Golf Course Falling To Exclusive Housing Plan

As seen in The Oakland Press

October 11, 2000 INDEPENDENCE TWP. – Sixty years ago, it was a golf getaway spot for Detroiters in the “wilds” of Oakland County. But with frenzied land development in full swing today in golf-crazy metro Detroit, even golf course land isn’t being spared. The former Clarkston Country Club Golf Course – closed in 1998 – soon will sport homes selling for as much as $700,000. In the unusual redevelopment of an Oakland County golf course, Farmington Hills-based Franklin Property Corp. is planning a 27-house exclusive subdivision called Oakmont for the 50-acre site on Easton Road north of Clarkston Road. Houses, which will start at $450,000, will range from 3,300 square feet to 5,000 square feet. Land clearing already has begun, and house building is expected to begin this year.

“This was developed as a resort country club in the ’30s,” said Franklin President Andrew Milia, who negotiated for the land for two years. “It was a resort area for the people in the city of Detroit. This was considered ‘Up North.'” Once called the Thendara Country Club, the privately owned Clarkston Country Club offered public golf. But with land prices rising and new courses springing up, the course couldn’t stay afloat and owners Dean and Feather Buchanan sold the land to Franklin Property. The nine-hole course would have had to compete with a flurry of new courses coming into the Clarkston area, including Shepherd’s Hollow in Springfield Township and Oakhurst in Independence Township.”Who wants to just go out and play nine holes?” asked Craig Valassis, managing member of Oakhurst. “It’s just not going to survive like a good, 18-hole golf course.”

He recalled a country club golf course in Farmington that met with the same fate in the 1980s. Dave Richards, chief executive officer of Bloomfield Hills-based Golf Marketing Services, said redevelopment of golf courses in Oakland County is rare, but subdivisions bring a bigger payoff. “I wonder why more courses don’t get developed into housing projects,” said Richards, whose company promotes golf projects throughout Michigan. “You go from a little golf course to a couple hundred lots and it’s a lot more feasible.” Milia considered maintaining the golf course and putting homes around it – a trend that’s grown in popularity. But the Clarkston course, even with its 4,000-square-foot club-house that is now demolished, doesn’t have the acreage to make that type of project work. That’s especially true since the $15 million Oakmont project – situated in an area still rural enough to have deer and 150-year-old oaks – will contain 20-acres of open space. While developers sometimes point to unusable wetlands in their projects as open space, Milia set aside prime land on which he could have built, he said. Oakmont will feature rolling hills, with some sites offering views as far as 15 miles, he said. “I think just the natural beauty of the site will be attractive to a lot of people,” he said.

The custom houses at Oakmont, on one-acre lots, are being built by Oakland Township-based Adrian Building and Riviera Construction of Independence Township. Milia has retained three lots that he will sell to other builders or homeowners. Oakmont’s houses will have heavy use of natural materials, including stone exteriors and granite countertops, said Riviera President John Sokol. “We’re going to make these like a classic home instead of contemporary,” he said. Development of the golf course land into a subdivision drew concerns from neighbors, said township planning commission Chairman Steve Board. They had worries about drainage and increased traffic and some had sentimental attachments to the golf course, he said. Township government saw the project, with its larger sites and open space, as fitting in with the community. “We’re looking at additional residential development done in a way that maintains our rural character,” Board said.