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Transit-oriented development proposed for U.S 23 commuter rail line




Get used to hearing those words (or the acronym TOD) and the millions of dollars in investment that comes with them when it comes to development in Metro Detroit in the near future.

The first rail-based example of transit oriented development for the planned U.S. 23 commuter rail line is being proposed in Whitmore Lake. The Whitmore Station project looks to redevelop 24 acres of an old industrial plant into a combination of commercial and residential space centered on the proposed station.

The commuter rail line would connect Ann Arbor to its northern neighbors Whitmore Lake, Hamburg Township, Genoa Township and Howell using existing train tracks that mirror U.S. 23.

Originally proposed to help alleviate congestion during construction along U.S. 23 last year, local leaders are now pushing for it to relieve chronic backups along the highway where rush hour traffic often goes beyond its capacity. Although starting service has been pushed back a few times, those behind the effort are still confident it will become a reality.

"I am confident that this is a very real project," says Earl LaFave, the developer behind Whitmore Station. "I am also convinced that it will happen in the near future. I am not talking years. It could happen within the next year."

If that turns out to be the case, he says he will move full speed ahead with the Whitmore Station project. The acreage at the corner of 8 Mile Road and U.S. 23 served as a Johnson Controls plant for years before going idle recently. Today it's minimally used for storage.

Although LaFave's development team is still in the preliminary stages of designing Whitmore Station, he envisions about five acres being put aside for the station while the rest could be developed into a mix of residential and commercial space or just commercial.

LaFave, a Livingston County developer behind the Hidden Lake development, says the project is not dependent on the commuter rail but the line would be a big boost for it. He adds that such development is common throughout the rest of the country and its time is definitely right for southeast Michigan.

"This is the real deal," LaFave says. "This has moved so far so fast in the short span of one year it's unbelievable."

Organizers behind the initiative, commonly known as WALLY for the Washtenaw and Livingston Line, are going after federal grant money and are hopeful they will get a good chunk of it after the train is up and running. The project has enjoyed near unanimous support from federal, state and local officials.

The Michigan Department of Transportation pledged $1.4 million on top of the $375,000 it has already committed to the line. Other local governments are pledging money ranging from the $150,000 from Washtenaw County to $10,000 from Northfield Township. Organizers are putting together an authority to run the line and assembling the final funds to make it happen.

A three-car passenger train would make six trips during the morning rush hour and another six trips in the afternoon/evening rush hour. Each stainless steel bi-level car could carry between 500 to 600 people per trip. A train would take about 20 minutes one way, saving commuters about 45 minutes in transport time, officials say.

It is estimated the cost to passengers could be kept in line with what they pay for gas. The initiative has an enthusiastic partner in Great Lakes Central Railroad, also known as the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway, which is willing to set up the service and provide the trains. Great Lakes Central is also interested extending the line as far north as Traverse City and as far south as Milan in the long term if the initial project proves successful.

Source: Earl LaFave, developer of Whitmore Station
Writer: Jon Zemke

Austin Catholic Academy High School goes green with new building

When building a Catholic High School, the architects must have asked themselves, "What Would Jesus Do?"

Build green of course. And that's just what the new Austin Catholic Academy, which broke ground last week in Macomb Township, is planning to do.

The new $32 million high school will feature a number of environmentally friendly features, such as utilizing renewable energy and a store water management system, along with installing extensive insulation throughout the structure.

The building, going up on north side of 23 Mile Road, just west of North Avenue, was designed with plenty of strategically placed windows to provide more natural sunlight. Artificial lighting was designed so no more than 1 watt per square foot will be used. Lighting will be further optimized by modulating photoelectric daylight and occupancy sensors so no light will be accidentally left on.

The school, run by the Augustinian Fathers and Brothers of the Catholic Church, will house up to 800 high school students from Northern Macomb County. The building will feature a number of state-of-the-art technology features such as wireless Internet access and SMART Boards.

"Austin Catholic Academy will provide residents in Macomb County and the surrounding area a unique opportunity to build upon the current strengths of the Catholic school system, implementing the latest educational, technology and strategies to provide a state-of-the-art education within a Catholic learning environment," says Leonard Brillati, president of the volunteer group that helped make the school's construction possible.

Construction began on the 107-acre site last week and is expected to wrap up by the fall of 2009. The school will open to just freshmen and then welcome in a new class each year until all four high school grades are filled.

Source: Archdiocese of Detroit
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor hybrid buses officially in service, AATA looks to add more

More hybrid buses are on their way to Ann Arbor. The Ann Arbor Transportation Authority expects five more hybrid buses to join its fleet by March and will order another seven before the end of the year. These will join the 15 hybrids already in service in the AATA's fleet of 72 buses.

"We have had a great response from both our customers and the general public," says Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for the AATA, adding that two of the biggest compliments are how much quieter and better smelling the hybrids are than regular buses.

The hybrid buses are built by Hayward, California-based Gillig Corp. and the price difference between the hybrids and regular buses was paid for by a federal grant. The AATA plans to replace its older buses with hybrids as they are decommissioned, however, it won't take another order for new buses until at least 2010.

The hybrid buses are significantly more fuel efficient and produce lower levels of pollution. The AATA expects to buy 80,000 fewer gallons of B10 bio-diesel this year. That represents more than a 10% decrease because of the hybrids.

This project is part of the mayor's initiative to make Ann Arbor more environmentally friendly. Early last year, Ann Arbor started a campaign to promote renewable energy by moving all its facilities to 30% renewable energy by 2010.

Source: Mary Stasiak, manager of community relations for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority
Writer: Jon Zemke

Amici's Pizza in Berkley specializes in going green

If it isn't easy being green then it definitely isn't easy becoming green either. That is the lesson Jennifer Stark and Maureen McNamara are learning while making their Amici's Pizza store and adjacent Living Room lounge in Berkley as environmentally friendly as possible.

"It's all a learning curve for us," Stark says. "We're doing everything we can."

Take recycling for instance. The business, 3249 W 12 Mile Road, produces a large amount of waste that was regularly carted off in a garbage truck to a landfill. Stark and McNamara, both environmentally conscious people, decided they could at least change that and start recycling some of their refuse.

"We use a lot of disposable products here," Stark says. "The amount of garbage we produce is ridiculous."

The problem was they soon discovered that they could recycle a lot of it. Almost half, actually. However, the city only gave them the normal residential recycling containers to use, which were way too small. After complaints from neighbors and some finagling they got a couple of 95-gallon bins to handle their recycling.

They also took pains and a little expense to make what they did throw away more environmentally friendly. For instance, items like plates and cups are 100-percent biodegradable, which makes them more eco-friendly than washing permanent plates when you count the energy and chemicals used to clean them. The knives and forks are even made of Tater Ware, a natural material.

"They will decompose in a landfill in two weeks," Stark says. "They're actually stronger and more pliable than plastic."

They just started using biodegradable take-out containers made of corn and are looking into biodegradable garbage bags.

But their green credentials go beyond managing waste. The store uses simple fixes such as energy efficient light bulbs and more expensive ones like high-efficiency heating and cooling systems.

It's paying off in more ways than one. Not only is the business reaping lower energy bills but it is also experiencing more than its share of good press and public goodwill because of its eco-conscious choices.

"Customers appreciate what we're doing," Starks says. "People come out here and do business because they heard about what we're doing.

Source: Jennifer Stark, co-owner of Amici's Pizza

Writer: Jon Zemke

Plymouth green fair showcases new eco-friendly projects, products

Going green is going to be coming to Plymouth in a big way when the Green Street Fair sets up in early May.

The fair will help spread the word about the benefits of green, organic and eco-friendly products and services. It will be held in downtown on May 3 and May 4 and is expected to draw up to 100,000 people.

The event will combine businesses, artisans and entertainers to promote the idea of becoming more environmentally friendly through everyday activities and purchases. Among the major institutions participating in the event are Whole Foods, Lawrence Technological University and Great Lakes Renewal Energy Association.

For information, call (734) 259.2983 or send an email to info@greenstreetfair.com.

Source: Green Street Fair and The Kirkwood Group

Writer: Jon Zemke

UofM environmental awareness study marks first year progress

One year down, a lifetime left to go. That's the way University of Michigan officials are looking at the school's environmental stewardship in light of its first Annual Environmental Report.

The report shows that UofM's total energy use declined slightly while recycling increased, along with alternative transit use. The university is recycling 30 percent of its solid waste while its van pool program logged 9 million miles last year.

The figures were compiled in Environmental Data Repository an Excel-based database developed by university students, faculty and staff.

"The EDR is useful to see trending over years," says Henry Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations. "It is a comprehensive collection in one place and helps focus our environmental efforts."

University staff is working with DTE Energy to identify renewable energy sources and a Web site that allows staff to access green purchasing options. New campus construction and renovation projects are being built to exceed industry environmental standards.

The university announced a campus-wide initiative last spring to become more involved in campus environmental and energy conservation efforts. The six-point enterprise calls for, among other things, improving the energy consumption of the university's facilities by creating "Wolverine Teams," composed of operations and facilities management staff and the occupants of the buildings.

The pilot phase of this initiative targeted five university buildings of varying degrees of age with the goal of making them greener. Those buildings include: The Institute for Social Research, Chemistry, Space Research, Rackham and Fleming. Furthermore, to compliment the program's goals, university leaders are seeking ways to purchase more power from green sources like wind and solar power.

Source: Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University of Michigan
Writer: Jon Zemke

Walsh College moves forward with green building in Troy

Lots of colleges are working to enhance their eco-friendly credentials, but Walsh College is making a significant move to set itself apart from the rest with its newly opened environmentally sustainable Jeffery W. Barry Center in Troy.

The new 37,000-square-foot building (named in honor of Jeffery Barry, Walsh's President from 1970 to 1991) incorporates a enough recycled materials and green systems to make a tree hugger blush.

The $10.5-million structure incorporates recycled and environmentally sensitive materials, captures rainwater and uses solar power for climate control. Its terrazzo floors contain 20,000 pounds of recycled glass and will be a key point when it goes for bronze-level LEED certification.

Stephanie Bergeron, president and CEO of Walsh College, says the new building speaks to the college's commitment to its students and its community because it is investing for the long-term to improve the area and educational experience. The Barry Center will serve as a template to make the college's other buildings more environmentally friendly.

"I think we're at the cutting edge of how construction will be done in the future," Bergeron says.

The building has nine classrooms, three conference rooms, two seminar rooms, a 135-seat auditorium, a marketing focus group room with one-way glass and a library. The center was built to help to accommodate Walsh College's 40 percent growth in enrolment.

Walsh College, founded in 1922, offers upper-division undergraduate and graduate business education programs to 4,430 students at campuses in Troy, Novi and Clinton Township.

Source: Maribeth Farkas, Caponigro Public Relations and Stephanie Bergeron, President and CEO of Walsh College
Writer: Jon Zemke

State designates Academy of Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills as a green school

Going green isn't just a way of life for the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Bloomfield Hills, it’s a religious mission. Therefore it's no wonder the state designated it as one of Michigan's Green Schools.

The Academy has been making environmentally friendly choices, such as recycling and building energy efficient systems, for decades. Leaders of the Catholic school say the institution's mission centers on respecting creation and being stewards of the earth, making environmentally friendly choices easy ones.

"We see these types of activities as embracing all of the parts of our mission," says Sister Bridget Bearss, RSCJ, head of the schools at Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Although the school has been doing right by the earth for decades, it didn't seek recognition until it formed a green committee last year. It was little overdue according to Michigan Green School’s program administrator Kristine Moffett. Moffett noted the school's “impressive achievement," pointing out how the Academy is not only the first of the 85 Michigan Green Schools to use recycled carpeting but also the state’s first independent school to receive the green school designation.

Among the K-12 school's green credentials is building student awareness of environmental issues, supporting wildlife habitats on its campus, reducing paper use, recycling, conserving water and creating high-efficiency energy systems.

The Academy is also looking to restore its nature trail, create a farm on its 14-acre campus and possibly install green roofs on some of its buildings.

"I hope there are other schools that will join us in this mission," Sister Bearss says. "It will create more awareness for the future."

The Academy of the Sacred Heart is Michigan's oldest independent school, founded in 1851. For information on it, call (248) 646-8900.

Source: Sister Bridget Bearss, RSCJ, head of the schools at Academy of the Sacred Heart
Writer: Jon Zemke

Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail line studies look to wrap up in April

As sloth-like as it seems at times, the commuter rail project connecting Detroit, Ann Arbor and Metro Airport is not on a slow boat to China. But then again, it's not using Maglev technology either.

Regardless, officials close to the project expect infrastructure capacity and fare-box studies to wrap up by April, giving the project a big boost toward becoming a reality.

"That's key because we're trying to nail down the cost of the project," Saundra Nelson, director of special projects for Wayne County, said in a speech to Transportation Riders United earlier this week.

Nelson pointed out that finishing these studies will get the project closer to concluding the second stage of a largely three-step assessment. The first two (what it is and what it takes) will be done, leaving the third (what it costs) left to be determined. Nelson was quite optimistic that the proposal will become a reality sooner rather than later.

The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, which is spearheading the project, is negotiating logistics and improvements with the railroads that control the tracks and Amtrak for providing the trains. Organizers behind the proposal are looking at picking stops, arranging a shuttle service between the Metro Airport stop at Merriman Road and the airport's terminals and making sure delays are kept to a bare minimum.

Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for SEMCOG, gave a prognosis last year of establishing service by late 2009 or early 2010 while SEMCOG and the railroads sort out logistical issues.

The commuter rail line would utilize existing tracks with stops at Metro Airport, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Dearborn. It’s possible it could also be expanded to connect Royal Oak, Ferndale, Troy/Birmingham and Pontiac.

Source: Saundra Nelson, director of special projects for Wayne County
Writer: Jon Zemke

Parkside of Plymouth selling, summer completion expected

Some of downtown Plymouth's newest residents are gearing up to move in by this summer. That's when work on the Parkside of Plymouth project is set to finish.

In defiance of the tough local economy, the downtown development only has six of the building's 18 units still available. The latest sale included a $480,000 custom designed residence with views of Kellogg Park, which the building overlooks. The framing of the 3.5-story building is nearly finished. Construction workers are expected to put the structure's roof on this week.

"We have redesigned a few floor plans to be slightly larger 2 or 3 bedroom residences," says Lesley Aiello, sales and marking director for Parkside of Plymouth. "The smallest units are starting at $250k and the larger at $360k."

Each unit comes with hardwood floors, granite countertops and one underground parking space. Eight of the loft units will be one story while the remaining 10 will be 1.5 stories.

The building will also utilize geothermal heating and cooling units, which are considered at the cutting edge of environmentally friendly building technology. Geothermal uses the constant temperature of the earth to help heat and cool the building, helping keep those costs low.

The 50-foot tall structure faces Penniman Avenue and stands on the space once occupied by a Masonic Temple.

Washington, Michigan-based Meridien Development is the developer behind the project. For information, call Aiello at (734) 357-0625.

Source: Lesley Aiello, sales and marking director for Parkside of Plymouth
Writer: Jon Zemke

Hughes properties announces plans for University Village in Ann Arbor

Student life is looking up at the University of Michigan after Hughes Properties announced another high-rise development aimed at providing state-of-the-art housing for students. It looks like the days of student ghettos filled with dilapidated single-family homes are quickly coming to an end.

Case in point: University Village. The newly proposed development is promising to build two residential towers connected by a level of ground floor retail space at the southwest corner of Forest and South University streets. The developers intend to replace the Village Corner party store and a handful of small apartment buildings and houses, beginning the first phase by 2010.

The project would also strive to incorporate environmentally friendly construction techniques, materials and systems. Hughes Properties and partner Omena Real Estate Investments plan to incorporate environmentally sustainable and recycled materials, passive solar technologies, high-performance mechanical systems, advanced water recapture systems, a green roof and comprehensive recycling programs. The developers are going for LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"This is a very unique, exciting, and noteworthy project — we are committed to building a state-of-the-art residential complex on a brownfield infill site that incorporates sustainability best practice," says one of the developers, Ron Hughes. "Everyday, students will see how green systems work through live exhibits installed throughout the building, and they will come to understand how their actions impact the environment as we share monthly energy consumption and recycling reports with our residents." 

Each tower will be able to house about 850 students each in loft-style apartments. Each unit will come furnished with amenities like flat screen TVs and floor-to-ceiling windows. There will also be a café, fitness facility, business center and a landscaped roof garden. A far departure from the run down houses and apartment buildings that surround the campus and most university students have called home at one point or another.

This development, which must still be approved by the city, joins a slew of other student housing updates that are in the works. Those projects include the University's North Quad (its first dorm in 30 years), upgrades to a number of other dorms, 4 Elevel Lofts and Zaragon Place Lofts.

Source: Ron Hughes of Hughes Properties and Tracy Koe Wick, principal of Kirkwood A Marketing Group
Writer: Jon Zemke

Cooley Law School opens up Auburn Hills campus, renovation done

Now that the renovation is done the addition can start in earnest. More importantly classes can begin at Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Oakland Campus in Auburn Hills.

The renovated 65,000 square feet of space will complement the 62,000-square-foot addition the college expects to finish by the end of the year. Both the renovation and addition to the 67-acre campus on Feather Stone Road by the Chrysler World Headquarters complex include a litany of environmentally friendly aspects.

Among the green credentials is a 20,000-square-foot green roof, using recycled materials such as carpet in the building and installing energy-efficient lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The project is seeking certification by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (or LEED) green building rating system.

"We are excited to kick off January 2008 classes with the opening of our Auburn Hills campus," says Law School President Don LeDuc. "This dedicated campus represents a top-notch learning environment specifically tailored to the needs of law students."

The new building, which had sat vacant for five years, opens as the law school celebrates its 35th anniversary. The campus will replace most of the school’s presence at Oakland University. Cooley will continue to operate its two joint-degree programs at Oakland. The new Auburn Hills campus is located near OU, separated only by the Chrysler World Headquarters complex.

About 600 students attend Cooley Law School's Oakland County campus. Enrollment there is projected to increase to approximately 650 students next year before reaching 750 by January 2009. More than 3,600 students attend the law school, founded in 1972, at its three locations in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Oakland County.

Source: Nick Wasmiller, spokesman for Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Writer: Jon Zemke

A3C renovations on East Huron St building nearly complete, moves in

Most of the renovations to A3C Collaborative Architecture's headquarters at 210 E Huron St. in downtown Ann Arbor are done. The last bit of work, installing a green roof, is expected to be done this spring when the weather warms.

"We are moving back into our main studio space and completing some finish work both there and in the roof top urban retreat," says Aubrey Kane, marketing manager for A3C.

The firm has transformed its home, a historic building across the street from the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum, into an example of how green building can work and why it's a good idea. It will also become the first building in the city's downtown to incorporate a green roof and geothermal heating and cooling system. A number of renewable options will be utilized in the inside, including recycled carpet and other sustainable building materials.

A3C is going for LEED gold status and will become the first company to meet the city's 30 percent challenge. The city is challenging local companies to generate more than 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources, a goal the city set for itself to accomplish by 2010.

A3C's two-story building was originally built in the 1920s for retail and office space on the first and second floors, respectively. The renovation will essentially give the building three floors. The first floor will be kept as 6,500 square feet of retail space. The second floor will remain the offices for A3C. It will also build a conference room area on the building's green roof, which it will make available for meetings by city officials and local non-profits.

Source: Aubrey Kane, marketing manager for A3C
Writer: Jon Zemke

Key Bank Building in downtown Ann Arbor returns to life of proud prominence

Stand on the corner of Kerrytown in front of Zingerman's in downtown Ann Arbor on a cold, clear night and shimmering in the not-so-far-away distance is the newly renovated Key Bank Building.

Renovations of the historic structure, about 100 years old depending on the source, are set to conclude by the end of March. The more than $2 million invested in the building will refurbish it inside and out. Its exterior and common areas are being restored to their historical splendor while the 55,000 square feet of office space inside is being updated and upgraded to Class A space.

"It's an attempt to upgrade the building and capture its historical significance," says Michael Quinn, principal architect for the renovation with Ann Arbor-based Quinn Evans/Architects.

Quinn Evans has done extensive work in historic preservation. Its portfolio includes big projects such as the State Capitol Building in Lansing and the Wayne County Building in Detroit, along with smaller ones, like the façade improvement on Conor O'Neill's Irish Pub in downtown Ann Arbor and The Inn on Ferry Street in Midtown Detroit. The firm's work concentrates on finding a way to make historical properties standout while still finding their rightful place among their surroundings.

"We believe that a vibrant downtown is one that can celebrate its new and old architecture," Quinn says.

The Key Bank Building, originally named the Glazier Building, falls somewhere in between those. It's not as well-known regionally as the State Capitol or Wayne County Building, but the seven-story structure is one Ann Arbor's landmark structures. It's also the city's first skyscraper, proudly standing above the city's banking center at Main and Huron streets.

Over the years, the building's original decorative cornice was removed while numerous other ornamental flourishes were covered or lost. This latest renovation restores those enhancements, paying special attention to the cornice. That important piece of the puzzle was put back to original position and is highlighted by energy efficient lights at night.

"It captures the importance of the corner well," Quinn says.

The building's lobby and elevators were restored to original status, utilizing marble and replicated historical ornamentation. Those areas were also modernized so they work as efficiently as comparable equipment in new structures.

A new roof, thick insulation and upgrades to heating and cooling systems were added to make the building more energy efficient. The office space has been modernized and is expected to be fully leased by this summer. The building serves as the regional headquarters for Key Bank, and houses the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce. The second floor is still available for lease, but the developer, Ann Arbor-based Dahlman Properties, is in negotiations to sign a tenant for that space.

The developer and the architect decided to go with a thorough historic restoration of the building to give it an edge in a competitive market. The restoration, eligible for a 20 percent federal tax credit, gives the building a unique "WOW" factor. That curb appeal is a significant component in separating the structure from the pack of bland and uninspiring competitors.

"It now has landmark status," Quinn says. "That provides a good draw for us."

Good enough even to make it stand out on a cold night.

Source: Mike Quinn, principal architect for the renovation of the Glazer Building
Writer: Jon Zemke

Ann Arbor receives award from Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association

Ann Arbor's commitment to sustainability efforts are no longer questioned. They're rewarded.

The latest award has gone to the city's Energy Coordinator, David Konkle. The Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association presented its Individual Commitment Award to Konkle earlier this month at Leopold Brothers Brewery.

Konkle, the city's energy coordinator for 19 years, received the award for his efforts to increase the mainstream use of renewable energy in Michigan. Konkle is credited with saving the city more than $8 million in energy costs and has won another $2 million in grant funds for the city. The most recent is when Ann Arbor was named a Solar America Cities recipient from the U.S. Department of Energy, with other cities such as New Orleans, New York City and Boston.

Last year Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje and the City Council set a goal of the city receiving 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2015. Since then, the city's Energy Office has developed a comprehensive plan, the Ann Arbor Solar City Partnership, which includes public education, solar installation training, demonstration projects, market incentives and regulatory support.

Source: City of Ann Arbor
Writer: Jon Zemke

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