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E-M:/ All My Communities: How Low Can They Go?



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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  Friends:
     
  At about 11:30 p.m. last night, if you listened carefully you could hear the 
  sound of champagne corks being popped in developers' homes around the Lansing 
  area.  That was the time that the Meridian Township Planning Commission voted 
  7 to 2 to shoot down the only effective sprawl control tool in its arsenal by 
  removing its Urban Services Boundary in its entirety from the Township's 
  Comprehensive Plan.  The process for getting to this decision, one which puts 
  the pace of the fall from smart growth in our township at terminal velocity, 
  is an astonishing lesson in just how easy it is to pervert the democratic 
  processes when there is enough money at stake.
     
  For a quick look at how the proponents of DUMB Growth do their dirty deeds, 
  let's review the last few months of the "debate" over the Urban Services 
  Boundary in this notorious township just east of East Lansing.  In February 
  1999 a letter from the Meridian Alliance of Developers requested that the 
  Planning Commission eliminate or modify the Urban Services Boundary to 
  include 3 properties owned by their members who wanted to build subdivisions 
  at a density which would require city water and sewer systems (ultimately 4 
  parcels were asked to be included in the USB). 
     
  In June, the chair of the Planning Commission scheduled the first hearing, 
  putting in front of the Commission 4 choices: keep the USB, zap the USB, 
  modify the USB, or develop other alternatives that would replace the USB. 
  Public response was swift and overwhelming, obviously catching the Proponents 
  of Dumb Growth (PDGs) by surprise.  People all over the Township turned out 
  for the hearings and said with one united voice "You have GOT to be kidding! 
  This is the stupidest thing we ever heard of!"  The short term result was 
  that the Commission members decided they needed to "study" the issue more and 
  listen to the public more, and then make a decision sometime before the end 
  of the year.  The Chairman promised, as well, that the multitude of questions 
  raised by the public would be answered so that an informed discussion could 
  ensue.
     
  So, in keeping with this supposed strategy, the Urban Services Boundary 
  showed up on the Work Session Agenda of the Planning Commission every meeting 
  - the work session is held for an hour just before the regular meeting of the 
  Commission.  But its appearance was, for the most part, irrelevant, as there 
  very little discussion about the Urban Services Boundary except from the 
  public, which continued to show up to express their opposition in the public 
  remarks section of the agendas.  Among the comments repeatedly made by the 
  public was when and how would the hundreds of questions raised by the public 
  in their letters and comments be answered?  Only one letter with questions 
  had received a thorough response from the professional staff of the Planning 
  and Development Department, and that was only because the author of the 
  letter practically throttled the chair in pointing out he had promised a 
  response.  
     
  At some point that cannot be pinpointed by the Commission Chair or anyone 
  else, the Chairman allegedly appointed a USB Committee of the Planning 
  Commission.  But it seems that not only did the appointment of this Committee 
  escape the notice of the public and some of the Commission members, it is not 
  clear that there was ever any record in the minutes of its appointment by the 
  Chairman, although at some point reference to the Committee began to be made 
  at Commission meetings.  The first time any clear reference occurred was when 
  an handout from this supposed committee which claimed to be a Q&A on the USB 
  appeared at the back of the Commission meeting.  One Commission member, who 
  identified himself as a member of the Committee, said that this handout 
  answered all or most of the questions that had been raised.  In fact, the 
  handout was grossly inaccurate, and failed miserably in addressing the 
  multitude of issues raised by the public. 
     
  This USB Committee takes on increasing significance as the Township residents 
  eventually found out.  A few weeks ago one Commission member with concerns 
  about the effort to remove the USB asked the Chairman of the Commission point 
  blank who was on the Committee, when had they been meeting, and why had there 
  been NO public mention of the meetings or notice about the time and location 
  of the meetings.  The Chairman fumbled with that question, eventually not 
  answering at all since there had been, and evidently would be, no public 
  notice about the meetings at all.  
     
  Then on Sunday in the local community paper for this area, an Opinion Piece 
  signed by four members of the Planning Commission, self-identified as members 
  of the USB Committee appeared explaining why they believed it was time to 
  torch the USB.  This Opinion Piece followed by a few days op-eds by the 
  Chairman of the Commission (a signatory to the second Op-ed as well) in the 
  Lansing paper and the Community News in which he called for doing away with 
  the USB as well.  Some of these Commissioners had also done editorial visits 
  with the Lansing paper and sold them the line they were taking to the public. 
  This well-orchestrated PR hit preceded release to the rest of the Planning 
  Commission of any recommendations about how to proceed with this proposal, 
  making it one of the odder ways I've ever seen for a Committee of a Planning 
  Commission to report back to the full Commission.  The Lansing State Journal 
  editorial on Sunday as well was evidently the ONLY place in print where there 
  as actually an annoncement that the Commission would take up the USB last 
  night, the Monday night before Thanksgiving.  
     
  So the big night came, and again a significant number of Meridian Township 
  residents showed up to speak against what now was apparently the proposal of 
  the USB Committee and what was endorsed by the Commission Chairman.  Several 
  who spoke took a challenge by one of the Gang of Four to take the "Whereas's" 
  of the resolution they had presented and explain why they didn't add up to 
  being a rationale for eliminating the USB.  Others took the reasoning in the 
  Op-Ed piece/report by the Gang of Four and tore it into little pieces. 
  
  The arguments for doing away with the USB were as follows : public health 
  protection by getting folks off wells and septic and onto city water and 
  sewer, public safety by putting fire plugs all over the rural part of the 
  Twp., people in the Twp has paid a general obligation bond from 1961 to 1991 
  to pay for the services so everyone should have access, that an alleged 60+ 
  percent of twp resident's in an attitude survey this year said they would 
  support the expansion, that those asking for extensions would have to pay for 
  the cost of extensions, and that Meridian Twp has been a leader in protecting 
  natural features to date and would continue to be.  
  
  The responses from the public who testified, with the exception of one 
  gentleman who had been forced to sign up for sewer and water because of 
  failing septic around Lake Lansing who thought everyone ought to be forced 
  onto water and sewer, was that some of these representations were false (the 
  survey results were badly misrepresented, that people who didn't ask for the 
  extension would be forced to connect if close enough to the lines at their own 
  costs, not the developer's cost, and that the costs covered were only for the 
  initial extension, not the cost of expanded capacity for sewer and maintenance 
  of the system as a whole) and that the rest did not out weigh the reasons NOT 
  to breach and throw away the USB.
  
  In addition, the two commissioners who ultimately voted against the 
  destruction of the USB (Sam Smith and Julie Brixie) argued forcefully and 
  with tremendous good sense and documentation about how inaccurate the 
  claims of the Gang of Four were.  For example, Ms Brixie had called up 
  the fire chief to verify where the "doom and gloom" claims made in a 
  letter about capacity to fight fires in the unsewered and uncitywatered 
  part of the Twp were accurate -- the Fire Chief said in fact that 
  Meridian Twp. has an excellent fire fighting program in the rural area, 
  and that response time is more important than the location of fire plugs. 
  While more fire plugs would be helpful, it was critical to understand 
  that this was not as overwhelming a public safety issue as alleged to be.
  Sam Smith also questioned the Chair and the rest of the Gang of Four on 
  their alleged USB Committee, asking when it was created, by whom, where 
  the documentation was, and pointing out that their meetings violated the 
  Open Meetings Act.  He characterized the Committee as more a Club than as 
  a true Committee, and expressed great dismay that they were now producing 
  a report that the Commission was supposed to vote on right that night.
  
  One bombshell dropped at the meeting came from Twp. Trustee Susan 
  McGillicuddy, the lone voice of reason on the Board.  Sue had raised 
  extensive questions last April about a plan to build a common water tower 
  with Lansing on their extension of services to Alaeidon Twp to the south 
  (Meridian already sells water and sewer to this Twp).  Despite repeated 
  assurances from staff and other Board members that Lansing water was not 
  going to come into the Twp as a result of this arrangement, Sue learned 
  yesterday from the Public Services Director of the Twp that in fact 
  Lansing IS coming into Meridian Twp. as a result of this deal.  This is 
  important in part because the law requires that there must be public 
  hearings on such an arrangement prior to its initiation.  
  
  The discussion among the Commission grew ugly when Gang of Four members 
  started making personal attacks instead of responding to the questions 
  raised by their colleagues.  I was appalled that the Chair not only 
  didn't reign in the discussion, but actually seemed amused by it.  The 
  last part of the discussion focused on why there was a rush to pass this 
  now, instead of getting the additional tools that most agree must be in 
  place to protect the rural character prior to eliminating this tool.  The 
  answer given was that where water comes from or waste goes has no effect 
  on the protection of open space, totally missing and/or intentionally 
  ignoring the fact that the USB is intimately associated with this issue 
  and that its part of the Comprehensive Plan as a whole was in fact the 
  linchpin for protecting rural character in the twp.  
  
  NONE of this stopped the USB from being undone.  Oh, to be able to see 
  the marionette handlers who pulled the strings for this deal, though we 
  can all guess who they are!!  The Gang of Four were joined by the Mute 
  Three (of whom only one made any comments -- she responded to members of 
  the public that she there was no grand scheme orchestrated by developers 
  to push this proposal through, that she only saw materials for the 
  meeting when sent out the previous Friday.  I appreciated her candor, but 
  never got a chance to ask "so why are you not asking for more time to 
  consider the significant concerns and factual deficits identified 
  tonight?).
  
  A FOIA request was submitted verbally to the Gang of Four in the closing 
  public comments in an effort to find who the Puppeteers are.  What is 
  next?  It is not at all clear since this was totally within the authority 
  of the Planning Commission.  One thing is certain -- this fight is far 
  from done.
  
  Anne Woiwode



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