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| 5 min read | By Lonnie Huhman, lhuhman@thesuntimesnews.com

A new development is bound to come to Lima Township, but the questions are, what should it look like and how will it impact what exists today?

These questions and many others are now being asked by residents and township officials as a proposal has been put before the Lima Township Planning Commission that wants to build a mixed-use development on 46 acres near the northeast corner of Freer Road and Old U.S. 12.

The plan was discussed at the Sept. 23 planning commission meeting before a full room of residents, many of which live in the area around the proposed planned unit development. The good majority of those in the room, with at least 50 in attendance, were not happy with the plan.

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The developer is the Wolf Land Development Company, LLC, which is led by David Wolf.

According to township planning consultant Paul Montagno of Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc., the proposed development plans to consist of two 40,000 square foot medical office buildings and 192 residential units. The residential units consist of 76 single-family residential homes, 76 townhomes, and 40 single-story attached ranch style homes.

The developers are asking the township for rezoning from AG-2 – Agricultural to R-2A and the approval of a PUD application. To become a reality, the plan will need the recommendation of the planning commission and approval of the township board. 

Wolf Farm planner Bill Anderson of the Atwell Group talks about the proposed development at the Sept. 23 Lima Township Planning Commission meeting.

In his report to the planning commission, Montagno said “the site is located behind existing single-family homes that front on Old US-12. There is access to US-12 through an existing residential development on a private drive known as Cambridge Court. The development site also has frontage along N. Freer road where the primary entrance to the site is proposed. The site is located in Section 18, immediately to the east of the City of Chelsea.”

The site is currently used for crop farming. It’s not serviced by public utilities, and because of this, the plan will be looking to connect with the city of Chelsea’s utilities.

One concerned resident at the Sept. 23 planning commission meeting was Colin Dunham, who lives in Cambridge Court. He said the proposed development is too dense, which means too many people, and the increase in traffic that would come with that will only cause more issues and concerns on Freer and Old U.S. 12.

“Primary concern is traffic,” he said.

He cited examples such as the daily traffic backups on Old U.S. 12 as well as those that come from traffic leaving I-94 when something happens and leads those vehicles to look for an alternate route.

He echoed what many at the meeting said about the plan being too large and aggressive, and that current conditions will not be able to handle it. He said it may be better if it the proposal was downsized to not include the medical office buildings while adjusting the lot sizes.

Other concerns included: pedestrian safety; the clearing of too many trees from the south end of the property; stormwater drainage; will the housing have affordable options; utilities and would the land eventually be annexed into the city.

For area resident Palmer Morrel-Samuels, the meeting, and discussion was good and needed. He said if the plan is going to be formed into striking a balance it’s needed.

Another area resident on hand at the meeting, and who was one of the few to express their support, was Sue Lesser, who said she likes the residential idea of the development because she wants to continue living in the Chelsea area and views the proposed housing options as a chance for her to downsize from her current home. She said the development could be a good thing for various reasons, including having more people living in the community to help support the local economy. 

In follow up to the meeting, The Sun Times News reached out to Wolf for comment.

“We have received offers from national builders in the past to develop Wolf Farms however my brother and I felt that taking control of the approval process ourselves was the best approach to ensure that it was developed as a mixed-use community unlike some of the other track home developments in the area,” he said.

Wolf’s mother’s family has lived in Chelsea since the late 1800s and his parents have jointly owned property in Chelsea since the 1970s while his brother and his family have lived in Chelsea for over 40 years. 

A look at a portion of the property in question across Freer Road.

“My parents purchased the acreage on Freer Road in 1978 with the intention of developing it for residential and/or commercial use as the market developed in the Chelsea area,” he said and added that his family developed Cambridge Court and the initial four residences in the late 1980s. 

He said the master plan has been developed over a period of time with input from both Lima Township and the city of Chelsea, and they believe the development plan does fit within both municipalities’ master plans, “as the PUD tool is intended to allow for a mixture of uses including medical offices.” 

“The two proposed medical office buildings are the closest in proximity to the Chelsea Community Hospital and are needed to provide physician care to both Trinity and Michigan Medicine patients as well as private physician groups,” Wolf said.

“The existing medical office building adjacent to the Chelsea Community Hospital is completely occupied and as stated at the Planning Commission meeting on Monday, they cannot build another medical office building on the Hospital campus due to poor soil conditions.” He said. “Chelsea is becoming a hub for healthcare and each medical office building on our site is expected to support 65 well-paid jobs in addition to generating tax revenues for the City of Chelsea and Lima Township under the 425 Exchange agreement.”

In regard to the residential part of the plan, Wolf said, “While we intend to attract younger families with affordable townhomes, ranch homes, and single-family residences, there is also a growing demand for those older residents who would like to remain in Chelsea and downsize from their current homes.” 

The zoning request is because the developer wants to offer a wider variety of housing options and the particular zoning would allow that.

“We believe a variety of residential products and pricing would be welcomed by Lima Township and the city of Chelsea with well-landscaped open spaces, parks and a community garden,” Wolf said. “As a result of the previous Lima Planning Commission meeting, we have increased the landscaped berm areas and the existing wooded area on the southern property line in response to our neighbors’ comments.”

He said, “the traffic and density issues that the neighbors have raised is something we are very cognizant of and will work to address as best we can in cooperation with the Washtenaw County Road Commission and the Planning Commission. We are confident that we will be able to adjust our master plan to meet the requests of the Planning Commission and the area residents to ensure that this project will be phased properly and will be an asset to the community. We look forward to working with our neighbors and addressing their concerns in a proactive manner.”

Montagno’s report said, “because of the need for City utilities and the potential to do a 425 agreement the preliminary PUD plan should be sent to the city of Chelsea for comments before making a recommendation to the Township Board. The Planning Commission could either send the plans to the city as they are or the Planning Commission could ask the applicant to make changes to the plans that they want to see first.”

The Michigan Municipal League defines a 425 as legislation adopted in Michigan to promote economic development within the state by providing a method by which cities, villages, and townships may agree to engage in cooperative economic development projects for their mutual benefit.

“The legislation recognizes that the economic growth of communities is often constrained or thwarted by lack of public infrastructure services within an area targeted for growth. A proposed area of economic growth is faced with the dilemma of investing in the development of the needed services or contracting, at a premium, for the services,” the MML website states. “The threat of annexation by an adjacent unit of government to provide the services to the proposed area of growth does little to promote cooperative economic expansion.”

The planning commission postponed its decision on the request/application. 

Chairperson Marlene Consiglio asked the developer to go back again and do some reworking of the plan in an effort to address such things as reducing the density, increasing setbacks and adding more open space.

The commissioners also want to see the response to the traffic study from the city and WCRC.

The feedback from the commissioner was mixed.

Nanette Havens, the township board representative on the planning commission, said the plan is too dense and she agreed that traffic is already an issue.

While commissioner Howard Sias said the location does seem like a logical spot for new development, but said there are other considerations, such as the other parcels in the vicinity. He said no matter what, traffic is an issue.

Commissioner Elizabeth Sensoli said she likes the idea of affordable housing options, but she too was uncomfortable with the traffic impact.

The planning commission will again take up this proposal in its upcoming meetings.

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