By Jessica Mathews /

About a dozen residents attended a meeting Wednesday night to raise concerns and questions about a proposed senior care and rehab facility in the City of Howell.

Maple Manor Rehab Center is proposed on a roughly 8-acre site at 300 West Highland Road by Evangelista Development. It would be a skilled nursing facility said to specialize in very acute care and treating catastrophic-type patients with roughly 90 to 100 beds. It would be mostly short-term rehab but there would be some long-term care beds.

The company is family-owned and operated with other facilities in Novi and Wayne, which were said to have received various awards and it was stated that they are among the only COVID-free facilities in Michigan to date. Attorney Marcus Evangelista commented they have a long history of high-quality care and are among the top facilities in Michigan, receiving perfect state surveys with zero citations.

The project had been approved a couple of times previously but was delayed and prior approvals expired. A two-story building was originally proposed in 2018 but the applicants stated they are now committed to doing a one-story building, which has an identical footprint but would have less impact on the surrounding neighborhood.

Prior approvals have since expired thus the applicants were back before the Planning Commission Wednesday night, seeking updated site plan and special land use approvals for possible summer construction.

However, Commissioners and staff noted the plans put forward were not complete, drawings weren’t updated, and procedurally there wasn’t enough showing the actual proposal for a proper review and everything needed to be consolidated to better reflect changes and address staff recommendations to date.

Commissioner Nathan Voght commented they had three different versions of plans and need to see a complete site plan set with staff review, buffers, parking and other items. He commented that it was a good first step at getting the project going again but he personally needed to see a lot more at this point.

A public hearing was held despite the limited review and some residents raised various concerns about the poor condition of the site, the lengthy project delay, past building height, a lack of buffering, and a general lack of action over three years among others.

Jeff Hodge said he lives in plain sight behind the proposed facility and is concerned with the way the project has been managed thus far. Hodge said it’s been an unattractive nuisance and eyesore for three years and is very concerned about how long it will take based on how the project has been managed so far. He said he contacted the county and the city numerous times about standing water, piles of dirt and mosquito problems but nothing’s been done.

Hodge said his backyard has been “absolutely ugly” for three years and the site was red-tagged but work continued. He said a big mound of dirt hasn’t been removed and nothing’s been done to make the site look more suitable for a long-term situation.

Evangelista addressed concerns and apologized for the bad experience with regard to the damages and explained they bid the project to a builder who “jumped the gun” and started moving earth without a contract. He said a big hole was left and water started ponding and damaged the property – adding they tried to work with the City but were informed they couldn’t drain it, move dirt or do anything because their past approvals expired. Evangelista said they weren’t allowed to touch the property - which is why they’re back to try and resuscitate the project, get it off the ground and get things cleaned up. He agreed the condition is “unsightly and an embarrassment” and offered apologies.

There were previous efforts to locate a detention pond and potential gazebo and walking paths in an area owned by the Gallery Park homeowners association for residents to access but nothing came to fruition, which some had wanted.

Evangelista said they were much in favor of developing the corner for the neighborhood and beautifying that area but too many legalities and red tape were involved. He said they learned they were not allowed to purchase a common area from a homeowner association and things got very “over-lawyered”. Evangelista said they then explored an easement but were told it would require gathering a large number of votes and it was impractical so they basically gave up and just moved the detention pond onto their property.

While the building would be centrally located, staff suggested it could perhaps be shifted more toward M-59 to provide a better buffer from the surrounding residential neighborhood. A walking path was also brought up for a possible connection to the commercial area to the east. The main access point would be off M-59.

Dr. Stella Evangelista commented the project has been a long time coming and there have been many challenges but they’re ready to go and are committed to the community. She said they intend to follow all guidelines and buffers to protect the neighbors so they’re not looking at dirt and water – adding they want to move forward, work with the City and residents, and are open to suggestions.

The Commission ultimately approved a motion to postpone the site plan and special land use request until a complete final submittal is received that’s deemed satisfactory to city and planning staff.