By Megan Kelley
In recent months, the village has continued to move forward with the proposed mixed-use development on the Ehman Center property, 55 Elizabeth St.
The proposal, brought forward by West Construction, includes the redevelopment of the Ehman Center building as well as a brand-new building on the same property. Together, the two buildings are expected to have 89 units, 142 designated parking spaces and up to 5,000 square feet in total of commercial and community space.
The re-adaptive, reuse proposal was brought to the village in June.
In October, the village planning commission held a public hearing on the development. Several residents voiced concern with the project, citing possible traffic and parking issues. One woman spoke in place of her mother, an elderly woman who has lived in the house right next to the Ehman Center, 125 Elizabeth St., for 12 years.
Though the plan had yet to be brought to the planning commission for consideration — and now has received preliminary PUD approval — an 18 unit development would be built on the other side of the woman’s property at 141 Elizabeth St. The two developments surrounding the woman’s home would likely impact her daily life, the family claimed.
Despite the concerns, the planning commission voted 6-0 to recommend conditional preliminary approval on the PUD to the village council. Included in this motion, however, was for the village manager to recommend to the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority the possibility of purchasing the lot between the two developments (125 Elizabeth St.).
When the village held their hearing on the PUD plan on Oct. 25, concerns among residents in the area remained when it came to parking and traffic flow. Despite these concerns, the village council unanimously approved the PUD Preliminary Plan and granted West Construction a variance on parking, only requiring 1.6 parking spaces per unit. Village ordinance currently requires that new multi-unit developments within the village have two parking spaces per unit.
During the DDA board’s regular meeting on Dec.14, the planning commission’s request that the DDA consider purchasing 125 Elizabeth St. was brought to the board for consideration.
Though it was not exactly clear what the planning commission would like to see the DDA do with the property, one use broached was that the DDA would look into turning the lot into additional parking. Currently, the DDA lists parking as their second most important priority for the year and parking solutions are consistently a topic of conversation at the DDA board’s monthly meetings.
In the DDA’s board packet, DDA Executive Director Molly LaLone recommended that the board not purchase the property based on its distance from the downtown, its proximity to the two multi-family developments and the hilly terrain of the lot.
Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett, who sits on the DDA board, was the first to speak against the DDA purchasing the property, also citing the distance from downtown property.
“I think that’s something that the two developers could easily partner up and purchase and add parking if they wanted. I don’t see how that’s the responsibility of the DDA,” Barnett said. “I agree with the recommendation to not spend resources to add parking someplace that will really benefit these two private developments. Yeah, some other people might park there but if there are developments there that don’t have enough parking for their residents then they need to address that themselves and not lean on the DDA. I think we need to focus our resources closer to downtown.”
Several board members chimed in to agree with Barnett.
“I’ve always felt that this parking consideration or this land purchase was unnecessary. So, thank you,” said village council President Ken Van Portfliet, who also sits on the planning commission board and voted yes on the motion to send the land purchase recommendation to the DDA in October.
The DDA board voted unanimously to receive and file the request but to take no further action on the item.