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E-M:/ 100 show up to protest Urban Service Boundary proposals



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Meridian Twp. Planning Commission Told to "HOLD THE LINE"

On a thunderstormy evening in the dog days of July, about 100 Meridian
Township residents showed up at the Twp. Planning Commission meeting to ask
that the Urban Services Boundary (USB) be held right where it is.  More than
25 of those people spoke, not a one supporting either proposed change (adding
4 new developer owned properties to the Urban Services area, or eliminating
the USB entirely). The developers who seek to throw the USB out sat quietly in
the front row of the audience, occasionally responding informally to comments
directed at their motives and undue influence in the process.  The Twp.
Planning Commission listened without constraining the speakers, but also made
no comments and raised no questions during the hearing. In addition the Chair
of the PC had already made comments on the TV news prior to the hearing that
strongly suggested he would support changes in the USB, contending he
supported "balance" in planning.

Several of those testifying are former officials in the Township, including a
former Board member and at least 6 former Planning Commission members. A
number of organizations, including Sierra Club, Mid-Michigan Environmental
Action Council and the Natural Areas Association of Meridian spoke.  Most
speakers enumerated a panoply of reasons for leaving the USB where it is.
Among the most compelling comments were those which pointed out that no
rationale whatsoever has been provided as to why the change to the USB should
be made at all.  One woman noted she had looked through the materials provided
and found not a single reason given for why this change was justified. Several
asked rhetorically why this even showed up on the agenda since there had been
no changes in the last 6 years since the USB was adopted as part of the Twp.
Master Plan that would argue for the change.

One former Planning Commission member recounted that in her last year on the
PC two of the four projects proposed for addition to the the US area were
turned down by the PC. At that time the lobbyist for the developers (yes,
Meridian Twp. has a pretty much full-time lobbyist attending PC and Twp. Board
meetings) told her directly that it was clear the only way developers would
get their way would be to get the Planning Commission changed, and they
succeeded overwhelmingly by using their money to get a Board elected that
would appoint the PC the developers wanted.

A number of people spoke of how the original Master Plan and USB for the
township were well ahead of their time, and how exceedingly ironic it would
be, as communities nationwide begin to move toward the use of this tool, that
Meridian Twp. would throw its USB away.  They descried the potential loss of a
forward thinking, progressive approach to planning by our community, pointing
out that there was flexibility in the Master Plan and USB to accomodate
developments that would preserve open space and maintain the rural character
of the eastern part of the twp.

Many people noted that they weren't anti-growth, but that this proposal would
put the "camel's nose under the tent" and there would be virtually no way to
assure reasonable development in the future.  How, they asked, could any
project be denied water and sewer in the future if these changes to the USB
were approved? Another former PC member recounted the Chairman's comments
about wanting "balance" and then asked what kind of balance he meant?  The
commenter was reminded of the Cold War dictum that "what is mine is mine and
what is your's is negotiable", with each year the developers getting more of
what remains because the balance is inevitably based solely on those areas
currently out of the developers' domain.

But many speakers used their few minutes to vent their growing anger at Twp.
decision makers who evidently will only listen to the developers who helped
finance the election of the current township board.  That frustration bubbled
over in emotional pleas from a man who had already moved once because his
quality of life was destroyed by development on his former street and now
expects to see his current neighborhood overrun to feed the developer. He and
many others urged township residents to work to throw out the current Board
which had appointed this Planning Commission.  Others spoke calmly and cooly
to the cable access audience watching the meeting at home, calling for ousting
these officials.  One individual recounted his experience of having applied to
serve on the Planning Commission, and being interviewed over the phone a year
ago by the current Supervisor, who specifically asked what he thought about
the USB.  This fellow answered that he was open minded about it, and never
heard back from the Supervisor even to advise that he would not be appointed.
It is time to name names, this fellow said, and to change the local
government. One woman went so far as to call the local government fascist in
nature.

No decisions were made at the meeting, and it is expected that the Planning
Commission will have this on their agenda for August 9th, with a strong
possibility that they will vote at that time.

Analysis:

As one among the many who spoke last night, I found encouragement at the large
number who turned out to speak out against the developers grand schemes for
serving themselves at the expense of the rest of the community.  While many
spoke in frustration, most spoke knowledgably and intelligently about the
issue, having clearly taken the time to learn about the proposal and its
consequences. But I was also disheartened at the overwhelming sense that
there was disturbingly little chance that even the most careful, compelling
arguments could stop the USB elimination or modification.  I usually disagree
with a strategy that includes using testimony to verbally assault those who
make the decisions about issues such as these, clinging fervently to the hope
that even the most set-in-their-ways people can be convinced by an effective
outpouring of concern by the public they represent -- after all Ronald Reagan
signed into law more acres of wilderness protection than any other president!

I would urge anyone reading this who lives in the Lansing area, whether in
Meridian Twp. or not, to write to the Meridian Planning Commission to express
their thoughts on the Urban Services Boundary.  This is an issue that will
influence development throughout the region, and a rollback of this sort could
undermine efforts in every other community to pursue smart growth.  

Send your letters to Planning Commission Chairman Bob Hotaling, c/o Meridian
Township Planning Commission, 5151 Marsh Road, Okemos, MI  48864.



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