Judge rejects appeal of Royal Oak development
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Royal Oak has agreed to fund a six-story, 581-space parking deck as part of a downtown development project. The number of spaces was incorrect in a previous version.
Pontiac – An Oakland County circuit judge dismissed an appeal Wednesday of the city of Royal Oak’s plan to redevelop the center of its downtown business district with a parking structure, a new office building, a park and new city hall and police department.
Several businesses had filed a lawsuit against the $60 million City Center project, alleging the plans will ultimately destroy their current operations and had been undertaken without city officials following proper procedures, including proper studies needed for site plan approval.
But Judge Cheryl Matthews agreed with the city that the plaintiffs were not injured "any more than other property owners" by the elimination of surface parking spaces outside city hall and therefore could not legally contest the Zoning Board’s decision permitting the project.
“Based on the reasoning discussion in (other case law) this court concludes that to be an aggrieved party … they must allege and prove that he or she has suffered some special damages not common to other property owners similarly situated,” Matthews ruled Wednesday.
Attorney Robert A. Jacobs had unsuccessfully argued to Matthews last week that other case law, including a state Supreme Court decision, indicates the judge had the power and the duty to step in under such situations, which can also be considered a public nuisance.
“The decision in my judgment is palpable error,” said Jacobs, who did not comment on whether he may seek a higher appeal.
Royal Oak City Attorney David Gilliam said, "The city is obviously pleased with the decision."
"We've felt all along that standing was a significant issue in all of the litigation related to the redevelopment of the civic center," Gilliam said. "What happens next will be up to the appellants. They can either file motions for reconsideration in the circuit court, or file applications for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. In the meantime, Central Park Development Group will continue with the construction of its office building and the city will continue with the construction of the parking deck."
Eleven downtown Royal Oak businesses had sued last year, seeking an injunction against the office building project for various reasons, chief among them that their livelihoods would be seriously harmed by eliminating existing parking spaces to make way for new buildings and new tenants.
Several of the complaining Main Street businesses back up to what was once a city-owned surface lot of 225 spaces across from city hall. One long-time Royal Oak restaurant, Andiamo, has already closed, its owner telling reporters the business could not survive without the nearby parking for his customers.
The Lansing-based Boji group purchased the parking lot, valued at more than $900,000, from the city for $1 and was also given $5.5 million as an incentive to build a 128,000-square-foot, six-story office building on the site. Construction is expected to begin in late January or early February and to be completed and occupied by May 2019.
As part of the plan, the city has agreed to fund a six-story, 581-space parking deck next to the office site and create a two-acre park on leftover space, demolishing its existing city hall and police department and constructing new city buildings a block away across Troy Street near the Farmers Market and District Court.
An estimated 700 people will work in the Boji office building, which has been given 300 spaces in the new parking structure.
This is the second unsuccessful circuit court appeal of Matthews' decision to dismiss the lawsuit. The previous appeal concerned the contested sale of bonds, with the Michigan Court of Appeals agreeing with Matthews that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue.