Northville Township Approves $82.6 Million Park Plan for Seven Mile Property
Plans for the former Northville Psychiatric Hospital include a community center, band shell and possibly wind turbines.
An $82.6 million master plan for the recreational redevelopment of the old psychiatric hospital property was unanimously approved by the Northville Township Board of Trustees at a special meeting Thursday night – but improvements may take years to start, and some projects likely won’t happen.
The plan is ambitious, said the board and residents who filled the township hall. For the 349 acres owned by the township, the master plan includes possible amenities such as a community center/pool house, mountain biking trails, a snow hill (made out of recycled hospital material), a pond that could double as an ice rink, a skate park, a Great Lawn with a band shell and even an Energy Park with demonstrations of wind turbines.
However, Supervisor Mark Abbo stressed that the pieces of the plan will take years to examine, approve, change or even eliminate.
"This is what we could do, not necessarily what we will do," he said at the meeting.
Arriving at a plan
It’s been a long road for the township to even get to this point. Developers had optioned the entire 431-acre site for retail shops, then discarded all but 82 acres when pollution removal costs got too high and the economy soured.
Last week, the site attracted commercial money. Bloomfield Hills-based REIS announced a deal with the University of Michigan to build a 100,000-square-foot ambulatory center on the 82 acres of hospital property, at the northeast corner along Seven Mile Road.
The U-M deal, and the rest of the commercial land, is very significant to the rest of the property. The state has agreed to allow all taxes collected from any commercial development on the site to go toward the pollution cleanup. Basically, until tax-collecting commercial uses are built on the property, most of the pollution will remain, and the township cannot act on most of the master plan it just approved. Last year, the township also received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup of the site. The plan, which includes the demolition of two buildings, is currently up for public comment.
However, the plan was needed as a first step, Abbo said.
“This was the first thing we had to do,” he told the crowded audience at the meeting. “Now I ask that you be patient. You probably won’t see much progress on the park land in the next year, or even possibly five years. We’re going to do what we can when we can afford it, and after each item has been through further approvals at all levels.”
Details of the plan
Created by Edmonton, Canada-based Stantec, the master plan separates the township’s 349 acres into six sections, with a paved path that circles the property. The sections include:
Area A “The Front 40”
This is located in the middle of the northern portion of the property, along Seven Mile Road. This area would have the main entrance with a monument centerpiece, and could include a pond, sledding hill, scenic bridges and trails.
Area B “Community Center”
This section, around where many buildings are now in the southeastern portion of the property, could include indoor and outdoor pools, splash pad, basketball and tennis courts and a skate park. A tree line would shield the area from nearby homes.
Area C “The Hundred-Acre Wood”
This section comprises a good eastern chunk of the property, and is mostly forested. The idea would be to leave this as is, with the implementation of a forest management plan.
Area D “The Great Lawn”
This section straddles the southern middle portion of the site, nearest to a subdivision to the south. This would be an open area that could include a band shell, picnic areas and a conservatory.
Area E “Mountain Bike Park”
This section comprises the western section of the park. Also left mostly as is, though some efforts could be made to build up proper trails, with help from bike clubs.
Area F “Energy Park”
The most unique section, this area in the northwest area of the park already includes working oil and gas wells. Seizing on this teaching opportunity, other examples of energy production, including a solar field and a wind turbine, could be installed and monitored for schools and interested groups.
The last portion was the only bone of contention with the board Thursday night. Trustee Christopher Roosen made a motion to remove the Energy Park and/or the turbine from the approved master plan. The other trustees did not support the motion, and that section remains in the document.
Roosen said he’s worried about property values, saying that it’s possible that homeowners within sight of turbines would lose thousands of dollars. The rest of the board said that it should be clear that many approvals, including from possible disgruntled residents, would have to be sought before any of the items ever is created on the property. “We should vote for this and see what eventually shakes out,” said Trustee Marv Gans.
Abbo said the township will now look for assistance from residents to help out with the next steps, likely creating a partnership with township officials to look at ways to implement parts of the plan, and find funding. Jennifer Frey, township director of community development, said some preliminary work could start on the easiest-to-change areas, such as the woods and mountain bike section.
Jeffrey Oles, a 39-year-old resident and member of the Michigan Mountain Bike Association, said his group would love to volunteer to clean up and create that section of the park. “The plan has our support,” he said.
Aside from the loud applause when the plan was approved, the most positive support of the night came from Allen Ibara, CEO of Northville-based SoulBrain Michigan, formerly called TSC, a startup lithium battery company.
“We expect to be adding many engineers over the next few years, and we want to be able to attract the best talent to this community,” he said. “We applaud this park, and we hope you stick with it.”
Correction: The name of the mountain bike club was incorrect in a previous version of this story. It is the Michigan Mountain Bike Association.