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SG-W:/ Saline Reporter on Pittsfield open meeting on Newmarket settlement proposals

Here is the Saline Reporter article on the recent meeting concerning 
Newmarket settlement proposals:

The Saline Reporter The Milan-News Leader online at 

 Trustees Divulge Options To Settle Newmarket Legal Threat 
 By Renee Lapham Collins, Associate Editor December 20, 2001

Some 530 acres in Pittsfield Township, initially slated for a new type of 
urban development, have yielded instead two years of controversy and the 
threat of a lawsuit.

Now, the Pittsfield Township Board must decide what it wants to do about it.
At its Tuesday night meeting, trustees presented several options for settling 
the matter out of court.

Supervisor James Walter told the audience of about 50 people that the 
township had received so many calls about the status of the controversial 
project, "we wanted to present where we are in our negotiations with 

Clerk Christina Lirones summarized the negotiations that have taken place 
between the board's negotiation committee and the developer of the proposed 
project, Real Estate Interest Group of Bloomfield Hills. Attorneys 
representing the township, the developer, and the township's legal insurer 
all have been part of the discussions, according to Lirones.

Treasurer Robert Skrobola, Walter, and Lirones comprise the committee, while 
Bruce Laidlaw and a second legal counsel from Foster Swift represent the 
township. Jerry Lax is representing the developer. 

Lirones said the property had been appraised and had come in at $7.3 million. 
The developer, she said, rejected the township's offer to buy the parcel for 
that amount, and instead wanted more than $14 million. The committee, she 
indicated, decided that $8.5 million would be as high as the township would 
go to purchase the property. "The developer didn't reject the offer 
completely out of hand, but counter offered with an alternative site plan for 
864 single-family homes on the property; or to sell all of the property 
except that piece known as the "Harwood" parcel to the township for $10.4. 
The developer would then build 250 homes on the 105-acre parcel, which, 
Lirones explained, is a triangular-shaped area bounded by Michigan Ave., 
Textile Rd. and Campbell Rd. "If there is a settlement, it could be anywhere 
from a (downsized Newmarket) in a different configuration or some options for 
developing some of the property and selling the township some of the 
property," she said. 

Among the concerns voiced by residents were increased traffic caused by more 
people using Michigan Ave. and where the township would get the money to 
purchase the property from the developer. Skrobola said that the township had 
a number "revenue streams" from which it could raise the money, including the 
park millage, state and federal grants, and a short-term bond issue.

Al Paas, who was ousted from the township Planning Commission when the new 
board took office in November 2000, said that he felt purchasing the property 
would "double taxes and more, no matter how they are spread out." He pointed 
to the township's current general operating budget, which is about $8.5 
million, and indicated that the township doesn't need 530 acres to meet its 
requirements for a new storage building, senior center, or rec center. Paas 
also singled out Lirones as possibly having a conflict of interest, since 
part of her property is adjacent to the 530 acres.

"This would be a tremendous economic blow to the township to save this 
property," Paas said. "When will we get an idea of where the money will come 
Skrobola said that there is potential for bonding, and that the township 
would need to hold an election so that the public could vote on it, but that 
there are "other sources" of money available, based on how the property would 
be used.

Terry Bertram, also ousted from the Planning Commission in 2000, was 
outspoken and blunt in his comments to the board. "Tina, you sat on this side 
at many meetings and (accused the previous board) of conflict of interest," 
he said to Lirones. "I'm not accusing, but I think you have to look at your 
own property to see if you have (a conflict of interest).

"Whether the property is $8.5 million, $10 million or $14 million, the 
township can't afford it and the taxpayers can't afford it. We are in a 
recession, and state revenue sharing funds are going to be down. I say fight 
it out in court-litigate it. Think it through before you settle it with 
taxpayers' money. There are people who are losing their jobs and this would 
be an extra burden. This is not the time to increase discretionary spending. 
This is a time to tighten purse strings, not loosen them."

He also told the board that he felt it needed to test its assumptions. "Don't 
slip into conjecture here," he said. "Property taxes are currently being paid 
on the land. If the township buys the property, there will be no property 
taxes paid because the township would own it. It's really not clear which way 
it would cost more. You need to see in the long run which will cost the 
taxpayers the most."

Dave Holden, a resident of Hidden Creek, echoed Bertram's opinions, and also 
grilled the board on a number of issues that he felt had not been made clear. 
"Why wasn't the referendum held? Why has the township been holding back?" he 
Lirones said that the board didn't want the expense of a special election, 
and decided it could wait until the next general election, which will be the 
August primary. "Well, it seems that when you're talking $8 million to $14 
million, the cost of a special election is lost," Holden pointed out. "I say 
let the people decide."

Not all of the residents opposed the idea of the purchase. Janice Payeur, a 
lifetime resident of the township, said she "applauded" the board for doing 
what it is doing.
"I want less development, and a board that will follow the master plan," she 
said. "I don't want the rapid build up of the township to continue."
Mary Lou Blackman said that she, too, was happy with the board's proposal.
"I'm just looking at the cost if (the developer) gets it," she said. "We'll 
be paying for busing, roads, water, drainage. It will cost a fortune."

Skrobola cautioned that even if the referendum succeeds, it doesn't mean the 
project won't occur. "We would only stop what has been blocked by the board," 
he said. "We wouldn't stop development altogether. There is nothing to stop 
them from coming forward with another plan. That's another strong argument 
for the township to buy the land."

Walter said in response to a question about whether the township would sell 
off any property it didn't need-if it decided to purchase the land-that 
"selling off parcels isn't out of the question. "We are a fiscally 
conservative board. 
"Are we better off (buying the land) or not (buying land)," he said. "It's a 
complicated land deal and we may sell off any surplus land.

"We will decide what's best for the community and if you don't like it, you 
can vote us out of office."
Online at http://www.salinereporter.com/news/R04FJRC.asp?ID=182 

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