BeeHive Homes, an assisted living facility, felt the sting of rejection last week as the Oxford Township Planning Commission voted 6-0 to recommend denial of its preliminary Planned Unit Development (PUD) plan based on its failure to meet eligibility requirements outlined in the zoning ordinance.
“In my opinion, there’s too many open items to be addressed on this,” said Commissioner John Nold.
This recommendation must now be voted on by the township board.
BeeHive Homes, a Boise, Idaho-based franchisor of assisted-living homes, is looking to construct four, single-story buildings, each containing 20 units (single bedroom, plus bathroom), totalling 48,022 square feet, on a 4.85-acre vacant parcel located at the south end of Gateway Drive, just west of M-24 and north of the village.
“Assisted living is kind of right in between nursing home and independent care. We overlap both of those,” said Ty Harding, regional representative for BeeHive Homes. “We are proposing a site here that addresses people that have memory care needs.”
Harding explained that “most of our residents are female” and “they’re 85 (years old typically) when they enter into our homes.”
“Most of them have lived by themselves for about 15 to 16 years,” he noted.
BeeHive Homes built its first facility in 1987 in Meridian, Idaho and now has more than 160 homes scattered across 18 states.
“This is our first home in Michigan that we are attempting to develop,” Harding said.
“We feel like we can raise the quality of life (for) the residents in this particular area,” he noted.
Based on the proposed site plan, BeeHive wants to construct one 12,682-square-foot building and three 11,780-square-foot buildings to form a campus setting. The plan shows a total of 48 parking spaces.
The parcel on which BeeHive Homes wishes to build is currently zoned for office use. It was noted that under the existing zoning, a 30,000-square-foot office building with 80 parking spaces could be constructed by right. Current zoning allows for a building that’s three stories (or 45 feet) high.
Convalescent/nursing homes are not permitted in office zoning, so a PUD, which is a special form of rezoning, was requested by BeeHive.
Peter Stuhlreyer, who co-owns The Goddard School at 55 Gateway Drive, spoke in favor of BeeHive’s proposal during the public hearing portion of the meeting. He believes the assisted living use would be much less intense than office space.
“I encourage it because the last thing I want is 30,000 square feet of office traffic running in front of my building all day long,” he said. “And this is a nice addition. It finishes out the subdivision. The private drive [Gateway Dr.] is now made whole by them coming in.”
Commissioner Kallie Roesner-Meyers pointed out that PUDs are not supposed to be used to ignore the zoning ordinance. PUDs are supposed to be “substantially consistent” with the existing zoning and master plan, she said.
“The whole intent of the PUD is to stick with what we have and to make a more creative development within what we have, meaning the reconfiguration of the buildings or changing the parking or something like that, not to actually justify a change of zoning,” Roesner-Meyers said. “This is a change of zoning . . . It’s dressed up as a PUD.”
“We have already picked the zoning in that area. That zoning is office. Our choice of zoning should not be used as justification to do a PUD,” she explained.
Roesner-Meyers told her fellow commissioners they can’t simply rezone the property as a PUD “because we think it’s a good idea.” The eligibility criteria spelled out in the ordinance must be met, she said.
“I don’t think it meets the criteria for a PUD according to our own ordinance,” she said.
Resident Dr. Bruce Meyers, husband of Roesner-Meyers, spoke against the proposed PUD during the public hearing.
“I look at a PUD as a way of getting around following the master plan,” he said. “Is there a way to do this properly, staying within the master plan, not setting precedence for changing the master plan, basically, willy-nilly?”
Roesner-Meyers believes there are other properties within the township and village where such an assisted living facility could be built.
“We have a lot of properties already zoned for multi-family (use) that this could go (on) right now,” she said.
The idea of having more northbound traffic turning left off M-24 and onto Gateway Drive, which is a private road, was a source of concern for both the public and commissioners because there’s no turning lane there.
“That particular span of road is, I think, a safety hazard,” said resident Marianne Kainz. “As a motorist, there’s been many times that I’ve had to slam on my brakes because somebody is looking for where The Goddard School is, someone’s looking for the McLaren (medical) center . . . That particular span is very, very dangerous.”
“There’s going to be a fatal accident soon (in that area), especially as we get more and more traffic,” Kainz added.
Commissioner Tom Berger said he recently made a turn there and it’s “kind of scary.”
“I definitely would want to see something (change) there,” he said. “That’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Stuhlreyer noted, “In the last eight years, we’ve had exactly zero incidents in the intersection from picking up and dropping off (Goddard students). I think people get used to passing (Gateway Drive), going north (and) turning around in front of the Tractor Supply.”
Township engineer Jim Sharpe said those safety concerns have been expressed to the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the state appears willing to extend a left-turn lane in front of Gateway Drive and the McLaren Oakland medical facility.
“MDOT seemed very agreeable to that. They had a conceptual plan for us,” he said. “It’s not finalized, but they did show support (for) that.”
Density was another issue.
Under the zoning ordinances’ current standards, the parcel BeeHive wishes to develop could support 70 persons, but it’s proposing facilities for 80 people.
“It looks a little dense to me,” Berger said.
“The development itself is pretty aggressive,” Kainz said. “I think that’s a little bit much for that parcel of land.”
Commissioner Jack Curtis was concerned about the increased sewer needs of an assisted living facility versus office space. BeeHive would require nearly five times the sewer capacity that was previously allocated to that parcel under office zoning. Curtis said in order to give additional sewer capacity to BeeHive Homes, the township would have to take it away from another property, then a situation develops where capacity is available on a “first come, first served” basis, instead of being allocated based on zoning as is the current practice.
Curtis was also concerned about the setback deviations BeeHive is requesting under the proposed PUD.
Per the zoning ordinance, convalescent/nursing homes require a 75-foot setback from all property lines. BeeHive is requesting a 17.55-foot setback from the north line, 23.73-foot setbacks from the east and west lines, and a 25-foot setback from the southern property line, according to the Aug. 15 review letter written by township Planner Matthew Lonnerstater, of the Ann Arbor-based Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc.
The parcel is bordered by single-family residential properties to the west, the McLaren Oakland medical facility to the east and The Goddard School to the north.
Despite their rejection of the preliminary PUD and concerns about this parcel as a suitable location for BeeHives Homes, planning commissioners admitted there’s a need for more assisted living facilities in Oxford.
“Our population continues to age and they’re all aging in place,” said Mike Spisz, who serves on the planning commission and Oakland County Board of Commissioners.
In terms of assisted living facilities, Spisz said all of Oakland County is “well short” of what’s needed.
Commission Chair Mike Young said his father is living at a memory care facility in Troy. “He’s not in Oxford and I sure wish he was,” he said.
“I see great need for a facility like this,” added Young, who noted he, too, felt the proposal was a little too dense.
Roesner-Meyers said, “I know our population is aging,” but “I don’t want to hurt other property owners who have zoning that’s already permitted this type of use.”
“There’s vacant land available that this would be allowed on,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of his client BeeHive Homes, engineer Jim Butler, president of PEA, a Troy-based engineering firm, told commissioners, following their vote, that he wished there had been “an opportunity for us to have dialogue with you” during the meeting.
“We were never given the opportunity to have any discussion with you about the items that you had,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed in that.”