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E-M:/ All My Communities: Wal*Mart Stalled

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

This is a week and a half late, but still worth sharing with all of you!

On October 25th the Meridian Twp. Planning Commission convened its work
session (a one hour meeting held right before the regular Planning Commission
Meeting) at 6:30 with an enormous number of controversial issues on the
agenda.  The first housing development seeking to skirt the Twp's Urban
Service Boundary was to be decided on, as was the Wal*Mart proposal.  The Work
Session was supposed to include time to talk about changing the Urban Services
Boundary as well.  

The Work Session ended up with most of the time devoted to the Wal*Mart
proposal.  Commissioner Sam Smith started off asking that the traffic
consultant discuss the traffic study because it was confusing.  Well, it
turned out after a fairly long series of questions that the reason it was
confusing was that the study was based on 1996 data, and had totally failed to
factor in dramatic changes in development and things like traffic light
changes since that time.  The Works Session came to a close without any chance
for the many people who submitted requests to speak during public remarks to
talk, despite this being a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.  Most
distressing was that some members of the local retail and business community
who had come to the work session had to leave before the regular meeting
started without having a chance to express their points of view.

When the regular meeting started, almost a half hour late, the agenda was
changed to remove the Wal*Mart related issues (three separate actions)!  Seems
that they at least understood that the out of date traffic study was a killer.
However, many of those who had come to speak DID stick around and spoke even
though the item was off the agenda.  And the testimony was quite compelling.
Among other points made were that despite comments made by Commissioners at
the first hearing on this matter, it is in fact within the mandate of a
community to consider the impact of development on the well-being of the
community, its prosperity, etc.  The specific portions of the state statute
were pointed to, with the clear statement that while there are rights that
accrue to the applicants, there is ALSO an ability of the community to say
that certain types of development will harm the community and do not need to
be permitted.   

Another point that was raised built on a question raised at the previous
hearing.  A Township well was dug on the property adjacent to the proposed
Wal*Mart site.  In fact, all of the property is a piece of the same overall
development plan set by a court ordered settlement in the early 1990's,
meaning that the well was put in by the same folks who own the property that
Wal*Mart wants to build on.  The site of the Wal*Mart and its parking lot are,
according to the Twp. Director of Public Works, a ground water recharge area
-- clearly an important issue since the twp. well is right there.  The
Meridian Twp. ordinance spells out what can be done under special use permits
in a Groundwater Recharge Conservancy District, but none of permitted uses
include parking lots.  This was particularly important because it turns out
that the Flood Plain Conservancy District language is virtually identical to
that of the Groundwater Recharge one, EXCEPT that the floodplain one
explicitly allows for parking lots to be built with special use permits.
Under the law, an activity proposed to be permitted with a special use permit
must be explicitly permitted -- that means that where activities are not
explicitly permitted, they cannot be allowed via a special use permit.  As a
result, it was argued to the Planning Commission, they cannot approve a
parking lot in the groundwater recharge area.  At very least, the entire
design of the project will need to be changed.

Many other excellent points were made as well.  It was interesting to note
that the Wal*Mart representatives clearly make a point of providing as little
information as possible to the decision makers.  There is a cultivated "aw
shucks" kind of attitude out of the two women who have flown in twice to
attend the hearings a reps. of Wal*Mart.  Unless an issue is raised and
pointed right at them, they tend to say little or nothing.  Experiences of
communities all over the country echo this kind of approach by the mega chain
-- that and the plethora of advertisements showing up in all media from
Wal*Mart now in our area, telling us all how wonderful they are.  

One last note:  a column was printed in the Detroit News on Sunday, by Geneva
Overholser entitled "Some Communities Revolt Against Big-Box Retail Stores".
Overholser says "The death knell of the 'big box' has sounded: They're banning
them in Rockville, Md."  She talks about the fact the "the fad is dying fast"
and that it is a challenge for those who will be forced to figure how to
recycle these ridiculous structures. Interestingly, where they have been
recycled apparently the effort is to create "more Main-Streetlike shopping

So there it is -- once again behind the times, Michigan, that place where
stupid land use ideas come to roost after the rest of the country says "no

Anne Woiwode

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