Planning Commission prepares, public welcome
Posted on 10/16/2023
Architectural rendering of an attached home at the corner of S. Center and BealThe Planning Commission will meet Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. at City Hall to discuss the final site plan of the Downs development. The meeting will also be on Zoom (view link here.) Attendees can preview the exhibits on the Proposed Redevelopment Project page of the city website.

The estimated $250,000 million mixed-use development will bring new single-family homes (both detached and attached), a condominium building, apartments, townhouses, row houses and carriage homes (443 units in total) and between 17,500 and 18,600 square feet of commercial (retail/restaurant/office) space to the city. It will also provide public benefits of new public parks, a daylighted river, and infrastructure improvements.

The developer will present its plans for signage, landscaping and lighting in the development, including on the main streets of S. Center and Cady, the gateway entrance at 7 Mile and S. Center, along residential streets and sidewalks, and in and along the river park, central park and pocket parks. There will be time for public comment regarding the new items under review.

The Planning Commission will also review how the final plans have met the conditions contained in the PUD that were part of the Downs development preliminary plan approval (view them here). Items pertaining to density, architecture, traffic mitigation and other matters that were approved in the preliminary site plan/PUD won’t be addressed at this meeting except as they pertain to the preliminary conditions.

Planning Commission Chair, Donna Tinberg, noted, “The scope of the final site plan review is really quite limited. The Planning Commission will not be revisiting items that previously have been decided such as compatibility with the Master Plan, the balance between public benefits and ordinance flexibility, or the amount/location of housing types."  

She stressed that the current focus for the Planning Commission will be primarily 1) How the final site plan aligns with the approved preliminary site plan; 2) How the final site plan addresses the conditions that were attached to the preliminary site plan; 3) Ensuring that the final site plan aligns with the PUD Development Agreement approved by City Council; and 4) Reviewing the additional required final site plan components (landscaping, lighting and signage) for compliance with the Zoning Ordinance. 

Timeline – How the process evolved

The revised conceptual site plan to redevelop the Downs Race Track and sections of S. Center, Cady and Griswold into a mixed-use development was presented by Hunter Pasteur Northville in August 2021. Over the ensuing months, various revisions by the developer were presented in response to commissioners’ suggestions, task force input and public opinion. A revised plan was presented by HPN on Feb. 1, 2022 with reduced density of 474 units. After the PC deemed the preliminary site plan “generally complete,” a Public Hearing was held in March 2022. Over the next few months, the Planning Commission scrutinized the plan, dividing it into topics, and invited public comment along the way. During that time, there was civil discussion among commissioners and courteous back and forth between the commissioner and developers. Among the concessions made by the developer was to reduce housing density by 31 units.

The Planning Commission voted 7-2 on Sept. 7, 2022 to recommend approval, with conditions, of the Planned Unit Development (PUD) and preliminary site plan to City Council.

Simultaneously, the Historic District Commission reviewed segments of the plan that were in the Historic District. On May 18, 2022, the HDC was shown conceptual designs for row houses along Cady Street and along Griswold between Cady and Beal (most of that in the Historic District). Their suggestions changed one of the four-unit buildings on Griswold from classic to transitional to vary the look along the street and offer more choices to home buyers. On July 20, 2022 the HDC voted to accept Hunter Pasteur Northville’s application as complete to build seven row houses along Cady St., four townhomes fronting Griswold and three attached single-family homes behind the row houses – all in the Historic District.

On Nov. 21, 2022, City Council unanimously approved the preliminary PUD site plan with approximately 30 conditions, as set forth by the Planning Commission. The property was also rezoned to PUD at that meeting.

From December 2022 through October 2023, many of the puzzle pieces of this project fell into place. The Downs Project Advisory Committee (DPAC) examined the financial impacts of the project and made a recommendation to City Council to approve the resulting financial proposal. DPAC is comprised of the mayor and the chairs of the Planning Commission, Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, Downtown Development Authority, Sustainability Team and the River Restoration Task Force.

The Brownfield Redevelopment Authority was also working during this time to examine the proposed Brownfield Plan that would help to finance the environmental clean-up of the site, among other activities.

Lastly, Special Counsel Carol Rosati worked with the city and developer to draft a development agreement that outlines the various parties’ responsibilities in implementing the project.

On Sept. 18, 2023, City Council approved the Downs Development Agreement with Perennial Northville, LLC, on a vote of 4-1. The document was negotiated by the developer and the city’s administrative team, with extensive legal advice and review. At this same meeting, City Council approved establishment of a Commercial Rehabilitation District, and the issuance of a Commercial Rehabilitation Exemption Certificate to Perennial Northville LLC, an affiliate of Hunter Pasteur Northville LLC, for the apartment building. This action approves a tax abatement that offsets development costs for public benefits.

Typically, PA 210 Districts are created, and exemptions are provided to incentivize a developer to undertake improvement of a property that has been underutilized in the community and that would better serve the community if rehabilitated for a commercial or multifamily residential use. The benefit to the developer would, in most cases, be limited to a tax abatement to allow the developer to recoup some or all of the costs of redeveloping the property over a maximum of 10 years. The benefit to a local unit of government is typically getting the property rehabilitated for a use that will help the local unit to revitalize and stimulate further growth or improvement in a particular area of the local unit’s boundaries, which will eventually result in more taxes being generated by that area for the long term.

Also at that meeting, Council unanimously approved the Brownfield plan as recommended by the Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. 

On Oct. 2, City Council heard the first reading of an ordinance put forth by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) to amend and restate the Development and Tax Increment Plan that will provide a source of self-financing for economic development. The first reading was also conducted for an ordinance to expand the boundaries of the Downtown District of the DDA and include the southern portion of the apartment building and river park that is part of the Downs development. Both ordinances will have second readings at the Nov. 6 City Council meeting.

There will be several meetings in the coming weeks before the Planning Commission votes on the final site plan. If the final site plan receives Planning Commission approval, additional approvals and permits will be sought by the developer from various agencies and authorities relative to specific aspects of the project. Groundbreaking on early phases of the project is anticipated to begin in Spring 2024. Once construction begins, compliance with approved plans, the Northville Zoning Ordinance and other local and state codes will be overseen by the Building Dept. and other members of the city’s administrative team.

The proposed development, viewed below, is from the developers' May 2023 presentation.

Aerial view architectural rendering Downs Development