‘I don’t anticipate we’ll have any issues with the township or the neighbors’
WEST BLOOMFIELD — A property that was the center of controversy in West Bloomfield Township last year has been purchased.
The Corners is an approximately 7.6-acre facility located at 2075 Walnut Lake Road, west of Inkster Road.
According to Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan, Walnut Lake Elementary School previously operated on the property, prior to closing in the mid ’90s. After that, he stated, it was turned into a multi-purpose building, which is currently vacant.
Controversy arose last year after a developer, Walnut Lake Holdings, purchased the property and partnered with builder Robertson Brothers Homes.
A three-story townhouse community consisting of 101 units for lease was part of the proposed development that came before the township Planning Commission last October.
At a Planning Commission meeting, local residents filled a boardroom to voice opposition to the proposed development.
Among the concerns of the residents was the density increase that would have resulted from the proposed development.
The Planning Commission unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied.
However, with the Planning Commission being a recommending body, the ultimate decision was left up to the township’s Board of Trustees, and at a Board of Trustees meeting last November, the proposal was denied.
It was recently announced that The Corners has been purchased by the Chaldean Community Foundation/Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
According to its website, the Chaldean Community Foundation is a nonprofit human and social services organization that was founded in 2006 and provides cultural heritage and charity work in the local Chaldean community.
The foundation currently has a location in Sterling Heights.
The plan is to renovate the 40,142-square-foot facility on Walnut Lake Road and add an approximately 2,000-square-foot lobby.
There is also expected to be a minor reconfiguration of the parking lot to add an additional 15 spaces, making for a total of 149 spots.
According to a press release, between the acquisition and renovation, it is a $10 million project.
Martin Manna, who is the brother of Trustee Jim Manna, is the president of the Chaldean Community Foundation/Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce.
“We were looking at the property years ago,” Martin Manna said. “We needed a new and expanded community center in Oakland County to serve our growing community.”
Tom Haji is a director for the Chaldean Community Foundation. He said that, on May 23, after press time, the Planning Commission was set to “propose an approval to an amendment to the current zoning ordinance due to the fact that the building’s been abandoned for five years, so they just need to get that approved for our use.”
Haji said that he was “very confident” that there would be approval at the Planning Commission level and that the following step would be to go before the Board of Trustees.
According to Kaplan, although Board of Trustees member Jim Manna is related to Martin Manna, he can still be a part of the process.
“(The) fact that his brother is the applicant doesn’t legally require him to recuse himself,” Kaplan said. “Generally, (there) has to be a financial interest.”
Haji shared the Chaldean Community Foundation’s aspiration.
“We’re shooting for an Aug. 1 building permit,” he said.
Kaplan noted the difference between this project and the controversial property development proposal last year.
“We’re not talking about demolition,” he said. “What they (the Chaldean Community Foundation) proposed is within proper zoning.”
According to Kaplan, the process for a permit is more cumbersome when it comes to the demolition of buildings, and from his perspective, the Chaldean Community Foundation not proposing to do that is one of the appeals of the project. The other benefit he cited is that there won’t be an increase in density, which means that residents don’t need to be concerned about increased vehicle traffic and increased lake privileges on Walnut Lake.
“The township values the Chaldean community and the many contributions it’s made to the township,” Kaplan said. “This is an ideal use of the property and will benefit the township as a whole.”
Kaplan added that he thinks most of the nearby residents are in favor of the project because it doesn’t increase the density.
Doug Schoenherr is a nearby resident who opposed last year’s development proposal. However, he is OK with the Chaldean Community Foundation/Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce purchasing the property.
“Everything that I’ve seen so far is they’re keeping the existing building — just making some modifications to it,” Schoenherr said. “They’re not asking for a zoning change or anything like that — drastically changing the character of the neighborhood or any craziness, so I think that’s what everybody was after is just, ‘OK, cool; keep it within whatever’s there.’ … They’re not trying to (put) hundreds of people on the lake or trying to completely change the existing zoning or any of that stuff, so it’s being developed within what the current zoning is. I haven’t heard any major opposition or anything like that.”
From Jim Manna’s perspective, the Chaldean Community Foundation’s purchase of the property is a “win” for both the township and the Chaldean-American community.
“The Corners will serve many functions, including community services and the home of the Chaldean Chamber,” Jim Manna stated via a text message. “The corners will also bring a lot of vibrancy to the area with its multi-million dollar facelift. It’s going to look great and a definite improvement to the area.”
According to the release, there will be a range of community resources offered at the new center, including classrooms for workforce training, cultural awareness and training resources, a library to preserve historic Chaldean manuscripts dating back to the first century, a theater, a community demonstration kitchen, and a business incubator.
“We are preserving the facility,” Martin Manna said. “The building has good bones — just a lot of renovations that’ll take place, including a newly constructed and expanded lobby to serve the folks that we provide support to. … It’s one continuous building. I think if you look at the history, though, there was several additions to the original building.”
Martin Manna explained why he doesn’t expect the project to cause a stir among local residents.
“This is truly a community center and facility for all to enjoy, so I don’t anticipate we’ll have any issues with the township or the neighbors,” he said. “This will be a state-of-the-art facility with millions of dollars of new investment and landscape architecture that’s gonna add to the uniqueness of that little area — the neighborhood.”
Martin Manna said that the Chaldean Community Foundation’s Sterling Heights facility is “very busy.”
“We see more than 40,000 individuals a year from 48 different countries of origin,” he said. “So we will be providing access to health care, behavioral health programs, educational-type programs, after-school activity, senior programs, (and) health and wellness — just to name a few.”
From Martin Manna’s perspective, the new facility can help accommodate a Chaldean population that is growing in southeast Michigan.
“What we view it as is now (having) two large community centers,” he said. “Sterling Heights is about 30,000 square feet; this one in West Bloomfield’s about 42,000 square feet. So we have a very large, growing community. In 2016, the estimated population was about 160,000. We feel that it’s north of 200,000 now and continues to grow.”
Manna said that the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, which is currently located in Farmington Hills, will move to the new facility on Walnut Lake.
Renovation work on the new center is expected to begin this summer, with the goal being to open next spring.
“It’s long overdue,” Martin Manna said. “We’ve been focused on long-term planning for the community, and this will give us the ability to help preserve our culture, our identity and then provide programs and services to better serve the growing community. … We already have a sizable population in West Bloomfield, and many institutions like the St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church (and) the Shenandoah Country Club. This is just another addition to those institutions that can better serve the growing community.”