Source: Sherman Publications

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Chinese sign land deal for 56 acres
Investors looking to build student housing, hotel, convention center

by CJ Carnacchio

December 14, 2011

A major development containing housing for foreign students, a hotel and convention center could be coming to Oxford Township.

Realtor Carol Mitchell, an associate broker with Real Living John Burt Realty, confirmed that a purchase agreement is in place for a vacant parcel of land, 56 acres in size, on which to build this proposed development.

"Both parties have signed," said Mitchell, noting the purchaser signed the agreement two weeks ago, while the seller signed Dec. 7.

Located south of Ray Rd. between M-24 and N. Oxford Rd., the land is being purchased by a group of private investors from China who wish to build dormitory-style housing for foreign students attending the Oxford International Residence Academy (OIRA).

OIRA is a program of Oxford Community Schools that gives foreign high school students the opportunity to live here, go to school and experience the United States.

When asked about the purchase price, Mitchell replied, "I can't disclose that until it closes. It's slated to close Jan. 13."

She noted there is a 30-day due diligence period that began when the seller signed the purchase agreement Dec. 7.

Mitchell, who serves on the Oxford Board of Education, said the housing won't just be for students visiting from China, it will be available to high school students from "all over" the globe who choose to further their education here.

"Their hopes are to send more children over here," she said.

When asked how many students the dormitory would be able to house, Mitchell replied, "I think they're looking at around 70 to 100."

The 56-acre parcel borders Oxford High School's property to the west and south. Mitchell said this "close proximity" made it a "very prudent" location for student housing.

"The kids will be safe and have a nice environment to live in," she said.

As a school board member, Mitchell welcomes the proposed student housing project with open arms.

"As a parent, if I had a child studying abroad, I would be very comfortable with them staying in a housing facility such as the one proposed in this project, if there are no host families available to house them," she said. "To have this option, in addition to all our host families, is wonderful for all the international students and their families."

Mitchell noted she is grateful to all the Oxford families who have opened their homes to visiting students. She hopes more families will continue to participate in the program as hosts.

"These families here have been very good to the kids from China," she said. "The (Chinese) families actually prefer (their kids) to live with a family, so they can get the whole experience of being in America."

Unfortunately, there's not always enough host families available. This housing facility would solve that problem.

"We don't know how many kids we're going to have coming (here) not just from China, but hopefully (from) all over," Mitchell said. "There's no way we can house them all with families."

Student housing is only the first phase of the proposed project.

The next phase would involve constructing a hotel and convention center on the site.

"They approached me to try and find them some land in the area for the student housing. Once I found this property and they saw how big it was, that's when they thought well, maybe we can go a step further and put in a hotel," Mitchell said.

A hotel would allow the parents of foreign students a nearby place to stay should they decide to visit their children. It would also give Oxford something which the community's indicated it needs, said Mitchell.

Right now, Oxford has zero hotels, motels or even bed-and-breakfast inns. "You have to go down to Lake Orion or way up to Lapeer (for a place to stay)," Mitchell said.

News of the land deal and proposed development greatly pleased Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn.

"This really is terrific news," he said. "This will increase our tax base, create new jobs, bring visitors here to shop and eat, and give us more customers for our water system."

That last one is particularly important for the township because it owes $13.97 million (principal plus interest) in bond debt for previous improvements made to its water system.

Not only do new water customers pay a $45 quarterly charge ($180 per year) to help pay off the water bond debt, new users connecting to the system must pay a tap fee of $6,075 per REU.

REU stands for residential equivalent unit. It's a way to equate high volume water and sewer users (such as commercial developments) to the estimated average usage of a single family dwelling, which is used as the standard. Basically, one home equals one REU.

"A big development like this can go a long way toward helping us pay off that debt," Dunn noted.

Dunn is also excited about the possibility of this proposed development spurring more new construction along that large stretch of vacant land on the east side of M-24 between the Meijer store and the village limits.

"This is definitely going to get things moving around there," the supervisor said. "All it takes is for one big development to go in and others starting popping up around it."

Mitchell agreed.

"I'm already working with two other purchasers for that area," she said. "I can't disclose what they are. I think it's definitely going to spur (development) on."

The 56-acre site was originally going to house a 424-unit residential development called "Terraces at Waterstone." The site plan was approved in 2005.

However, the project never got off the ground due to the poor economy. In 2007, the developer, the Novi-based Crosswinds Communities, requested a second one-year extension of the site plan approval, but the planning commission denied it.

The property went into foreclosure in July 2011 and the owner had until Jan. 19, 2012 to either reclaim the property or sell it as part of the redemption period, according to Oakland County's records.