A Missing Middle makeover: Developer Jenifer Acosta takes on flood-impacted property in Midland

After a quick call from her realtor and a short diversion from a preschool picnic with her family in tow, Acosta happened to stumble on her next project – Westwood Village, a 10-unit condo development in Midland that was impacted by the dam breaches and subsequent flooding.

While Acosta is involved in several boards and interests locally around development, housing and historic preservation, putting a shovel in the ground in Midland has been a bit more difficult compared to her work with The Legacy, The Times Lofts and The Davidson Building in Bay City or The Bearinger Building in Saginaw.

“There have been a few things in the works over the years, and some snowballed for a bit, but always seemed to fall apart for one reason or another,” says Acosta.

Developer Jenifer Acosta has started construction on Westwood Village.Bringing Missing Middle Housing to the Great Lakes Bay Region and specifically Midland, is something that Acosta has been passionate about for quite a while and it’s a topic she speaks on both nationally and internationally with Incremental Development Alliance.

“Missing Middle Housing is essential to a community because it adds quality residential units at attainable price points which are typically owned by local citizens who choose to invest in their community,” says Acosta. “The additional residential density adds convenient and often walkable or bikeable access to support local businesses, helps drive and develop local entrepreneurs and supplies the city with additional tax revenue.”

Every unit is a bit different, but each has a ton of character and charm.“Much like the rest of the country, Midland lacks those medium density options like duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and accessory dwellings in close proximity to amenities like our downtown businesses and restaurants, Whiting Forest, the Great Lakes Loons and more,” she says. “So, this has always been both a passion of mine and a gap I feel exists in our housing stock, so this was finally the right opportunity. I advocate for this type of housing all the time, so in that aspect, how could I pass it up?”

After a lightning-fast close on the property of only 14 days, Acosta recently broke ground. All major construction starts in the coming weeks on the first five units and she hopes to have all units complete by the spring of 2021, with the first round likely sooner.

Tucked away in the woods just around the corner from Northwood University, walking into the condos at Westwood Village these days is a bit surreal.

The 10-unit property is nestled in the woods by Northwood University in Midland.The level of loss and destruction is clear, as you take in the fact that 10 homeowners lost a majority of their home and belongings, apparent from the open walls baring studs from the chest-level down throughout the entire complex, if not higher in many cases.  

Acosta takes me through the property, and we squeeze ourselves through openings in the framing amongst units, hopping from condo to condo in ways that weren’t possible just a few months ago.

Even though the units have been through demo and the initial steps of construction, a few small, inconspicuous signs of the flood could still be seen in late July. At one point, as we exit a patio sliding door and a few inches of water trapped in between the panes sloshes from side to side.

Looking into a neighboring unit from a hole in the wall.Yet, amongst all this, there is a strong sense of renewal.  

Walking through a majority of the units, you can see inspiring and unique floor plans and a level of character that isn’t present in any other semi-detached development in town. The layouts are all different, but there is a cohesive similarity amongst them – somewhat reminiscent of sisters with different personalities.

Some have windows that stretch nearly floor to ceiling in the great room, others nod to mid-century design with drop-down living rooms, most have open kitchens and two have the most charming and unique indoor courtyards you won’t find in housing at this price point in Midland. There is also some consistency as well, all of the units have wet bars and large fireplaces, for example.

A dropped living room in one of the units.In those aspects, the character – despite their temporary state – can be seen throughout, and was considerably influenced by the original developer, Bennett Development, which was luckily captured back in 1973 just a month before his unfortunate passing.

“They were already pretty stripped down by the owners, so all I had to go on was the old listing photos in a few cases,” says Acosta. “Which is kind of nice with this project, because in that aspect, I’m starting with a clean slate. I can’t go back and recreate what it was, which is usually typical for me with historic properties, so that is a different component in this project.”

“It has such amazing bones, it has a ton of great character, it’s nestled in the trees,” says Acosta. “They kind of remind me of almost that lakeside, Catskills or Poconos Mountains vibe, so I’m leaning towards going with a style that is modern, with clean lines and a Scandinavian feel.”

Acosta is planning for a modern, Scandinavian feel.Nearly 50 years ago, the original plan for these 10 units was intended to be 200 units, but only the first two buildings were constructed and later phases were never completed once the developer passed.

“The unique and full-circle aspect of this process was that I chose to work with Great Lakes Bay Construction, who happened to buy out Bennett years ago,” says Acosta. “It wasn’t a conscious part of the development decision, but it’s a nice coincidence to have after the fact.”

All units are complete overhauls in terms of new electrical, HVAC, water heaters, kitchen cabinets, flooring and more. She plans to keep the original details, such as the wet bar in a majority of the units, except for a few possible plans to expand kitchens.

So why was this project a ‘yes’ for Acosta?

“I live in Midland, fairly close to here, actually. And for a long time, I’ve been looking at building housing that meets that Missing-Middle need,” says Acosta. “I’m also really active on the volunteer-side, giving time and energy to several housing and local causes, whether that was co-chairing the Housing Task Force or impact investing that look at how we can fund more opportunities in the community.”

Looking down on floor to ceiling windows in the great room of a two-story unit.“The day I learned about this property, I had driven through the Glencoe and Gibson Street neighborhood, assessing what was going on in that area and saw a good amount of for sale signs or sold signs. I contact a local realtor to see what price points Midland was losing housing at,” says Acosta. “And we are already short on housing units, so it has always been an area of interest.”

“The realtor called back right away and asked if I could meet him in 15 minutes, because there was a specific property he wanted to show me,” she says. “At the end of the day, this is the type of housing I advocate for, and on top of that, you have properties with good bones, a ton of character, a great location within two minutes of Downtown Midland and directly off the Pere Marquette Rail Trail, so it was an easy yes from that perspective.”

The project includes many firsts for Acosta.Part of the draw for the project was a set of new challenges, some of which were firsts for her, after years of local development efforts.

“We don’t have buildings quite like this anymore, because they are more difficult to build. I love things that aren’t cookie cutter, and I was drawn to some of the unique details, like how these properties share a common courtyard. I can see people or families congregating there,” says Acosta. “Plus, there are not a ton of affordable options locally for people that don’t want to deal with yard maintenance or the full responsibility of replacing a roof.”

Peeking into a small indoor courtyard in one of the units.“This is the smallest project I’ve ever taken on, actually. I’ve never done solely residential development, even with The Times Lofts, it was adaptive reuse,” says Acosta. “So, it was a combination of all of that, and getting to work with a clean slate, per se. My husband runs Distressed Design and specializes in modern design, so working together on a project of this level is new as well.”

“When we first came in a saw the property, there were so many little adornments, and decorations still left, whether that was on the patios, outside in the yards and within the units. You could tell these were so well loved,” says Acosta. “And after all Midland has been through in the last few months, I couldn’t sit here and watch this get demolished.”

 

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