Hope in the Housing Bubble

Posted by – Steve Cohen, Director of Community Development

The Northeast Corner of Auburn Hills is truly a special place.  It is a little bit of country in the middle of suburbia.  In 2001, residents in this area told us that they were afraid new home building would ruin the rural atmosphere they loved so much.  As a result, the City created a master plan and adopted new zoning rules lowering the number of homes permitted on property, while providing incentives for developers to preserve open space.

The first project to be approved under the new rules was a 124-unit condominium called Auburn Grove located north of Shimmons Road, west of Squirrel Road.  Conventional cookie-cutter subdivision design typically requires land balancing and mass tree removal due to the need to accommodate storm water drainage.   This project was very unique as homes were clustered in the center of the site allowing the preservation of 50% of the parcel as open space, which saved hundreds of trees.

Sales in the project took off in 2003 with 67 of the 124 units being built, but then the recession and housing bubble stalled construction.  The former developer forfeited the property back to the lender.  Owners were having trouble selling their homes since the project was unfinished.   The lender told us they were prepared to cut their losses and walk away.  The neighborhood’s future was unclear.

Not willing to stand by and do nothing, we proactively offered to help the lender facilitate the sale of the vacant land (57 units) to a new builder.  This is not normal practice for a municipality, but we are not a typical municipality.  Several builders looked at finishing the project, but did not want to be stuck with some of the original developer’s obligations.  After working out a number of complex details, we brought all the parties to the table to negotiate a “win-win” deal.  The new agreement allowed the sale to proceed to a new builder a few months ago.

Although new homes will not be constructed until the market improves, we are pleased that we were able to play a role in stabilizing the neighborhood and helping our citizens.