was cited as an example for blending green space with town houses. Northville’s version has three tiered sections with built-in steps to compensate for the elevation change. The park also has accessible entrances.

A unique feature of the row houses along Cady are elevators that can whisk residents from the main floor to the third floor. There are two terraces: at the ground and rooftop levels. At 2,400 ft2, they are configured so the first floor could be commercial space for those with home-based or craft-style businesses.

Listening to the public enabled the HPH team to designate 18 spaces in the surface parking lot across the street from the Presbyterian Church for pick-up and drop-off of children attending day care there. “We got ideas and feedback from residents,” Wertheimer said. In addition, there are 133 surface parking spaces throughout the development for visitors. He said the public can continue to send comments to this email.

Commissioners expressed praise for the work done by the development team but also shared concerns and questions about some of the concepts presented, including the relatively small amount of commercial space, lot sizes for single-family homes, overall density, the economic impact on the City, and clustering multi-family units together.

Several people made statements during the public comments. Favorable comments included an “amazing” Central Park, daylighting the river, the developer has listened to the citizenry, the variation in building architecture is attractive, and having more residents will be a positive thing for Northville. Some of the concerns expressed were too much density; the need to look closer at handicap accessibility at Central Park and in the units; the need for a traffic study and widening River Street, and safer connectivity for pedestrians, vehicles, the disabled, and bicyclists.

(See all commissioner and public comments when the minutes are approved and posted on the website.)

View the plans on the city website.

Sketches: Top: northern portion of the concept development, bottom: southern portion

Northern section - Cady

Southern section - 7 Mile (Hines)