At the June 12th meeting of the City of Portland Planning Commission, commissioners did something unusual-- they repeated their May 8th meeting again. As previously reported by the Beacon, on May 8th, the planning commission reviewed motions related to a proposed development in the Rindelhaven neighborhood off Rowe Ave. Developers from The Brook Retirement Communities, a company based out of Gaylord, Michigan propose to build a senior living facility on a 10-acre plot there. At the May 8th meeting commissioners took up the issue and made recommendations to the Portland City Council concerning the project.
The city council was set to take up the matter at it’s May 20th meeting, however that morning it came to the attention of City Manager Tutt Gorman that notification of the public hearing was not made to all affected neighbors as required by city ordinance. Under the ordinance, property owners within 300 feet must be notified in writing of a public hearing. According to Gorman, the city employee responsible for the notification made an error in measuring the distance, leaving some in the neighboorhood uninformed of the public hearing. “We wanted to provide full due process,” said Gorman, and thus postponed the consideration of The Brook development by the city council and ordered an additional public hearing by the planning commission to ensure that the public had a chance to be informed and have their concerns addressed. “It was simply an oversight by the assessor,” according to Gorman, however, he said that, “the city clerk will now provide a secondary review, prior to any notices being mailed out.”
Since that time, opposition to the proposed development surfaced on Facebook by a group called Creating a Sound Portland. The group, organized by local entrepreneur Patrice Webber, has also distributed flyers voicing concerns about the quality of care provided at the proposed facility which will not require state licensure due to the specific services provided. Webber, who owns the Portland Assisted Living and Memory Care facility on Charlotte Highway is also concerned about traffic flow on Rowe Avenue as well as the availability of adequate ambulance services.
At the May 8th planning commission meeting, those in attendance had a chance to learn about the proposed development from representatives from The Books. The developers currently operate 11 retirement communities across the lower peninsula. Spokesperson Kimberlee Pappas said that the proposed facility consists of 42 housing unit with 20 being independent living one and two bedroom apartments and 22 assisted living studio or 1 bedroom apartments. Amenities on site include “nurse-based care planning,” 24 hour staffing, dining room service, salon services, and recreation. Recreation facilities include billiards, a library, theater, and lounge areas with regularly planned games, crafts, and live music.
Four issues were taken up by the commission with three public comment times. First, the commission approved the removal of 10 acres from the Rindel Haven PUD (planned unit development). Second, they considered the rezoning of the removed 10 acres from commercial to R3 residential. Both measures passed unanimously and will be forwarded to City Council for consideration at their next meeting. Third, the commission approved a special land use permit for the rezoned 10 acres to be used for an elderly housing facility. This issue is within the purview of the planning commission and does not require approval of the City Council, but only goes into effect subject to council approval of the 10-acre removal and rezoning. Lastly, the commission received a preliminary presentation of the site plan for The Brook from the developer’s engineer.
There were more than 20 members of the public in attendance including a number wearing bright yellow t-shirts identifying themselves as members of the Creating a Sound Portland group. During public comment, Mrs. Webber rose to speak concerned about the alteration to the Rindelhaven neighboorhood the Brooks would bring. Portland city planner Paul LeBlanc addressed the concerns by pointing out that the original plan for the Rindelhaven development consists of 152 acres, which included a much larger senior retirement housing facility making the proposed development not inconsistent with the original long-range plan. Since the Great Recession, only a small portion of the land has been developed and work with Mayberry Homes, which planned the development originally has not pursued further building on the original plan as of yet.
Mrs. Webber was further concerned that The Brooks will put a strain on city infrastructure or lead to longer response times for emergency services. A representative from the City of Portland’s engineering firm, Fleis&Vanderbrink addressed the question saying that a review of city infrastructure shows that none are of concern for a development of this size. “I think many are unaware of the enormity of the existing PUD and what was already approved/contemplated years ago. This development is a drop in the bucket in comparison,” City manager Gorman told the Beacon. He continued saying that, “iit should be noted that Rowe Avenue is already a high priority for improvement in the City’s capital improvement plan and if any traffic controls are deemed warranted, they will be incorporated accordingly.”
Gorman also stated that the plans have been reviewed by Portland Police Chief Starr Thomas, Ambulance Director Phil Gensterblum, and Portland Area Fire Authority Chief Tim Krizof. All three are confident that their agencies can adequately provide emergency services to the new development without adversely affecting response times for the rest of the community.
Before adjourning, Gorman also gave the commissioners an update on the redevelopment of the Muffler Man garage on Grand River Ave. According to Gorman, contractors are still working to finish paving of the back parking area as required in their site plan but have been hampered by weather and finding available asphalt contractors during the road construction season.
Commissioner William Roeser, whose day job is President of Sparrow Ionia Hospital, gave a teaser of plans the long-anticipated Sparrow facility on Hyland Dr. off of Cutler Road. Roeser shared that Portland is considered a rural underserved community by the federal government and so Sparrow has a great interest in continuing to improve health services to this area. Plans are currently in the works to determine what health services will be offered at the new facility. According to Roeser, the current Sparrow Medical Group office in rented space on the corner of Cutler and Grand River Ave. was outgrown long ago and the health system is excited to share more details about their plans in the coming months.
PHOTOS: Courtesy the City of Portland, City Planner Paul LeBlanc, and The Brooks Retirement Communities