Changing housing plans causing more disputes

‘The person that comes forward with the money is the person that will do this project, and believe me, we would be thrilled no matter who that is.’
— Mayor John O’Reilly

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Changing plans for a proposed University of Michigan-Dearborn student housing development are causing even more strife in the contentious relationship between the city and developer Hakim Fakhoury.

Several locations have been considered for the project between Fairlane Town Center and the western terminus of the west Michigan Avenue business district, and for much of 2009 was proposed by Fakhoury to go into his Dearborn Village North development between Military and Howard.

But university officials recently have been in negotiations with Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and other student housing developers about placing the project in the outer ring of Fairlane Town Center, which would be significantly closer than the DVN location.

While Fakhoury acknowledges that the Fairlane location might make more sense for the university, he said it would not fit the interests of the west downtown district, where he owns several properties. What he would like to see, he said, is the city take a more vocal role in directing the university on where to place the project.

“The bottom line is: (city officials) need to roll up their sleeves and use their influence to tell U of M where they want the project to go. And to me, there is no place that needs this any more than the west downtown,” Fakhoury said.

Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. was incredulous when asked about Fakhoury’s comments. He said he has told university officials on several occasions that the city would prefer to have the housing built in Fakhoury’s project, and to that end, has set up meetings bringing all parties to the table.

Despite O’Reilly’s desire to see the project in the struggling downtown, he said his first priority lies in getting the deal done – anywhere. At a time when financing is difficult to obtain, anyone who can put the money up would be welcomed with open arms, he said.

“At the end of the day, the person that comes forward with the money is the person that will do this project, and believe me, we would be thrilled no matter who that is,” O’Reilly said.

While UM-D officials did not return calls seeking comment for this article, previous reports indicate the school is looking for roughly 1,000 beds to start with the possibility of more if requisite demand is demonstrated.

Besides being closer to the campus, the Fairlane site’s desirability could be getting a major boost from the recently announced plans of a new commuter rail station on Michigan Avenue near Elm.

The housing would be within walking distance of the station, and the train’s route — from Ann Arbor to Detroit — potentially would give students a fully public transit option from U-M’s main campus in Ann Arbor to the satellite location in Dearborn.