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Not in their backyard!

by CJ Carnacchio

April 11, 2012

Emotions ran high and tempers flared as Oxford Lakes residents jam-packed last week's village planning commission meeting to express their fervent opposition to the proposed rezoning of approximately 12 acres that abuts their subdivision from single family homes to multiple family dwellings.

"I'm telling you right now, if this continues, I will walk out of my home," said resident Paula Stewart. "I will let it foreclose. I will not try to sell it. I will not do anything . . . I will walk away from my home."

"I've done a damn good job (building this subdivision) and now, you want to tear the damn thing down with lousy apartments for this man to make a profit," said Mike Kozloff, resident and developer of Oxford Lakes.

Oxford Lakes residents based their objections to the proposed rezoning primarily on their belief that having a multiple family development bordering their subdivision would lead to decreased property values coupled with increases in crime, cut-through traffic and trespassing in recreational areas owned and maintained by the homeowners' association.

Citing "insufficient information and justification" at this time, the proposed rezoning was ultimately denied by planning commissioners in a 6-0 vote. Their decision is a recommendation that must ultimately be acted upon by the village council.

The aforementioned "man" to whom Kozloff referred was local attorney Lee Knauf, who, together with his brother, owns two parcels of vacant land along the south side of Lakeville Rd., east of Glaspie Rd.

On its south and east sides, Knauf's property is adjacent to the Oxford Lakes subdivision. To the west, it's bordered by a parcel that's zoned for light industrial use and contains a vacant plant.

Knauf's request to rezone the property from the current single family (R-1) to multiple family (RM-1) was not tied to any specific plans for the land.

"We don't have a site plan. We don't have a proposed development," he explained.

"It's not our intention to develop the property, at least not now or in the foreseeable future. We would be willing to either sell the property or to work with a developer in a joint venture fashion."

Knauf believes his property has a better chance of being sold and developed under multiple family zoning due to the overabundance of single family lots currently available in Oxford.

He noted how the Willow Lake subdivision has more than 140 single family residential lots for sale and that number has remain unchanged since 2008. He also noted there are "untold numbers" of single family lots available in the Waterstone development.

"At least at this time and in the foreseeable future, we don't see a demand for single family building lots," Knauf said.

However, that's not the case when it comes to multiple family dwellings.

"One thing that we do see is a dearth of multiple family housing available," Knauf said. "It's not just something we're asking for . . . our own benefit. There's a perceived, at least by us, need within the village for multiple family housing."

He indicated that need could be filled by condominiums, traditional apartments "or something in between."

Ultimately, planning commissioners decided against rezoning because there was no specific plan attached to Knauf's request.

Commissioner John DuVal indicated he understands there's a lack of multiple family developments in the community right now, however, he would be "concerned about rezoning any parcel anywhere in the village . . . without having some idea of what the vision was for it."

Rezoning Knauf's property for "economic purposes" making it more marketable to a potential purchaser or developer is not the planning commission's role, DuVal noted.

Commissioner Sue Bossardet indicated she, too, was "very uncomfortable approving an unknown," she said.

Bossardet said Knauf can give all the assurances he wants, but that's no guarantee as to what a future owner or developer will want to do with the property. "I can't approve something like that," she said.

Bryan Cloutier, chairman of the planning commission, also stated his opposition.

"I just don't think there's enough justification for the change at this point," he said.

Prior to their decision, planning commissioners listened as a long line of Oxford Lakes residents took turns at the podium, voicing their concerns and staunch opposition.

Resident Paula Stewart was concerned about the type of people who would live in this development, particularly if "efficiency" apartments were someday constructed.

"I'm not here to judge anybody, but the people who move into these efficiency apartment are not going to be the same type of people who live in our subdivision," she said. "I just can't imagine more riffraff cutting through our subdivision."

Resident Chris Bohm worried about the impact a multiple family development could have on the school district, which is one of the main reasons he moved to Oxford in 2005.

"We didn't move to Pontiac because we didn't want people that could afford these lesser income places to be able to be at school with our kids," he said. "We didn't go to Detroit schools because of the same reason. We moved to Oxford because we knew how darn good (the schools) were doing, how fast they were moving up in the world."

Bohm noted how Oxford is already experiencing an "influx" of people from Pontiac and other lower income areas. They're moving into foreclosed homes.

"We just feel like our pride is going down," he said. "It's not the environment we wish to raise our family in. We don't want to have to move away to shelter our kids from what we (originally) wanted to raise them in. Please don't let this happen in our backyard."

Resident Chip Miller indicated that although he, too, is concerned about the possibility of increased crime and cut-through traffic, he wasn't comfortable with way people who live in multiple family dwelling were portrayed in the above comments.

"I think we have to be accepting of everybody and the circumstances they come from," said Miller, who noted that when he and his wife were first married, they lived in an apartment with their two babies.

Bossardet and Cloutier, both of who live in condominiums, were not pleased with some of the residents' comments. Statements suggesting that people who live in multiple family dwellings "would not be like us," as Bossardet rephrased it, were not well-received.

"I was an 'us' and I moved to a condo," she said. "I still consider myself an 'us' and where I moved to is a high-end condominium development. I kind of resented that remark and I resent that attitude in a way."

Cloutier indicated he, too, was offended by the notion that "we don't want those people."

"I am one of those people," he said. "I live in a condominium. I don't think my community has riffraff, if you will. And quite frankly, you can get riffraff in high-end communities."

Many Oxford Lakes residents were very concerned that a multiple family development would generate additional cut-through traffic and speeding, which they claim are already big problems in the subdivision.

Oxford Lake's cut-through traffic is derived from motorists who drive through the subdivision in order to travel between Lakeville and E. Drahner roads, thus avoiding M-24.

"Our roads are already torn up," said resident Marlene Taube. "It's definitely a problem for us."

"I cannot let my children play out in my front yard for fear that they will get hit by a car because too many people cut through our subdivision," Stewart said.

"To have more traffic it's unacceptable. It's ridiculous," said resident Tom Kennis, who serves on the homeowners association's board of directors.

An April 3 memo issued by village Police Chief Mike Neymanowski stated that so far this year, his officers have addressed 79 traffic violations in Oxford Lakes. Last year, they had 250 violations.

"It is a fair estimate that 50 percent of these violations are done by Oxford Lakes residents (speeding, disregarding stop signs)," Neymanowski wrote.

Oxford Lakes residents also expressed their fear that having a multiple family development next to their subdivision would result in more trespassers accessing their private parks and beach.

"How are we going to stop them from using the parks?" asked resident Steven Stewart. "How are we going to stop them from using the beach? There's no way to control that. They're already (going to be) next to the subdivision. There's no fences. There's no gates. There's no way to stop them."

Kennis noted the subdivision already has difficulties keeping nonresidents out of its recreational areas. "We have people coming in from all over," he said.

Unfortunately, some of these people are destroying and vandalizing these facilities. "Those (association) dues will not allow us to put a guard at the gate of the subdivision and a guard at the beach," Kennis said. "Quite frankly, we don't want to have to do that."

Resident Tim Balch was worried a multiple family development could lead to more crime in Oxford Lakes. He noted how he's had two vehicles stolen.

In his memo, Neymanowski wrote that in one of those incidents, "the vehicle was unlocked with keys left in the vehicle." The other theft was perpetrated by juveniles who were later arrested, the chief noted.

Some Oxford Lakes residents voiced their concern that Knauf's property was once a "landfill" or that it possibly contained "toxic waste." They worried that developing the land could "stir up" whatever's buried there, releasing pollution into Oxford Lake.

Knauf indicated this simply wasn't true.

"I'd like to disabuse the planning commission of the notion that there's toxic waste or a dump on this property," he said. "Before we purchased it, we had numerous soil borings done. We had environmental studies done by (environmental experts).

"We have files 'yay' thick and the property is clean as can be. It's just un-reclaimed gravel property. The village dump was located to the west of this property, back behind the Hyde Plant."

Oxford Lakes residents were also not pleased by the fact that it was Knauf who proposed this rezoning given he's employed as the homeowners' association attorney.

"There has been no communication about this" between Knauf and the association's board of directors, according to Amanda Fredericks, who serves on the board.