Traverse City News and Events

Development Group Walks Away from Bertha Vos Deal

By Beth Milligan | April 3, 2024

Strathmore Real Estate Group – the company behind the redevelopment of the Kmart property and new housing complex called Oak Shore Commons in Acme Township – is walking away from a deal to purchase the former Bertha Vos Elementary School. Strathmore was planning to buy the property for $1.225 million from Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS), but mounting opposition to the firm’s plans to build high-density housing on the site caused Strathmore to abandon the deal.

In a letter to township officials – posted by the township – Strathmore principal Jacob Chappelle said that after the company “sought and received helpful feedback on its proposed use from local leaders, neighbors, and stakeholders,” Strathmore would “not be moving forward with its acquisition” of Bertha Vos. Chappelle continued: “We sincerely appreciate all the feedback we have received from the greater community. We similarly appreciate (TCAPS’) willingness to facilitate this transaction, its efforts and assistance, and wish them the best in the final disposition of this property.”

Strathmore had not yet submitted any official plans for the property to Acme’s planning commission or board of trustees, nor filed any formal request for rezoning. “They have not gotten an official ‘no’ from the township on anything,” says Township Planning Commission Chair Karly Wentzloff. “It's not been on an agenda. I never got a formal request for any rezone or PUD (planned unit development). They didn't come and take the temperature of the planning commission. None of that happened.”

However, Strathmore reps had informal discussions with township officials in recent weeks about the company’s plans. Scott Hardy of Coldwell Banker Schmidt Realtors, who represents the Bertha Vos property for TCAPS, says Strathmore hoped to build multi-family housing. The property is in a single-family zoning district now. However, Hardy notes the township’s future land use map calls for the site to eventually be zoned as a mixed-use village, a designation that supports higher density uses.

“Most of what had been proposed had been what (the township’s) master plan and future land use map had called for on that parcel,” Hardy tells The Ticker. “But that apparently rankled people in Acme Township.” At the planning commission’s February 20 meeting, Hardy spoke during public comment about Strathmore’s potential plans for the property. “They need to know if a plan is presented to Acme Township if they will get a reasonable hearing of it,” according to a summary of Hardy’s comments in the official meeting minutes. “If they proposed a very high-end, high-density housing on the Bertha Vos property, will it be shot down or given a fair chance? They need to know if there is any merit in what the future land use map proposes.”

Those comments appeared to trigger residential neighbors of Bertha Vos, who began sending a flurry of correspondence to township officials opposed to a high-density development. “In no way does this proposed use reflect the desire of anyone in our neighborhood, and this needs to be firmly and continually stated,” wrote Deepwater Point Road residents Hans VanSumeren, Larisa Galnares, and Shirley VanSumeren, adding that single-family homes “should be the only consideration for this property.”

The group Concerned Citizens of Acme wrote that preserving single-family zoning on the site “would honor history, present-day residents and future appropriate land use in the heart of a residential area.” Deepwater Point Road resident Mark Frick said the township has yet to see what the impacts from Strathmore’s nearby Oak Shore Commons apartment complex will be on the neighborhood. Adding another high-density development “before we have a chance to assess the impacts of that large change” risks “serious negative impacts,” Frick wrote, adding: “Our small area does not need this intensity of development in such a short period of time.”

While Strathmore had been preparing to appear on the planning commission’s April 8 agenda, those and other letters – in addition to anti-Strathmore signs that began showing up throughout the surrounding neighborhood – prompted the developer to walk away. “They got very nervous that there was going to be an adverse impact on what they want to do long-term in Acme Township,” says Hardy. “This is not a fight they want to fight right now.”

TCAPS officials voted unanimously in December to accept a $1.225 million cash offer from Strathmore for Bertha Vos – a deal that was $500,000 over the listed asking price of $725,000. Strathmore – listed under SH East Bay Commons North LLC in the purchase agreement – was one of three offers considered by TCAPS officials for the site. The terms of the other two offers were not publicly disclosed. Hardy said at the time that Strathmore’s offer was the one “worth accepting and moving forward with” – not only because of the price but because of Strathmore’s commitment to Acme and the likelihood the deal would actually close.

Hardy also said at the time that another bidder declined to take the backup offer position on Bertha Vos, but might return to the table if the Strathmore deal fell through. “The other people who were interested have not lost interest,” Hardy says now, leaving the door open for other buyers to come forward. But he anticipates those buyers will also want to explore what Acme will support on the site before finalizing any deals. “I think TCAPS as an entity deserves to get the best price it can, because that goes back into public education,” Hardy says. “Just unloading it without asking questions (about potential uses) isn’t fair to TCAPS, so that’s what we did.”

TCAPS Superintendent Dr. John VanWagoner says the TCAPS board will need to regroup and have a discussion on how to move forward. Wentzloff says she’s not sure what the best use would be for the Bertha Vos property; it’s not her role as planning commission chair to have that opinion, she says, but simply to evaluate projects as they come forward based on township zoning standards. “The members of the community were pretty adamant they don’t want high-density residential, but it’s not my job to say whether that’s right or wrong,” she says. “The future land use map is a guiding document and one of the criteria we look at, but there are other criteria we have to consider as well.”

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