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SG-W:/ Meridian Township



People in Meridian Township, near Lansing, have been dealing with rampant 
development similar to that found in many other communities, including 
Washtenaw County.  I am forwarding the following which was written by Anne 
Woiwode, a long time fixture in the Mackinaw (state) Chapter of the Sierra 
Club, and active in Meridian Twp. land use issues.  
WARNING:  It is long, and it has nothing to do with Washtenaw County....so 
please delete now if you don't think this should be on the SG-W list.

However, I found it to be interesting to hear what other communities are 
going through.  It is also a reminder that although political gains can be 
made (e.g. establishing an urban services boundary; zoning, urban growth 
boundary, etc.), political gains can also be undone rather quickly.

-Jack Smiley
P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
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 
a 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 announcement 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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