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E-M:/ Doug Jester replies on sprawl question



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Doug:

This kind of discussion doesn't easily permit a full overview of the issues,
and the specific instance here that prompts my concerns does not neatly fit
the categories you have highlighted.  So let me basically agree with some of
the concepts you lay out, then discuss the issue I raised at the beginning of
this chain again.

1) Whether it is called a city, a county, a township or a fiefdom, I think we
agree that planning and zoning need to be done at a scale that reflects the
realities of the community.  My difficulty is that even if we agreed that the
rational thing to do was to ban all development outside of incorporated
cities, we would have to alter the US Constitution to accomplish it.  While
visualizing a better way to do things is critical to moving toward sound land
use, that vision has to be feasible, and I am afraid I don't see what you
suggest in the way of all development occurring solely under the confines of a
"city" as being achievable in this country.  My point about rural communities
is that they have existing rights and responsibilities that will not be given
up voluntarily, and which the legal structure of the country defends, so it
makes little sense to hope for a situation in which only cities will be the
site of development. Other forms of regionalizing planning and zoning, whether
through mandates and incentives or mergers among units, are potentially
achievable and should be given more attention (although in a state where a
mere mention in DEQ's budget bill of not promoting sprawl propels the
development lobbyists to an outrageous frenzy of figurative leg-breaking, it
is hard to have hope such reasonable changes are in our immediate future).
These seem a lot more practical concepts to hang your hat on than ceding all
development authority to cities.

2) I agree entirely with your view on the density issue, and this is a matter
of great debate within communities such as Meridian Twp.  I inherited the
conclusion that 1 or 2 acre lots are actually the bane of rational development
from my parents, who were very involved in a township outside of Philadelphia,
PA when I was a child.  They saw how awful the countryside became with 2 acre
lots, and through their positions on our Twp. Board and Planning Commission
helped secure dedicated open space and clustered houses 30 years ago -- I was
distressed to see that these ideas were still considered new ideas in Michigan
when I became active in my township.  The problem is that there is a lack of
trust (and anyone watching Meridian Twp. today would certainly see why) that
open space will stay open, and that clusters won't just lead to many more
clusters on the same land, ultimately creating the high density and no open
space that was feared.  There is no forever in most planning and zoning
decisions, so in communities where conflict is a given, less than the best
design may be chosen because it assures that the worst design will not creep
in the back door.  Until Purchase of Development Rights or Transfer of
Development Rights become a reality, it will be hard to convince these folks
that their approach isn't the best resolution.

3) The annexation issue you discuss does not fit with the reality of the
annexation proposal that prompted this discussion, the Governor's Club in
Meridian Twp.  First off, this was not something planned for or anticipated by
East Lansing as part of a rational development plan for the area.  There is
currently no East Lansing infrastructure near this site because it is
separated by a large amount of MSU farm land from the city services of East
Lansing.  In fact, the developer proposed the annexation to include a huge of
amount of MSU land both to give a physical connection to East Lansing that
does not otherwise exist, and at the same time gerrymandered that connection
to exclude Meridian Twp. residents who are opposed to the annexation.  

The proposed annexation is a devious plan by a developer to use a large amount
of potential tax money to pit two neighbors against each other, and to end up
with exactly what the developer wants in the end, regardless of which
community they call home.  The sole impetus for the annexation is for the
developer to escape the scrutiny of the project by the voters of Meridian
Twp., who might well have voted to support the plan they proposed.  This is
the antithesis of good and orderly regional development, and has none of the
hallmarks of the good reasons for annexation that you cited.  It is most
disturbing to read the uncritical analyses by East Lansing elected officials
of this gross manipulation, which don't reflect the thoughtful analysis you
have given of the concept of annexation previously. More than anything, this
case should demonstrate that even the best ideas can be badly abused by those
who are single purpose, placing a value solely on profits and being willing to
wreak havoc to get their way.

Believe me, I am not inclined to pretend that the only ones at fault are the
developer and East Lansing -- there is plenty enough fault to tar everyone in
some way. My hope is that since East Lansing is in the driver's seat that your
council will set aside the gleeful attitude that this is all good for East
Lansing (the plan clearly is not) and that the devastating impact it is having
on your relationship with your closest neighbor be weighed as well.  A little
leadership for creating a rational community out of this debacle could go a
huge long way right now, if the East Lansing council would stop drooling over
the prospective tax money for a few minutes and look at the big picture.  This
isn't a prototype, it is a messy, living morass and the reality of the
situation must be weighed against the ideal.  

Thanks for continuing the discussion.  I imagine others will have many
insights and suggestions as well.

Anne Woiwode



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