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Ferndale studies plan for mid-rise towers

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Ferndale studies plan for mid-rise residential towers

Structure to offer 108 condos, retail space plus parking

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By R.J. King / The Detroit News

FERNDALE - Suburban downtown districts are challenging conventional development patterns by attracting new homes after filling vacant commercial space with new stores, restaurants and entertainment venues. "The suburbs grew more than 100 years ago by drawing new homes first, and then the retailers followed," said Stuart Michaelson, president of the Building Industry Association of Southeastern Michigan in Farmington Hills, which represents more than 2,200 area home builders and remodelers.

"But now the suburbs are running out of vacant land and developers are becoming more creative about finding residential sites," Michaelson said. "If you can't find room for single-family homes, one alternative is to build up."

Ferndale is the latest city to embrace the demand for mid-rise residential towers. Over the last three years, such communities as Royal Oak, Birmingham and Mount Clemens have allowed developers to build multistory condominiums in the heart of their downtown districts.

Ferndale is currently reviewing a proposal by Larson Realty Group to build a seven-story residential structure near Woodward and Nine Mile that would offer 108 condominiums, 25,000 square feet of retail space and a 420-space underground parking deck. The one-acre site at Troy and Allen is now occupied by a surface parking lot.

Each residence - the average price is around $300,000 - would be set in one of three towers that would be built above the retail space. The condos would offer one to three bedrooms, balconies, a mix of traditional and loft-style designs, upgraded kitchens and stone and ceramic tile bathrooms.

"Our downtown is small, but we have experienced a terrific re-emergence in the last seven years," said City Manager Tom Barwin. "In 1995, our retail space was one-third vacant, but today every storefront is filled and active."

Barwin credits the turnaround to a mixture of city improvements, including new streets, sidewalks and landscaping. The city also removed a series of barren parking spaces in the median of Woodward near Nine Mile and replaced the asphalt lots with trees, bushes and flowers.

"When a downtown district is attractive, people want to enjoy it," Barwin said. "That's one reason why the developers are coming back."

Last month, 70 percent of Ferndale voters approved the sale of city-owned land to Larson Realty Group in Bloomfield Hills. The developer is currently working with the city to complete a development agreement. Rossetti Architects in Southfield is the project designer.

"The one thing we focused on with the new residences was the opportunity to offer people great views and fresh air," said Eric Larson, president and CEO of Larson Realty Group. "That's why we went with a three-tower design."

Barwin said the city hopes to conclude an agreement with Larson by November, with construction slated to start next spring. The project would take 18 to 24 months to complete, Larson said.

In other matters, Barwin said the city is in the process of selling five other sites to private developers, mostly for residential use.

You can reach R.J. King at (313) 222-2504 or rjking @detnews.com.

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