Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Developers pitting Ypsi against Superior?

5. July 2005 • Murph
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A pair of articles in today’s Ann Arbor News suggest an opportunity for two local governments to stand up against a developer using divide-and-conquer tactics to try to gain approval for a greenfield development of 985 homes and a golf course.

The developer, Biltmore Homes and Eyde Co., are requesting water and sewer service north of Geddes Road, the traditional development boundary, an extension that would also make possible the 1,950-home development proposed north of Geddes by Rock Construction. If the Township doesn’t extend utilities and permit the development, Eyde Co. is threatening to pursue annexation into Ypsilanti, which would then allow Biltmore to pursue annexation (annexed parcels must be contiguous to the City). If the development is allowed, though, Biltmore would give some land to the Township in order to complete an almost annexation-proof wall of land along Geddes Road. Township residents are quoted as calling the Biltmore plan “the lesser of two evils” relative to annexation.

The second article discusses Ypsi’s take on annexation – the annexation and development might boost the City’s property tax income by more than a third, but Mayor Cheryl Farmer doesn’t sound happy to be used as a pawn.

This is out of my area of expertise; so far, none of the Spitting Cats have commented.



  1. Superior Township should realize that their ownership of the property between the Ypsi border and Eyde’s property doesn’t preclude a future annexation. It could always be lumped in to a larger annexation proposal. It’s too bad that Ypsi just doesn’t come out and say that they won’t support the annexation. As someone noted in the article, it could possibly cost the City more than it would generate in revenue.

    There is a way for the communities to block this threat – Superior Township and the City of Ann Arbor could work out a land-transfer agreement that would block the annexation. Based on the goals of the Greenbelt, it would make sense for the two communities to work together towards that goal.
       —John Q    Jul. 5 '05 - 12:34PM    #
  2. John Q: excellent ideas. I’ve e-mailed them to Mayor Hieftje, Mike Garfield (EcoCenter director and Chair of the Greenbelt Advisory Commission, among other things), and Conan Smith (Michigan Suburbs Alliance, Washtenaw County Commissioner, among others); I’d be surprised if the three of them can’t at least get the Township to slow down and stop panicking.

    You really oughta post less anonymously, so that I can credit you better than just “a reader”.
       —Murph.    Jul. 5 '05 - 01:09PM    #
  3. Not “resident crank”??

    I have to stay semi-anonymous – keeps me out of trouble that way.

    Superior needs to be very careful with this proposal – other communities have extended water and sewer to block annexation to “retain their rural character”. They usually are successful in blocking the annexation attempts. But the extension of water and sewer guarantees the loss of rural character. Look at Ann Arbor Township – you know exactly where sewer and water service does and doesn’t exist by what land is still AG (generally north of M-14) and what is not (everything east of US-23).

    One area where I think the Township is definitely off-track is the idea that the State Boundary Commission would approve this annexation. The SBC members are generally pretty savvy in regards to what is good development and what is not. I doubt they would approve this kind of annexation which would lead to an urbanized peninsula of property within an otherwise AG and rural area.
       —John Q    Jul. 5 '05 - 05:25PM    #
  4. Your quote: “The developer, Biltmore Homes and Eyde Co., are requesting water and sewer service north of Geddes Road, the traditional development boundary, an extension that would also make possible the 1,950-home development proposed north of Geddes by Rock Construction.”

    Try to understand the difference between the availability of utilities and the control a municipality can exert through zoning. There is nothing in the Eyde/Biltmore proposal that would “make possible” the Rock project. Rock has applied and will be issued a permit from the MDEQ for a wastewater discharge and already has found a potable water source on its property. Rock needs neither sewer or water from the township.

    Rock’s obstacle is zoning. THey are looking for dense, cheap housing and the township will never allow it. If Rock sues, its claim will be that the township does not have enough affordable housing, as required by law. If, after trial, the judge agrees, Rock will be allowed to build its project. If a judge agrees that superior is not doing its fair share, that’s certainly good enough for me. Of course, the folks who don’t want “those people” living near them will disagree, regardless of the fact that a judge listened to the evidence and made a decision.
    As for ypsi, do you really think that if the developer approached them and showed them exactly how the dollars shake out, and how much the city will stand to gain, that Mayor Farmer will say no just to be nice to their neighbor? hmmm.
    Side note: NIMBYs use the “residential development costs more than it brings in” argument for years. The studies are a joke and have been discredited for a number of reasons that we can go into another time. Before you use this argument, read them critically and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
    A city with a downtown benefits MASSIVELY from new residential development. Higher cost homes (like the Eyde/Biltmore proposal) provide a net tax benefit even in most of the anti-growth funded studies. Mobile home parks- very little tax benefit, big drain.
       —Mr. Rogers    Jul. 14 '05 - 01:31PM    #
  5. Mr. Rogers, when referencing studies, it’s very helpful to provide specific links or citations. Could you do that for us?
       —Steve Bean    Jul. 14 '05 - 02:44PM    #
  6. “If a judge agrees that superior is not doing its fair share, that’s certainly good enough for me.”

    Really? I guess you don’t have a very critical eye – clearly, Superior is doing it’s “fair share” as they documented in the article. Also, the idea that local judges are experts in zoning and land use law is laughable. Sometimes they get it right – a lot of times they get it wrong.

    “As for ypsi, do you really think that if the developer approached them and showed them exactly how the dollars shake out, and how much the city will stand to gain, that Mayor Farmer will say no just to be nice to their neighbor?”

    This just shows that you don’t understand the annexation process. What Mayor Farmer does or does not think is irrelevent. The State Boundary Commission would decide whether this annexation should go forward or not. My guess, based on the proposal, is that they would not allow it to go forward because it would create a highly urbanized area in an area that is otherwise planned to remain rural and agricultural (Greenbelt, etc.). Not every City has swallowed the claims that new development is always a positive cash flow.
       —John Q    Jul. 14 '05 - 04:57PM    #
  7. (1) Mobile home parks are a big drain on services with little tax revenue benefit because they are largely exempt. Regardless of the size or value of a manufactured housing unit, a fixed amount of $3/month is paid to the local government in lieu of taxes.

    (2) Superior Township is hardly a white bread suburb that excludes people who look different. The township’s population is 30% African American, which is the highest of any jurisdiction in Washtenaw County.

    (3) A few years ago, the Legislature vindictively stripped the Boundary Commission of any authority over the boundaries of charter townships. Isn’t Superior a charter township?
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 15 '05 - 10:50AM    #
  8. Lots of issues raised by JQ, SB and LK-
    JQ- don’t misquote me: I said upscale residential development is always a net tax gain to Local Units of Government (LUG). Not “new development is always a positive cash flow.” Do the research, it’s easily google-able.
    Also, Boundary Commission, as LK mentioned, either would have no jurisdiction here or if they did, would not be the route the developer would likely take. There are a few different routes to annexation. Again, DO THE RESEARCH. Not knowing that there are multiple routes to annexation while you opine what the SBC would decide just makes you sound ignorant, which I’m sure you’re not.

    As for Judges, I’m glad you want to substitute your judgement for that of a Circuit Court Judge, who has heard MANY land-use cases (they are fairly common) argued by one of the select handful of attorneys (for both sides) who practice in this complicated, high-stakes area of law. So learned of you to explain how “a lot of times they get it wrong.” It would be slightly more logical to think that maybe, just maybe, the well-meaning, dedicated township boards (who are not generally land use lawyers) do ILLEGAL things to property owners because of pressure from their constituents and because of township lawyers who either are ignored or do not advise very well or forcefully. The fact that the SUpervisor claims that there is enough affordable housing in Superior is not really enough to persuade most thinking people. If there’s a suit there will be a hundred grand’s worth of market studies and expert testimony, and we may yet found out.
    SB- Google the studies. I spent a lot of time learning this stuff. Do a little researching and reading and you will learn loads. YOu have access to MLUI, APA, and all the other councils and orgs, check out the BIA and Wash. Homebuilders stuff too. Multiple perspectives makes for accuracy.
    And Larry, you’re right about Superior’s makeup. It is also a hugely segregated township, with a large black population concentrated in a tiny area, compared to the mcmansion and equestrian northern portion of the township. That should be looked at as well by the judge should any of this stuff end up in Circuit Court- the fact that the most racially diverse township in washtenaw county is only that way because of the development of a neighborhood for bomber plant employees in the 40’s. Where are the black people in Ann Arbor Township; Northfield? anywhere? of course not…
       —Mr. Rogers    Jul. 15 '05 - 12:16PM    #
  9. Larry,

    You’re correct, Superior is a charter township.

    While charter townships are sometimes exempt from annexations that are reviewed by the SBC, that’s not always the case. The SBC has the authority to decide whether a Township qualifies for exemption.

    In Superior’s case, it probably is exempt so I take back my comments about the SBC’s role in the annexation. More likely, the developers would push for one of the exemptions allowed under the Charter Township Act.

    http://www.legislature.mi.gov/mileg.asp?page=getObject&objName=mcl-42-34

    The only option that really applies is if they could get 20% of the electors in the area to sign a petition. This is how the developer in Bloomfield Township was able to get his property annexed into Pontiac when the township wouldn’t approve his development. But a similar effort failed in South Lyon when city voters rejected an annexation proposal by a developer.
       —John Q    Jul. 15 '05 - 12:19PM    #
  10. “Higher cost homes (like the Eyde/Biltmore proposal) provide a net tax benefit even in most of the anti-growth funded studies.”

    The assumption, of course, is that Eyde’s proposal won’t change once annexed into the City or that they wouldn’t flip the land to another developer who has no intentions of doing McMansions. And what zoning does the City of Ypsi have in place that would handle the residential devlopment? If they used an existing residential zoning classification, it would probably result in quite intense development.

    RE: getting it wrong – check out how many times the CC decisions get overturned at the COA and how wrong the CC judges get the basic law on these issues. Unfortunately, many municipalities can’t afford the expensive appeals to correc the bad decisions made at the CC level.

    I’ve done the reseach so save the sarcasm. I forgot that Superior was a Charter Township – for some reason, I had it in my head that they were not or had switched. My goof.
       —John Q    Jul. 15 '05 - 12:28PM    #
  11. Hmmm, for pseudonymous posters, y’all seem to be very knowledgeable about land use, local demography, municipal finance, and annexation.

    I think the 20% petition route was accidentally created on the floor of the legislature during the debate over the charter township exemption. I’m surprised it has never been repealed.

    I was involved in the annexation of the “pistol zone” (an L-shaped portion of MSU’s East Complex dorms, with a population of about 3,000) from Meridian Charter Township to the city of East Lansing in 1979. This annexation would have been impossible without the 20% rule. Meridian Township fought this up to the state Supreme Court, arguing that the exemption law the townships had pushed for was unconstitutional.
       —Larry Kestenbaum    Jul. 15 '05 - 01:00PM    #
  12. “I think the 20% petition route was accidentally created on the floor of the legislature during the debate over the charter township exemption. I’m surprised it has never been repealed.”

    I can’t recall the legislative history on that – I think it was discussed in the Court’s ruling on the Meridian Township case. The original language was much stricter, largely in reaction to the Midland Township case and the spat of annexations taking place in the 70s (and A2 was a hotbed of annexation activity). At the time, the MTA was telling everyone that Townships were going to disappear due to City annexations. This led to the push to exempt Charter Townships.

    But since the population bar to become a Charter Township was so low, I think the MML and others realized that if it there was a blanket prohibition on annexations for Charter Townships, most townships would seek charter status and annexations would grind to a halt. So a compromise was reached with the standards added to sort out the urban townships from rural wanna-be’s. The 20% provision definitely is a loophole as it gives Charter Townships less protection in most cases than they would have with the SBC.

    I think the MML has essentially thrown in the towel on annexation reform. But, and this proves the power of the builders’ lobby, the changes that Townships want never seem to make it out of the legislature and into law.
       —John Q    Jul. 15 '05 - 02:06PM    #
  13. To all who have commented, Thank you for the insights and ideas. I have learned from the discussion and questions. I own a small farm right on Vreeland rd across from the proposed development. I am very concerned about what becomes of this land and what Superior can do.
    Thanks for the stimulating comments, Bob
    www.thesmallfarm.com
       —Robert G    Sep. 27 '05 - 11:51PM    #
  14. For all of you to note:
    Superior Township will hold a hearing on rezoning and modifying the growth management plan for the Biltmore project on January 11, at 7:30 PM in the Township Hall. It is very important that they hear from everyone
       —Bubbuh    Dec. 24 '05 - 12:53PM    #