HOUGHTON – After another lengthy public hearing, a proposed residential complex at the site of the Good Will Farm building was tabled so the council could consult with the city attorney.
“I think we need to take a look at the master plan, and bring some of you people in the room with us, and talk about how are we going to develop these properties, and go from there,” City Manager Scott MacInnes said to the crowd, which, like the meeting in September, largely consisted of landlords who opposed the plan.
The council voted 6-1 to table the proposal, with Mayor Pro Tem Robert Megowen dissenting.
The vote came over the disapproval of developer Jonathan Julien, who said it isn’t fair to the Good Will Farm, owner of the site, to tie the land up for longer.
Julien proposed amending the rezoning to put restrictions on the number of bedrooms.
“I think I’ve put a good plan in front of the council,” he said. “I think we’ve got a great idea here. I just don’t see how it doesn’t fit in the master plan. I don’t see how there’s issues with increased people here, because with increased density, there’s going to be more people … We need to move forward.”
MacInnes said a proposal revising the number of bedrooms would have to be revised and brought back before the council.
Last month, the council voted 3-2 against Julien’s request to change the zoning of the 134,000-square-foot property from R-3 (multi-family) to B-3 (general business).
Julien’s proposal includes a 138-bedroom apartment complex, mostly in one- or two-bedroom units. Under the R-3 designation, he would be able to build up to 86 one-unit bedrooms with 172 parking spaces or 65 two-bedroom units with 130 parking spaces.
Conditions are that only the R-3 family use groups would be allowed, and the zoning would only change with the sale of the property.
At the previous council meeting, MacInnes said Julien and U.P. Kids, formerly Good Will Farm, had requested a new public hearing.
Following that, several of the landlords brought in Marquette attorney Steve Pence, who said a meeting with MacInnes, the three council members who voted against the plan, Julien and U.P. Kids Director Mark Lambert may have violated the Open Meetings Act. Additionally, he said, the request would constitute spot zoning, since the nearest B-3 is half-a-mile away, and would add to congestion.
“I would suggest that what is going on here is basically an attempt to dump 10 pounds of potatoes in a five-pound bag, causing problems for your community and problems for the other landlords who pay taxes and have properties that they need to have filled in order to keep those residents in proper care,” he said.
MacInnes said while three members represented a quorum of voting members on this issue, he did not think it constituted a quorum of the council. He said he would consult with the city attorney.
MacInnes said the city’s attorney had told him there was a possibility of litigation based on past zoning cases.
Landlords reiterated comments from the previous hearing about inequitable treatment and the potential harmful market effects. Julien restated he was putting in fewer bedrooms than would otherwise be allowed under the rezoning, just in the one- or two-bedroom arrangements desired by graduate students.
Christopher Cena, a representative of Theta Tau, which is building a new house near the property, said additional pedestrian and car traffic could be a problem.
“My fraternity’s concerned about adding additional density and residential living right next to us,” he said.
The council also heard a statement in support of the plan from Karin Cooper of Hancock.
“From the standpoint of somebody that believes in sustainable communities and a different way of living, this is a smart project,” she said. “To me it seems like the developer’s the one taking all the risk here, a lot more than anyone else in the community.”
MacInnes said the city would have to revisit its density requirements, which he said are more stringent than other comparable communities.
“Under this proposal that John’s looking at, under the normal density, you would have to have four football fields of green space,” he said. “That’s not good use of land.”