(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)
In late May, the Owosso Planning Commission held a hearing to review a rezoning request for 2.373 acres on N. Washington and Wesley streets. Anna Owens and Tom Cook, the property owners, wished to change the zoning from RM-1 Multiple-Family Residential District-Low Rise to RM-1 Multiple Family Residential District-Low Rise with Planned Unit Development (PUD) overlay. Owens and Cook, under Bailey Park Homes, had developed a plan to bring a 14-unit, single-family residential development to Owosso – supplying some needed middle-class housing to a community in the midst of a housing shortage.
Forward to Tuesday, Sept. 8, and the Owosso City Council conducted a second hearing (virtually) on the potential residential development after city staff had identified an earlier oversight where notices were not sent to nearby Owosso Charter Township property owners. The city decided these property owners fairly needed the opportunity to voice any concerns, and another hearing was then scheduled.
Along with the city mistake, a number of Owosso residents submitted a petition over concerns identified as “insufficient sewer/drainage/water runoff capacity, disruption of the ecosystem and wildlife, inadequate infrastructure for both construction traffic and future vehicular/pedestrian traffic and activity.” The property owners stated further concerns on overdevelopment and property value decrease. A letter of opposition by a property owner was also submitted to the city.
The property at the center of all this discussion is sandwiched along the northern city limits, just south of the First United Methodist Church. A few blocks to the west is the Owosso High School building – soon to be the combined middle school/high school campus; a large draw for outside home buyers. In recent years, Owosso has struggled to introduce new housing options, which has often been expressed by Shiawassee Economic Partnership Development (SEDP) President/CEO Justin Horvath. Multiple housing options are needed to attract new residents or “talent” to the area, thus keeping significant tax dollars in the region and bolstering the local economy.
The proposed development is conceptually fresh to Owosso. The Washington Park Smart Homes Development proposition states it would create a “new neighborhood with traditional Owosso characteristics: housing for a range of families, pedestrian accessibility, green spaces, and recreation opportunities for children.” The idea is the development would be “designed with sustainability as a guiding principle. The purposeful, compact placement of the residential units on the site provides a more efficient use of the land compared to traditional single-family developments.” The thought is to create a contemporary neighborhood within a neighborhood, utilizing modern, energy-efficient construction techniques, and fostering a sense of community.
A number of property owners expressed their thoughts during the Tuesday hearing. Some of the major concerns discussed highlighted the potential for an “overdevelopment” of the small parcel with too many homes in a tight location, that the houses might appear identical and not in keeping with neighboring homes, increased traffic flow and road wear-and-tear, infrastructural problems, flooding and storm water runoff, and a small forested area where deer, a fox and a falcon have been seen. Concerns about water and flooding seemed to be the top issue, as there have been ongoing problems with water in the neighborhood.
Several area property owners also stated they were in favor of the development. Travis Yaklin shared, “The point isn’t to turn a quick buck, the point is to provide some necessary housing that we need … I have faith this will be well executed.” Another resident, Allie Caverson, said she would prefer to see the development within the city limits and not on the outskirts of town, where people wouldn’t be connected to city assets.
SEDP President/CEO Justin Horvath stated he thinks the new development will only elevate the property value of surrounding homes, while bringing new residents into the community.
Owens and Cook shared that it was feasible for them to build an apartment building on the property, since it is already zoned for apartments. So by building only 14 units, they were actually suggesting far less habitation. They shared the property was surveyed and they recognize the drainage and flooding concerns, which will be dealt with as the project progresses.
Owens explained that they had come to recognize the nationwide crisis with middle-income families no longer being able to afford nice housing and they wanted to be able to offer that in Owosso. “We want kids to go to school here. We want people to live here. We want people to be part of this great city,” she said.
Council voted unanimously for the project. The next step in the process is the site plan and because this is a PUD project, it will have to come back to council for approval again.