Ferndale approves brownfield plan for 4-story loft development

A rendering of the proposed 409 On Nine Development at 371-475 E. Nine Mile Road, via Wolf River Development Co.

A proposed brownfield redevelopment project that would add 127 residential units in a four-story mixed-use loft building east of downtown Ferndale is one step closer to reality.

The 409 on 9 Development Project won approval Monday for a $2.6 million, 17-year brownfield tax reimbursement from the Ferndale City Council. Developers Wolf River Development Co. IV LLC initially proposed the $16.1 million project in September 2016.

The project would take shape on seven different parcels owned by Credit Union One between 371 and 475 E. Nine Mile Road. It would essentially fill the block between Paxton and Leland streets and involve demolition of four single-story buildings.

It would include 127 one- and two-bedroom apartments and almost 5,600 square feet of ground-floor office and retail space fronting Nine Mile.

Mike Dowdle, managing partner of Wolf River, told council members he and partner Dale Inman were aiming for “reasonably priced” units that would average around $1,500 or $1,600 for a two-bedroom apartment and around $1,200 for a one-bedroom unit.

“We’re confident that the rent on this project is going to be reasonable compared to everything around it in this area,” Dowdle said.

The developers made changes to their original proposal at the request of the city, including adding more public green space along the front of the building and increasing ground-floor mixed-use space.

Dowdle said the project would also add to the amount of permeable surfaces on the parcels and would include underground storage to hold rainwater and slow its release to storm sewers following heavy precipitation.

Under the terms of the brownfield agreement, the city would get $87,000 in tax increment financing funds. Once the 17-year reimbursement ends, the city would also get five years of tax capture to benefit its Local Site Remediation Revolving Fund to support cleanup efforts elsewhere in the city.

Wolf River had told the city it planned to begin demolition on the site by May, but Dowdle told 8-Wood they still need approval on their brownfield plan from both the Michigan Economic Development Corp. and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“It might be optimistic,” Dowdle said of their timeline. “We’ll see what the state says.”

The ground beneath the parcels is contaminated by toxins from tenants including a chemical factory and a gas station that previously existed on the site.

Council members Dan Martin and Greg Pawlica expressed concerns over the rental rates and urged for stronger definitions of what constitutes affordable and moderate-income housing in the city moving forward.

Mayor Dave Coulter said brownfield laws, which capture increases in property taxes for developers improving properties, are are a tool that built-out cities can use to compete against cheaper, so-called greenfield development in rural areas.

Wolf River has developed three residential properties in East Lansing, including two mixed-use projects that are similar to 409 on Nine, Dowdle said.

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