2016 08 03 PC Meeting ending room view 768w207h27k

After more than two years of controversy, the Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously denied a request from Biltmore LLC to drastically alter our Master Plan and allow a giant subdivision to replace 460 acres of farmland and wetlands in the southwest section of our township.

Just the Facts

by David Gordon

The vote against Biltmore LLC was 7-0, and came one day after the Primary election in which the incumbent administration was soundly defeated.  

At the Special Public Hearing on Aug. 3, Biltmore CEO David Stollman again made his case for approval. He was supported by only one person at “Call to the Public. (link to LiveVideo of David Stollman's presentation.)

Fifteen residents spoke against the proposal and strongly in favor of defending the 2012 Master Plan, which directs growth into areas nearer Whitmore Lake and existing infrastructure, and protects our rural farmers and residents. (link to LiveVideo of their comments)

Planning Commission members acknowledged that they had mishandled the Biltmore proposal, precipitating the two-year battle.

The Rest of the Story

Petitions were presented against the scheme in 2014, and the people defending the Master Plan since that time consistently outnumbered the Biltmore supporters by a large margin at Board of Trustee and Commission meetings.  

Many residents said they felt betrayed by the Commission and Board after they agreed, at a joint meeting in 2014, to push ahead with a possible rewrite of the Master Plan, which had been reviewed and adopted in 2012.

Two respected planning firms quit the township as a consequence of the positions taken by our officials and staff.

At Wednesday’s meeting, the third new Township Planner, Patrick Sloan of McKenna & Assoc., presented an overwhelming case against the Biltmore plan, citing the inability of the township’s services to handle the sewer, water and traffic impacts that such a large project would create. (link to LiveVideo of McKenna’s presentation)

Highlights of the McKenna 12-point recommendation:

  • “Residential development…is provided for elsewhere and is highly discouraged in the Review Area…”
  • “The amendment would be contrary to one of the basic tenets of the Plan - that higher density should be located in and around Whitmore Lake and existing higher density development.”
  • The requested change to the Plan would be contrary to sound planning principles….creating a hodge-podge of development, contrary to an orderly and efficient plan….”
  • “The requested amendment would be a betrayal of the Plan’s major goals and objectives, which were developed based on extensive and substantial public input.”

Sloan said there are already 1,488 acres set aside for dense residential development in the northern section of our township, noting “there is no shortage…”.

He stressed that a Master Plan is a 30-to-40-year vision that is not supposed to be drastically altered based on the frequent ups and downs of the market, but as a document that residents can rely upon.   “Nobody can predict what the market will look like 30 or 40 years down the road.”

A report from township engineers TetraTech also recommended denying Biltmore.

Their report reveals that while the Biltmore plan calls for 1,475 rooftops on 460 acres, the sewer line extensions that would be needed to reach Biltmore’s property would open up an additional 163 acres for higher density housing, bringing the potential total to 2,500 rooftops.

TetraTech has said that a major expansion of the WWTP would be needed to handle significant growth. Costs of $20-30 million were discussed, and that was just for the township’s existing commitments to Special Assessment Districts, and not including the additional impact of Biltmore.

Why did this happen, and what next?

Editorial by David Gordon

The root cause of this dispute was a lack of communication and a lack of respect -- a classic “failure to communicate” between our elected officials and township staff, and a failure to listen to or respect the residents.

When the Biltmore plan first came forward in 2014, a petition opposing it was delivered to the Board. Every homeowner but one bordering the Biltmore property signed the petition, and another 100+ signed an online petition.

Instead of respecting this message, the Supervisor labeled the residents a “special interest group” and vowed to ignore them.  No Board member publicly chastised her behavior, nor championed the Master Plan or the rural residents.

A little bit of history will help explain how we got into this mess.

When the current Board took office in 2012, they told the newly-arrived manager that his job was to promote “growth”, but they failed to explain what kind - a little growth or significant growth -- growth as outlined in the Master Plan, or any and all growth, anywhere?

The manager should have done his homework….reading the Master Plan and the 1996 and 2010 surveys would have given him a much better idea of what kind of community he had moved into. The Plan and the surveys…the info was right there.

This long and expensive Biltmore debacle reminds us that the Master Plan is the foundational document expressing our vision, not a “fluid” document to be changed whenever a new Board is elected, a developer walks in the door, or a housing bubble pops.   We can be thankful for that.

“Growth vs. No Growth” has never been the right question.

Our township-wide surveys clearly show that almost everyone wants some reasonable commercial and residential growth, mostly in the downtown and the Whitmore Lake school district.

The surveys also conclude that the majority of our residents value our outstanding quality of life and will reject any kind of growth that threatens it.

If township leaders would accept this simple concept, we all could move forward and begin the work of preserving farmland, open space and natural features, and directing growth where it belongs.

It’s time to start listening to and respecting all the citizens of our great township.

We are all Neighbors.