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E-M:/ All My Communities: Meridian PC puts USB decision on hold!

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

Enviro-Mich folks:

"Political suicide" was the phrase used by one Planning Commission member to
describe to the Lansing State Journal what would be the expected
outcome if the Meridian  Township Planning Commission had moved ahead with
either eliminating or expanding the Urban Services Boundary at their meeting
last night in Okemos. Instead, the Planning Commission unanimously supported
delaying a decision while they continue to discuss it, continue to collect
information, review whether current zoning categories do the necessary job to
further the intent of the Master Plan, etc.  This is clearly considered a
victory for the citizens of Meridian Twp., though it is not a permanent one.
The Commission was clear as well that their intent is to schedule this item
during their twice monthly Work Sessions, which precede the actual meetings of
the Commission, and to conclude work by the end of 1999.  That means that
citizen involvement will be drawn out over time, with the danger that erosion
of the large show of concern evident at the last few meetings (packed house
again last night) could occur.  However, the good news is that the two by four
to the head of this critter seems to have gotten its attention, now the
challenge is to use the time productively to get it to move the way the
citizens believe it should.

HOWEVER, the Planning Commission actually has in front of it, starting with a
hearing last night, a development proposal just outside the USB that would
require sewer and water if approved.  This was somewhat confusing to citizens
present at the hearing, and requires a little more explanation.  The Twp.
Master Plan included the Urban Services Boundary, and it described two
circumstances in which sewer and/or water could be extended beyond this
boundary: 1) if an existing house or development suffered the failure of their
septic system; or 2) on lands designated in density .5 to 1.25 outside the USB
(also entitled the "urban reserve") "utilities would be made available...if it
would result in higher quality development than would normally be achieved
under conventional zoning."  Two of the four properties proposed for inclusion
in the USB by developers actually fall into this "urban reserve", and the
property up for hearing yesterday, Ember Oaks, is one of those.

Many people from throughout Meridian Twp spoke against the proposed
development, which calls for 192 houses on 200 some acres, which include
wetlands and 30 acres of woodlands. The developer seeks a higher zoning
density and a Planned Residential Development overlay, which requires at least
20% open space, though there was some confusion about how much open space was
actually proposed. This property without urban services would be capable of
providing percolation for only 12 to 20 houses, despite the zoning at
approximately one house per acre.  Yet the developer and most of those
discussing the project started with an assumption that they would be able to
develop at least 155 houses (number if current zoning and urban services

Many comments reflected the sentiment that this proposal was not significantly
different from any of the other traditional subdivisions in the community, and
that it seemed to fall short of the intent of allowing extensions of services.
The reasons for opposition varied from those who will face additional traffic
on their streets, to those seeing this as the camel's nose under the tent
regarding the USB.  Because this was the first time that the question of the
"urban reserve" had been raised, most of those testifying felt confused and
misled by the discussion.  One Commissioner helped to clarify the issue right
after the public testimony was taken, but this unfortunately made it tough for
the public to respond to the proposal with appropriate understanding of the

There is little question that the decision on this project will have a
precedent setting effect on other developments in the community. Planning
Commission members did express concern that the developer sought to change the
underlying zoning to a higher zoning category instead of just placing the PRD
overlay on the original, rural residential zoning.  This was an important
thing to hear as many in the community had expressed concern that if the USB
was removed the zonings would also shoot up at the same time (though the
ultimate decision is with the Twp. Board, not with the Planning Commission,
which can only recommend to the Board).  

A key unanswered question here is what is "a high quality development" and how
will that be decided?  Within those words lie a world of debates, as one
person's quality is another's definition of schlock.  Such a qualitative
decision will be hard to make, and perhaps even harder to apply consistently
across the landscape.  Where language allows flexibility, this type of
discussion points out just how such flexibility can hang one up as well.

Anne Woiwode

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