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Massive mixed-use project to transform Detroit-area ‘Victorian’ community

Ron Stang
Massive mixed-use project to transform Detroit-area ‘Victorian’ community
HUNTER PASTEUR/CITY OF NORTHVILLE — An artist’s rendition shows a park flanked by luxury apartments and condos with a nod to architecture from London's Bryanston Square.

A $300 million housing and commercial development in a former urban area of Detroit will transform one of Michigan’s oldest horse racing tracks and bring a variety of housing to the existing “Victorian” styled Northville, a 200-year-old city of 6,000 people.

Called The Downs, the massive almost 50-acre site would include almost 450 single-family, row houses, carriage houses, townhomes, high-end apartments and luxury condos with nods to historic big city architectural features like London’s Bryanston Square.

More than 16,000 square feet of commercial space would be built on the north end, where the development meets the city’s existing downtown.

The 100-year-old racetrack, Northville Downs, struck a deal with developers, which would see the grounds and two properties across Center Street, which leads into downtown, become a community with a series of public parks as well as the “daylighting” of 1,100 feet of the Rouge River, which flows to the Detroit River. Downtown Detroit is 30 miles southeast.

Of the development’s more than 48 acres as many 16 would be open space.

Lead developer Hunter Pasteur plans the “diverse” residential space for “empty nesters, young families, millennials who choose to rent and millennials who choose to be homeowners.”

Prices would range from $400,000 to $1.3 million “with every price point in between.”

The iconic Rouge River has been artificially covered for decades and would form the centerpiece of a nine-acre river park along the development’s eastern flank, linking the community by a pedestrian spine. An adjacent stormwater detention pond and forebay would also add a natural esthetic feature on the southeast corner.

The proposal was first made in 2018 and has gone through extensive review including some 60 public meetings and more than 120 hours of community deliberation, resulting in myriad changes.

These include reducing density and increasing open space, more architectural diversity with the addition of home styles that currently don’t exist in Northville and creating the kind of “slow flow” streets to integrate into the existing town.

But existing residents still have concerns about the potential loss of the Victorian town’s charm and the increase in traffic.

Resident Billy Burns told The Detroit News that, “if you start losing that kind of small-town charm that Northville has, what happens to property values and how desirable is it going to be for future generations?”

Planning consultant Sally Elmiger, principal with Carlisle/Wortman Associates, Inc. of Ann Arbor, told the Daily Commercial News Northville has long been an attractive community located between Detroit’s contiguous western suburbs and outlying cities like Plymouth and Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan and a high-tech hub, 20 miles southwest.

Elmiger said conditions imposed by the city’s planning commission and city council include that the condo and apartment buildings be constructed to LEED standard, that pocket parks in the single-family homes area in the southern part of the development be available to the public and that two pedestrian bridges be constructed over the Rouge River.

Elmiger said “there’s still a lot outstanding” which needs approval before construction begins. Daylighting the river, for example, requires both state and county approval. Nevertheless, city officials have indicated construction could begin later this year.

But there’s no question the project, helmed by one of the U.S.’s largest residential developers, would be transformational.

“Oh absolutely,” Elmiger said. “At least within the last 50 years this is the biggest project the city has encountered.”

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