Source: Sherman Publications

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Village site eyed for deaf housing project

by CJ Carnacchio

May 21, 2014

A unique residential community something that would be the first of its kind in Michigan could be what the future holds in store for the property at 98 S. Glaspie St. owned by Oxford Village.

The Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (OLHSA) is exploring the feasibility of constructing apartments there for senior citizens (age 55 and older) who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

"There are four or five projects like this across the country, but none in Michigan," said OLHSA Chief Executive Officer Ronald Borngesser. "We thought it was an interesting project and certainly a worthy one, so we've been attempting to find a location in southeast Michigan."

The nearest deaf senior housing development is located in Columbus, Ohio.

Such a housing complex would allow this under-served group to live and socialize together.

"There's definitely a big need for that in Michigan," Borngesser said. "We'd love to see it happen. It would be a great project."

There's the potential to construct 40 to 50 small apartment units on the Oxford site, according to Borngesser. Each would be equipped with technology and amenities designed to assist residents and enhance their quality of life and level of personal safety.

For instance, instead of having traditional doorbells, these apartments would have flashing lights to alert occupants when visitors have arrived, according to Borngesser.

Other enhancements would include the placement of windows in such a way as to help minimize glare, allowing for better visual communication; dark-colored walls that serve as a contrast in rooms so residents can use sign language with ease; and rooms designed so that beams or pillars don't interfere with having open lines of sight.

There would also be a community room to allow residents to share meals and engage in social activities.

If this housing complex were to become a reality, OLHSA would manage the property i.e. maintain it, collect rent, etc. through it's subsidiary, Venture, Inc.

Borngesser noted that Venture currently oversees six housing projects in Oakland, Livingston and Genesee counties.

"A lot of it is for older adults and people with disabilities," he said. "Nothing for deaf and hard-of-hearing."

Borngesser likes what he's seen so far with regard to 98 S. Glaspie as a potential site for this project.

"It's intriguing. It's got the amount of acreage that we need," he said. "It's a beautiful site. It's sitting right on the lake. It's quiet. Close to town."

Purchased by the village for $700,000 in March 2006, 98 S. Glaspie St. is a former industrial site consisting of two parcels totalling approximately 3.5 acres and a building that's approximately 22,000 square feet in size.

It's located next door to the village's Scripter Park and Round Lake, and is within walking or biking distance of the downtown area's stores, restaurants and medical offices.

"I love Oxford Village," Borngesser said. "I think it's a real beautiful community. I think the (senior deaf/hard-of-hearing) population would fit in beautifully. It would be a nice blend if it works out."

OLHSA representatives have met with both village and township officials to discuss the potential project.

"They're both interested in working with us on that, so now, we're just going through the steps that need to take place in order to get to the point where the project is financially feasible and worth going after," Borngesser said.

One of the things OLHSA needs is for the village and township to agree to is the establishment of a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program through which the housing project would pay a predetermined, set amount to the local governments as opposed to property taxes.

The true cash value of 98 S. Glaspie is $836,000 based on its last assessment in 2006, according to Oakland County Equalization.

Assuming a taxable value of $418,000 and based on the total 2013 tax rate for a village parcel, which was 58.8661 mills, the annual tax bill for the property would be $24,606, according to township Treasurer Joe Ferrari.

"That's what it would be if it was on the ad valorem roll as of 2014," he said.

Given that, Ferrari said $24,606 is the "minimum" PILOT amount the village should seek for this potential project.

"That's the base you want," he said. "Council may really want to look long and hard at that."

Ferrari explained council can set whatever PILOT amount it wants paid annually, be it $50,000 or $1. "It's their call that's why I kind of want them to really look into this," he said.

As for the township, the treasurer said it's going to want service charges on top of whatever PILOT amount the village sets in order to cover its costs for fire and medical services.

"I guarantee before we sign off, we're going to want some type of a cost recovery in there," Ferrari said.

The township has one PILOT program for Hope Senior Apartments on W. Drahner Rd. As a result, the complex pays a flat total of $1,051 annually and will continue to do so until the PILOT expires in January 2029.

Hope's amount is "set in stone," so it never increases, according to Ferrari. "That's all we get," he said. "We can do five million fire runs out there and that's all the township gets."

Under the PILOT program, the apartment complex basically pays $24.10 annually for fire/emergency medical services and $16.07 for advanced life support services.

Ferrari said he would prefer this potential OLHSA project go on the tax roll and pay millages like every other property. Building a housing complex for the deaf and hard-of-hearing is a "noble idea," he said, but "it can't be (done) on the backs of the other taxpayers in the township."

If a PILOT program and service charges do get established, Ferrari said, "I at least want the best deal for the township."

"As long as we're able to cover our costs, I don't have an issue with it," he said. "I just want to make sure that as these things go on, they don't become a burden on us taxpayers. They should pay their fair share."

Borngesser wanted to make it clear that just because OLHSA is exploring this idea doesn't mean it's definitely going to happen.

"I would just emphasize how preliminary this is, so people don't think it's a done deal because it's not," Borngesser said. "There's a lot of things that have to happen before something like this happens. This is really, really preliminary."

OLHSA still has many ducks to get in a row.

The agency must meet with the village planning commission to address things such as zoning issues and see if there's support for the project.

"That's typically the first step and we take it from there," Borngesser said. "If they don't (support the idea), then obviously we'll walk away."

The 98 S. Glaspie St. site is currently zoned for single-family residential use. Building an apartment complex there would require either a conditional or permanent rezoning to multiple family.

OLHSA must also verify the results of previous environmental testing conducted on the site and have a market study done that "shows that there is a need" for such a housing project. "We know there is (a need)," Borngesser said.

OLHSA must do all of the above and other things in order to apply in October for the housing tax credit program administered through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

In a nutshell, OLHSA would be looking to receive tax credits from the state. These credits could be, for example, sold to a financial institution, such as a bank, in exchange for it providing the necessary funding for the housing project, according to Borngesser.

"Even if we apply, we don't have any guarantees that we're going to get approved," he said.

He noted the state usually receives 40 or 50 applications and approves maybe 10 or 11, depending on the amount of money that's available.

If OLHSA were to receive state approval for the project, it would purchase the property from the village for a price that's based on how many apartment units would be built.

That price could be $10,000 per unit, which if 40 or 50 units were planned, could translate into $400,000 to $500,000 for the village.

"Again, we're just talking ballpark figures," Borngesser said. "We haven't agreed to anything."

The village recently had the property appraised and it's now valued at $305,000. In November 2012, village voters granted the municipality the authority to sell the site.

Borngesser wished to stress that at this point, OLHSA is not committed to applying to the state for tax credits. There's still lots of work that needs to be done in order to get to that point.

He noted that OLHSA would probably have to spend as much as $30,000 upfront just to apply and that sum is nonrefundable, so if the state doesn't approve the project, the agency is out the money.

"We're not going to go unless we think we have a pretty good chance of getting approval," Borngesser said.