The building at 1010 State St. in Brighton used to be bustling with laughter and play when it served as active elementary school. But in the 11 years since the school closed, the weeds have grown taller and the bricks are caked with dirt and mud.
The property has become a magnet for break-ins and vandalism.
Neighbors and city officials say they would love to see the land used for something productive, but since the school closed in 2010, no proposals have come to fruition.
The most recent proposal from Bingham Farms-based developer S. R. Jacobson was denied final site plan approval by the city’s planning commission because of concerns about the building’s height and whether it matched the city’s master plan.
S.R. Jacobson’s plan is to build a walkable townhome community with 140 homes on the 10.5-acre parcel. That plan is heading to Brighton City Council on July 15. Councilmembers could agree with the planning commission and deny the plan, or they could override the decision and give the developer the green light.
The townhome community is the most recent in a long history of proposals that have fallen through for one reason or another.
“I don’t like that as a vacant site, and I’m sure it’s not going to be feasible to leave it as open space,” Planning Commission Chair Matt Smith said. “But we’ve got to get something that meets the intent of the zoning ordinance.”
Past proposals for Lindbom
Smith remembered a proposal, shortly after the school closed, to build a subdivision of single-family homes on the property. He said the proposal made it to the planning commission, but the developer couldn’t finance it.
In 2015, Brighton Area Schools sold the property to ACA Brighton Holdings LLC, which stands for American Classical Academies, for $1.45 million. ACA intended to establish a charter school in the building with nearly 200 families interested in enrolling at the time of purchase.
But when Livingston Classical Academy applied for a charter from Brighton Area Schools, the school board voted not to consider it.
In 2016, the school received an authorized charter from Whitmore Lake Public Schools and was still planning to establish the school in Livingston County. RJB Holding Group LLC took ownership of the property around that time with the plan to put a charter school on the land.
Livingston Classical Academy ended up moving into a building in downtown Whitmore Lake, which is where it is today.
After failing to obtain a charter in 2015, property owner Pat Battaglia had a plan B: A 200-unit senior housing complex.
The $30 million complex received a lot of criticism from neighbors who were worried about traffic, light pollution and the height of the building.
“Whenever you’re talking about a development of that size next to residential areas, there’s going to be lots of public interaction and public feedback,” Smith said. “From a planning commission standpoint, we want to pull that input, especially if there are issues they see that we didn’t notice.”
That project fell through after the developer couldn’t get financing.
Less than six months later, S.R. Jacobson proposed the West Village of Brighton, which included 140 high-end townhomes and a community center with a pool and fitness facilities.
The developer was granted preliminary approval in February 2020 and submitted the final site plan to the city this spring.
Similar to the senior living facilities, this project garnered poor reception from neighbors who were still worried about increased traffic and building height.
“With the current design, there would be a 40-foot-tall wall 40 feet from my back fence,” said Brian Klear, whose property borders the site. “When I walk around the three-story condos along Main Street, you stand near those one-story homes and look up and it’s just big.”
The Lindbom property is surrounded by one- and two-story houses, and the three-story townhomes wouldn’t fit the character of the neighborhood, Klear said. Further, Klear said the project shouldn’t have received preliminary approval because it never met the density zoning ordinance.
According to a zoning map from February 2020, 1010 State St. is zoned as single family residential, along with all of the properties that surround it.
But due to the size of the lot, the zoning can be updated through a planning unit development, or PUD, agreement from the city.
Being less than a half-mile from downtown, the city’s 2018 master plan allows for the site to be redeveloped into moderate density mixed use residential as long as it’s harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood.
What is moderate density mixed residential? According to the master plan, land with that zoning is limited to eight dwelling units per acre, except in areas that are adjacent to downtown, which are allowed up to 25 dwelling units per acre.
This distinction led to disagreement among planning commissioners in June. At 13 units per acre, the planned development only fits the ordinance with the downtown distinction. Planning commissioners ultimately decided Lindbom didn’t meet that criteria.
Now it will be the city council’s decision whether the West Village of Brighton will exist.
“We are fully expecting to have a vigorous debate in the city council meeting,” Klear said. He and his neighbors don’t want the project approved as it is now.
“I’ll be glad the three stories isn’t in the picture,” Klear said. “But we’re anxious to have something done with the building.”