November 27, 2013 - It appears that a long-standing problem in an Oxford Twp. subdivision could finally be resolved thanks to a grant from the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).
Township officials recently authorized Treasurer Joe Ferrari to sign a contract with the MDEQ that accepts a $495,410 grant to fix the drainage issues that have been plaguing the Elk View Estates subdivision since the late 1990s and purchase a conservation easement to protect the adjoining wetlands.
Ferrari, who's been coordinating all the grant-related work on the township's behalf, said the goal is to have all of Elk View's issues resolved by December 2014.
"I wanted to be aggressive to kind of keep everything moving," he said, adding that an extension can be requested if necessary.
The state will be providing $295,410 in funds, while the township is required to expend $200,000, a 40 percent match.
For a while now, the township has had $250,000 set aside to fix the drainage and road problems in Elk View Estates. Right now, the township is projecting to spend $216,548 on the project, which puts it $33,452 under budget.
"Our goal is to stay within that $250,000," Ferrari said.
Located on the east side of Baldwin Rd., south of Hummer Lake Rd., Elk View Estates has been the focus of much controversy, tons of tax dollars and many headaches for both its residents and township officials.
In addition to having drainage problems that routinely lead to the flooding of some residents' basements and yards, neither of Elk View's main roads – Elkview and Bull Run – legally exists because they were never dedicated as either public or private roads nor were they ever approved by the county road commission.
Both roads are still technically private property owned by the Davison-based Bronco Investments.
Virtually everyone agrees that it was the allegedly improper actions of Scott Constable, the developer who created Elk View Estates, that were primarily responsible for the current situation. Constable declared bankruptcy in 2005 and moved out of state.
However, it's also understood that errors made by Oakland County and the township's building department compounded the problems and added to the mess.
Over the years, the township has spent approximately $250,000 in legal fees, plus about $80,000 for a previous drainage solution design.
In order to fix the drainage problems and bring the subdivision's two roads up to public standards so they can be accepted, owned and maintained by the road commission, township engineer Jim Sharpe estimated it will cost $360,000.
Of that, $290,000 is for correcting the surface water drainage issues, while the remaining $70,000 is to top coat the two roads, something which the road commission requires to accept them as public roadways.
Ferrari noted the bids could come in lower than Sharpe's estimate.
The township previously committed to paying 65 percent (or $234,000 based on Sharpe's estimate) of the fix. The idea is for Elk View residents to pay the other 35 percent (or $126,000 based on Sharpe's estimate) via the establishment of a Special Assessment District (SAD).
According to a breakdown of the grant provided by Ferrari, the plan is to use $227,452 of MDEQ funds for the construction work to fix the drainage problem and $7,958 for associated legal fees.
The fix would involve installing environmentally-friendly infrastructure to handle and treat storm water drainage from neighboring properties prior to flowing into the adjacent wetlands on 108 acres also owned by Bronco Investments.
Part of the grant calls for purchasing a 60 of these 108 acres as a conservation easement. The easement, which protects the land from future development, would consist of 39 acres of critical wetlands and 21 acres of upland buffer.
The 108-acre piece is located in the critical headwaters of the Stony/Paint Creek subwatershed. These waters flow into the Clinton River.
The MDEQ grant estimated the conservation easement is worth $120,000. Of that, half would come from the state and the other half from the township.
However, an independent appraisal of the land must still be obtained.
"We're hoping that the appraisal's going to come in less for that property," Ferrari said. "They've got that valued at like $2,000 an acre. It's wetland property. I don't know if that's going to appraise at $2,000 an acre."
Purchasing this 60 acres from Bronco Investments is critical because the drainage fix would result in excess surface water flowing onto the property.
Legally, the landowner must give permission to allow this to happen.
Bronco Investments has maintained that if township officials want the excess water to drain onto its 108 acres, it must purchase the land.
The grant covers 60 acres, but what about the other 48 acres?
Ferrari said there's an understanding that "once this is all done," the township would work with the state's Natural Resources Trust Fund "to possibly acquire that for conservation/preservation" purposes.
"It's kind of like a gentlemen's agreement that we would still work at getting the other piece through the DNR (Department of Natural Resources)," he explained. "And that may work because I know they're looking for conservation properties, too."
Purchasing Bronco Investments' property would not only help solve the drainage issue, it would also give the township six more votes to establish the SAD necessary to finance the remainder of the Elk View fix.
For years, the township's been unable to secure enough signatures to create the SAD.
The owners of 10 of the 24 properties signed the petition, which represents 42 percent. Fifty-one percent is needed to create a SAD.
If Bronco Investments agrees to sign the SAD petition, it would give the township six more votes – the 104-acre piece, plus the five residential lots Bronco will have after its Elk View Lot 18 is split. This would put the vote at 67 percent. Bronco agreed to do this upon execution of the grant agreement.
As part of the grant, the township would expend $99,052 for engineering; an estimated $20,448 to purchase one of the subdivision's lots (Lot 13) so a storm water retention pond can be constructed there; $20,000 for the Rochester-based Six Rivers Land Conservancy, which has been aiding the township in the grant process; and $500 in township staff time, an in-kind donation.
Ferrari noted some of these numbers could change. For instance, Sharpe estimated the engineering fees could be $55,000 and the township must still negotiate a purchase price with the owner of Lot 13, the attainment of which is crucial to the drainage fix.
Ferrari explained that any savings the township experiences on its end could be used for other areas of the project.
The township cannot simply keep the savings. It must be spent because the township is required to provide $200,000 in matching funds as part of the grant agreement.
If there is a savings on the township's part, Ferrari indicated the money could be used to help offset the 35 percent (or $126,000) that Elk View property owners would have to pay under a SAD.
"It would be great if we could reduce what the residents would have to pay – that would be even better," the treasurer said.
As part of this whole project, two existing lawsuits would have to be dismissed. Three property owners had previously filed suit against Bronco Investments, which in turn, filed suit against the township earlier this year.
According to Ferrari, one of the property owners who filed suit no longer owns property in Elk View, while another of the three signed the SAD petition and is on board with the township's plan.
"The issue that they have with Bronco is the road, but if this is all done, that's a moot point because the road's part of the fix, too," he said.
Overall, Ferrari said it appears everyone – the Elk View property owners, Bronco Investments and the township – is on board with the potential resolution the grant offers for this situation.
"It's pretty promising," he said. "They can see that there's actually light at the end of the tunnel."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.