ypsi township planning commission: may ’05

Last night, I went out on my first reporting assignment for the Ypsilanti Sentinel. I attended the monthly meeting of the Ypsilanti Township Planning Commission. It wasn’t what you’d call a “plum” assignment, but I was determined to make the best of it. Here are my notes:

The meeting started on time. The volume on the microphones was set too high. There were few people in attendance, and, without exception, the people who were in the audience left after their particular portion of the agenda had been dealt with. Only one person, other than myself, and Township staff, stayed until the end. I suppose it’s possible that he was there to watch me. From what I understand, the city is keeping close tabs on our activities.

Of the ten items on the evening’s agenda, the most attention was given to the site plans for two proposed residential developments, both to be located off of Merritt Road in Ypsilanti Township. The first, Elliot Farms, a development including 73 single-family homes and 30 condos, is planned to be built at Stony Creek and Hitchingham. The second, Stony Creek Ridge, a development of 91 single-family homes, is planned for the west side of Stony Creek, north of Merritt.

Only two men from the audience came forward to raise concerns about the plans as they were outlined by representatives of the builders. The first, a man who indicated that he lived between the two proposed developments, began his statement by asking why he’d only been informed that afternoon, by way of letter, that this meeting was taking place. There was some debate back and forth between Township employees as to why this had happened, but the general consensus seemed to be that the Township wasn’t obligated to inform local residents of this particular meeting (as it was a follow-on to a previous meeting on the same subject), and that they had just sent letters out at the last minute as a courtesy. The man indicated that, had there been more notice, many of his fellow residents would have been there. He said that they, like him, were very concerned as to the ramifications of these proposed developments, at least one of which is seeking permission to exceed the population density criteria outlined by the present zoning ordinance… Present zoning of the 79.8 acre Stony Creek Ridge parcel would, if left unchanged, allow for the building of either 73 or 76 single-family homes (both numbers were cited during the meeting), and the developer is petitioning the Commission to allow 91 instead.

The Commission, I think, did a fairly good job of explaining the complexity of the situation and how they were trying to balance current zoning requirements, the desires of the builders involved, the quality of life of local residents, and the visual appeal of the proposed developments. According to the members of the Commission, current zoning, while allowing for fewer lots, would give the Township little control over the finished product. In return for allowing greater density, however, they’re given the opportunity to exert some control over the development, asking for additional elements deemed to be for the good of the community, like bike trails, soccer fields, undeveloped open space, etc. In the case of Elliot Farms, this translates to 35 acres of open space, 3 gazebos, 8 acres for protected wetlands, the paving of adjacent public roads, a bicycle path, and, I believe, a traffic light. In the case of Stony Creek, it means a water retention lake (complete with tiny waterfall), and a soccer field.

The fellow protesting the developments maintained that the bad, in this case, outweighed the good, and he asked why the commissioners had been willing to allow over 15% more homes than current zoning called for (in the case of Stony Creek) in exchange for superficial public benefit and a promise of better landscaping. He was of the opinion that, had the Commission not acquiesced, the developers might have left Ypsilanti for another community, where they could negotiated more agreeable terms. To paraphrase him, “They knew the zoning limits when they purchased the land, and there’s no reason why we should now allow them to increase density and maximize their profits. All we’ll get in return is increased traffic and a lessened quality of life.”

The other gentleman in the audience who came to express his concern about these developments was a farmer, a Mr. Elliot, who owns a large parcel in the area. His concern was that with the developments would come ATVs and motorbikes that would cross over onto his property. (He indicated that this had been his experience when a previous developer had initiated construction on a subdivision off Hitchingham.) He was asking for a fence of some kind to be erected between their properties… He, it should be pointed out, was generally complimentary toward the development plans and indicated that he someday might seek to do something similar with his land.

Other than that, there wasn’t a lot of activity. Two people were there requesting that their homes be approved as 12-child daycares. (Both were approved.) Someone was submitting plans for an automotive testing facility to be built at Ecorse and Parkwood. Someone else was asking permission to gussy up her gas station/convenience store at 2169 Washtenaw. (The Commission was happy to hear that the old place was being rehabbed and only asked that the owner, while she was at it, include a “Welcome to Ypsilanti Township” sign at the corner.) And, T Mobile was there asking permission to co-locate equipment on an existing cell tower. (A woman came to protest after receiving a letter in the mail showing the cell tower encircled by a ring that encompassed her home. She thought that perhaps it indicated dangerously high levers of radiation. She was told, however, that it only marked the 300-foot radius from the tower, the line inside of which the Township was required to notify homeowners. Relieved by that, and the T Mobile rep’s assurance that a cell tower wasn’t any more dangerous than a hairdryer, she got her coat and left.)

No one cried. No one was attacked.

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7 Comments

  1. Ingrid
    Posted May 26, 2005 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the report! The man who is concerned about the zoning change has a point. It irritates me when our local government changes their (our) rules to accomodate developer’s interest at the expense of our quality of life. I hope that reports like yours will motivate others to take an interest in these matters.

  2. Posted May 26, 2005 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    I think the developers are going to have their way in the Township. All the new development is poised to demand new services.

    They’re going to need some serious infrastructure and that’s going to cost everyone dearly.

    Many people won’t come north of I-94 becuase they’ve heard it’s not safe. The township is going to see some serious problems in coming years.

  3. Posted May 27, 2005 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Second what Ingrid and Steve said.

    Excellent, clear, interesting report, Mark. Good work. Thanks for attending the meeting and telling us about it.

  4. Posted May 27, 2005 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    It had to be painfully boring. Ypsilanti is bad enough but the Township, whoooweee.

  5. Betty
    Posted June 2, 2005 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    From Mark’s report it sounds like the developer is requesting to be considered as a planned unit developent or PUD. (I don’t know whether Ypsi Twp planning ordinances include this– I’ll need to do some research.)

    This can be a convenient device for both developers and municipalities depending on how things work out. In Ann Arbor, PUDs are one mechanism through which affordable housing is built. Developers who request a PUD are then required to ensure that 10% of those units are affordable. I can’t remember whether this 10% will stay in perpetuity but it does add to the “affordable” housing stock. Of course affordability is calcuated off the city’s median household income which is high for the county and therefore “affordable” in Ann Arbor is definitely unaffordable for a lot of folks.

    But back to the PUD issue–if this is how the development is coming in then yes, the issue of bypassing the current zoning for increased density is usually the plan. For cities or areas that wish to increase density because property values are already so heightened that it makes economic sense to build more densely and there is already supporting infrastructure, then PUDs are a good way for developments to go because the city has more leeway to negotiate with developers for amenities. In other cities, depending on how the planning law works, PUDs might also result in the developer paying for a portion of the infrastructure costs.

    I apologize for not being more specific– having been out of urban planning school for a year and not thinking much about these issues, I’m a little rusty. But from the few planning meetings I’ve attended at Ann Arbor, neighboring residents are usually unhappy at the idea of increased density. However there have been successful cases where the developer will have meetings with surrounding neighborhoods to address their concerns and are more proactive in dealing what is usually pejoratively termed as NIMBYism. (not-in-my-backyard, please) Again, it all has to do with the consensus of the community either being for growth or against growth and whether there has been true consideration to the real costs of attracting more development and residents.

  6. mark
    Posted June 5, 2005 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thanks for your thoughts, Betty. I’m not sure if there conscious effort to push density, but it’s certainly a question worth pursuing.

  7. Posted March 5, 2006 at 6:47 am | Permalink

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