Last of the Matthaeis
The wealthy family's only remaining Ann Arbor property may soon become senior housing.
by Patrick Dunn
From the August, 2016 issue
The parcel at 4540 Geddes appears small and unassuming from the road, with just an old farmhouse between Dixboro Rd. and Parker Mill County Park. But it's much bigger than it looks. The house sits on thirty-one acres just east of the city in Ann Arbor Township.
The Matthaei family purchased both the house and mill from the Parker family shortly after they ceased milling operations in 1960. In 1983 Fred Matthaei Jr. sold the twenty-seven-acre mill parcel to Washtenaw County, allowing for the creation of the park.
That was just a small slice of the acreage amassed by Matthaei's father, Frederick Sr. A 1914 U-M grad who got rich in the auto parts business, the senior Matthaei was a U-M regent who had a home on Fleming Creek. He also owned--and later donated--the land that became the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, the U-M's Radrick Farms golf course, and the Humane Society of Huron Valley. According to mgoblue.com, he personally worked with renowned golf course designer Pete Dye on Radrick Farms' layout--and named it for his sons, Konrad and Frederick Jr.
Like his father, Fred Jr. was a U-M grad (engineering, 1947), regent, and donor--his "Fred's Fountain" is a jewel of North Campus. He also developed the Matthaei Farms subdivision off Geddes. And in June, the Ann Arbor Township Board of Trustees approved an amended planned unit development (PUD) rezoning and area plan to build a senior housing complex on the Parker farmhouse parcel which curves deeply southward and eastward around the county park. Farmington Hills developer Beztak Properties has an agreement to purchase it from the Matthaeis to build the complex, called All Seasons of Ann Arbor.
Beztak has permission to build up to 280 units, including independent living duplexes, independent and assisted living apartments, and memory care rooms. Construction is expected to begin in spring 2017 and run through spring 2023. The Parker farmhouse will remain. Beztak is required to adhere to the standards of the National
Register of Historic Places and will use the house as either a single-family residence or an administrative office.
Beztak CEO Sam Beznos says his company has "always liked this area. It's a very strategic area in terms of its location to hospitals and other activities and the freeway."
Beznos isn't the first senior housing developer to take a shine to the Geddes property. The township originally zoned the property PUD in 2008, when Glenchester Senior Development proposed a project dubbed "The Traditions." That recession year "turned out to be a very bad time for trying to get financing for a large-scale development," laughs township supervisor Michael Moran. "That suffered from that, and it didn't happen."
A firm called Christopher Place proposed a less ambitious project, dubbed "Verdura," in 2009 and received township approval as well. The names of the corporate applicants were different, but the same developer, Charles Maulbetsch, spearheaded both the Traditions and Verdura. Moran says the second project eventually petered out due to ongoing economic troubles and Maulbetsch's untimely death in 2012 at age fifty-four.
Moran says he's optimistic about the latest plan. He expresses appreciation that Beztak owns and operates its senior living facilities, including developments in Birmingham, Rochester Hills, and West Bloomfield Township, rather than building and then selling them off.
The project has the Matthaei family's blessing as well. Fred Jr. died in June at age ninety, but his daughter Mary says the family has reviewed proposed developments on the land "really carefully." She fondly recalls playing on the Geddes property as a child and living in the farmhouse while she was a student at U-M.
"It is sad, but it's a good legacy, I think, that we're leaving," she says. "I really do love the land, but I actually live in California. The Matthaeis have sort of moved on from the area."
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