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Commission approves sale, development agreement at Founders Landing

MARQUETTE — After five deadline extensions that delayed the process by nearly one year, the Marquette City Commission has come to an agreement with Home Renewal Systems Founders Landing LLC to authorize the purchase of Parcel 2A at the Founders Landing site.

The commission voted 4-2 at Monday night’s meeting to approve a local development agreement with HRS, which was the final step in authorizing the purchase of land.

The 1.6-acre parcel, located near the Fairfield Inn and Suites by the Lakeshore Boulevard and South Front Street/U.S. 41 intersection, will be developed into townhouses. Twenty-six units ranging from 1,200 to 1,650 square feet will be developed, with floor plans including two bedrooms, a balcony and one- or two-car garages.

Some units will also feature a den.

Once the sale closes this week, the city will receive just over $433,300 for the purchase.

The homes will be for purchase only and not available for rent. The project’s website claims units will begin in the mid-$300,000 range.

Commissioners Evan Bonsall and Cody Mayer were the two “nays” votes in the motion. Mayor Jenna Smith was absent.

Bonsall expressed concerns about the project, stating that he believes the townhouses will not be affordable for average-income city residents.

“I’m glad that we were finally able to be presented with the development agreement, and I don’t see any problems with the development agreement itself,” he said. “However, I do think it’s important to point out that in order to get here, we had had to approve five extensions of the purchase agreement deadline totaling over 300 days, and also that there were assurances that were made earlier on in this process — before we were presented with this development agreement — in which it was stated at a city commission meeting that the goal was to make these townhomes ‘attainable for the average household in Marquette.’

“Previously, words like ‘affordable and attainable for the average household’ have been tossed around. As of today, there’s at least one 1,400-some square foot unit in development that I saw listed online for $359,000. I’m not sure what the larger 1,500 or 1,600-square-foot units are going to be priced at, but if it was at the same per square foot rate, those would be in excess of $400,000.

“I just think it’s important to remind everyone that for context, the median household income in the city of Marquette is about $40,000 per year. When you dothe math, that comes out to the median household being able to afford or buy a home at around $200,000 or $210,000. I don’t think these townhomes are affordable or attainable by any reasonable definition. I guess I’m a bit disappointed that initially, public statements and assurances were made that weren’t followed through on.”

The city commission first approved a purchase request by HRS in July 2019, which initially gave the developer 180 days to close on the sale.

The latest extension came in September, when HRS asked the commission for another 75 days to complete the agreement. That motion for extension passed 6-1, with Bonsall being the lone “nay” at the Sept. 14 commission meeting.

“I’m discouraged by how long it took to get to this point by all of the extensions we were repeatedly asked to approve,” Bonsall added. “I’m not opposed to any redevelopment of this parcel, I understand the situation with the tiff revenue for this proposed development being part of our revenue stream for the future Lower Harbor piling re-use project, and I commend HRS for the great work that they did on the Grandview Marquette project, but I don’t appreciate that for this particular project, the goalposts have been moved a couple of times and public assurances were made to this commission and to the community that haven’t been kept and haven’t been followed through on. That’s why I voted against the last purchase agreement extension, and to be honest, that’s why I’m having a hard time supporting this action right now.”

Jeff Katzen, Vice President of Land Acquisitions for Farmington Hills-based HRS, responded to Bonsall’s comments by saying there are multiple factors that go into why plans have potentially changed.

“I know this project took a lot longer than everybody anticipated to get to the finish line here, but we are excited about the redevelopment of the parcel,” he said. “If the goalposts moved, quoting (Bonsall), there’s a lot of factors that go into that. We’re just excited to get started and I hope that it’s a successful project for everybody.”

Other commissioners expressed their support for the project and are pleased to see that the sale will soon come to a close.

“This has been a long time coming,” commissioner Fred Stonehouse said. “I’m glad we’re getting to the endgame on it and certainly it will be a good asset for the city of Marquette and our residents.”

“I just echo the comments from Commissioner Stonehouse,” added commissioner Sally Davis. “I’m very anxious and looking forward to having the Founders Landing completed. The whole Founders Landing project has been a lot of years in progress and this will be our final sale.”

The development agreement states that construction must commence within three years and must be completed within five years.

Katzen said HRS expects to break ground on the project once favorable weather permits in the spring, and the townhouses could have their first occupants by fall.

More information can be found on the project’s website at www.gainesrocktownhomes.com.

In other business conducted at Monday night’s meeting, the commission received an update from the City of Marquette Board of Review, voted to amend the Land Development Code, extended the Due Diligence Period on a purchase agreement of three parcels at the former Heartwood Forest property, approved a COVID-19 vaccine resolution, updated the City Commission Rules of Procedure to comply with the Open Meetings Act, and voted to add two projects Marquette County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Ryan Spitza can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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