Old churches, schools used for housing in Michigan

By BRYCE AIRGOOD
Detroit Free Press
AP Member Exchange
BERKLEY, Mich. — When Berkley resident Eric Wheeler found out Our Lady of La Salette School could be redeveloped into a five-story apartment complex, he was worried.
Wheeler’s house shares a lot line with the property. What would happen to his privacy? Traffic? The view out his windows?
So Wheeler joined a growing group of residents in fighting the developer’s plans, arguing both at City Hall and on social media that the 129-unit development along Coolidge Highway was too dense, too tall, would create too much traffic and wasn’t a fit for this small, bedroom community.
This month, they won, with the Berkley City Council voting down the project.
“It can’t overwhelm the area, it can’t be this big albatross we’re stuck with for 30 to 40 years,” said Kurt Hite, a third generation Berkley resident who is also co-administrator for the Berkley Residents Against Residential Rezoning Facebook page.
But the battle is likely to come up again in Berkley and cities across southeast Oakland County as residents, city officials and developers fight over one of the few pieces of massive land-grabs available: old churches and closed Catholic schools. On one side developers are looking to create new types of housing that will serve residents of all ages. On the other are residents living in houses on small lots that don’t want to see increased traffic, reduced parking and changing views in their neighborhoods.
In Ferndale, residents this month won their own fight against plans to redevelop the old Drayton Avenue Presbyterian Church into a 30-unit apartment complex.
Ferndale’s Community and Economic Development Director Jordan Twardy said density was the community’s biggest concern.
“People get really really sensitive to density, and rightly so,” he told the Detroit Free Press .
Still, Twardy said people of different ages, income and ability need different types of housing. Empty nesters might want to downsize while medical students might want temporary housing.
He said adaptive re-use and preservation is preferred by the city for redeveloping buildings like the Drayton Avenue church but whoever owns the land has the right to tear down the building if they want to.
Kevin Messier, Real Estates Professional Services associate broker for Drayton Avenue church, said the building, located on 2.3 acres, is in great shape and it would be easy for a church to move-in.
He said several church groups have looked at the property but even more investors and developers have shown interest.
He said the church is under new contract this month after the Ferndale Planning Commission decided not to take action at its July 11 meeting for a Drayton Avenue Lofts LLC proposal. Without a motion made, there was no vote on the zoning recommendation and the 30-unit apartment plan could not move forward.
Although Messier would not release details of the church’s new contract, he said Ferndale is a hot area, like Birmingham and Royal Oak, and there is a need for more housing there.
Just over a mile away at St. James Church in Ferndale, redevelopment of its old school into senior housing has been ongoing for months.
Once complete, “The James” will have 105 units and offer an in-house theater, shuttle service and 24-hour staffing.