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.

Managing for Dummies 200w118h

Township Deputy Treasurer Pam Boegler quit on Friday, July 29th.  She has worked for the Township for the past fifteen years.

That's long time employee number four or five (or six if you count Clerk Shelly Manning) to quit the Township's employ under the current Board, under similar, unhappy circumstances.

More to come.

Peoples Express vehicle

"The contract signed with People's Express feels like pennies when you take into consideration all they do," said Green Oak Township Supervisor Mark St. Charles.  "It really shines when it comes to helping people who are on their own and don’t have a relative or friend to get them to work or a medical appointment." - WHMI

"A representative for the People’s Express told the Green Oak Township Board of Trustees that ridership has increased 5-7% over the last years. This is largely due to recently adding service to Providence Park Hospital in Novi. St. Charles made a comparison to the rise in ridership being proportional to the population in the township growing older. He said it’s an important service they can offer."

In stark contrast, the People's Express agreement with Northfield Township was turned into a political football by Township Clerk Westover at the July 12th, 2016 Board meeting.  Westover said she was offended by the fact that the People's Express representative, candidate for Township Treasurer Lenore Zelenock, had expressed a negative opinion about Northfield Township's financial decisionmaking.

At the July 26th Board workshop, Trustee Jackie Otto was the lone defender of People's Express.  Chick supported her.  Braun objected to paying $15,000/year.  Fink explained to Braun that the terms were the same $10,000/year terms as the 2016 contract.  Dockett related his personal experiences and said the Township should just pay someone $10,000 for the same service.  Engstrom said the County should be paying for it.  

The Board, comfortably isolated in their new $52,000+ Boardroom, agreed that if the [1,500+ annual] customers of People's Express wanted to see the service continue, they would have to show up at a Township meeting and attest to their need and to the service's benefits.

The obvious question flew right over their heads.  People's Express' last daily pickups are at 4:30 pm.  Those customers need People's Express to get around.  How will they get to a 7 pm Board meeting?

WHMI Radio News, 93.5 FM, was our source for the Green Oak Township report.


by David Gordon.

The map below shows Northfield Township divided into 36 sections, each 1 square mile in total. The sections are labeled 1 thru 36, starting in the top right corner and moving to the left, then down and back.

Based on information from the Northfield Township Treasurer’s office (see below), the residents in the rural areas pay 60% of all taxes in the township, while the residents around the lakes pay 40%.

In the table below, you can find a breakdown by section. Look yours up and see how your one square mile compares with others.

Northfield Township Taxes by section


  Taxes - Rural & Lakes  
Section Total Tax Payments  
5 $1,718,839 Lakes
6 $1,177,463 Lakes
8 $1,411,577 Lakes
17 $869,848 Lakes
Lakes Total $5,177,727 40%
1 $237,743 Rural
2 $138,242 Rural
3 $107,100 Rural
4 $156,455 Rural
7 $303,830 Rural
9 $185,637 Rural
10 $209,683 Rural
11 $218,880 Rural
12 $335,955 Rural
13 $222,705 Rural
14 $142,645 Rural
15 $135,400 Rural
16 $338,023 Rural
18 $296,572 Rural
19 $244,420 Rural
20 $668,793 Rural
21 $516,311 Rural
22 $101,941 Rural
23 $240,572 Rural
24 $122,583 Rural
25 $258,980 Rural
26 $524,344 Rural
27 $153,005 Rural
28 $95,261 Rural
29 $90,471 Rural
30 $228,571 Rural
31 $135,246 Rural
32 $128,608 Rural
33 $96,369 Rural
34 $371,104 Rural
35 $285,347 Rural
36 $352,361 Rural
Rural Total $7,643,157 60%
Grand Total $12,820,884  


(Areas in yellow are the largest farmland tracts in Northfield Township – 70 acres or bigger. As you can see, the largest concentration is along Whitmore Lake Road/US23 in the SW corner of our community.)  All the data was obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  We will post the raw FOIA paper trail soon.



We are Northfield, not Southfield! 

20 Reasons to Oppose the Biltmore "Vision"

Your taxes will go up!  Rural townships have lower taxes than built-out communities.

Traffic will be horrible.  Imagine Whitmore Lake Road at N. Territorial.  The state isn’t expanding the Terrritorial bridge, only repairing it.  And at Whitmore Lake Rd. & Barton Drive?!?

The subdivisions will provide no children for the Whitmore Lake schools.  All these parcels are in the Ann Arbor school district. 

The subdivision proposal is too dense.  The change is too drastic.

We like our township just like it is.  The folks around the lake like the lake.  The folks in the country like the country.  These developers don’t know or care about our township. 

The developer’s plan is inconsistent with our Master Plan adopted in 2012.

The Biltmore scheme will gut our Master Plan.  If approved, other sewers extensions will be impossible to stop.  Once sewers are in place, all the land affected is eligible for 1/4-acre zoning.  Do we want 1/4-acre zoning everywhere? 

The Master Plan is the document that guides the process, not the other way around.  This is the official document that outlines the vision, not some outside action to alter it.  Is this a process oriented issue?  Don’t’ go into process and forget the vision.  Is this responsible/ethical development? 

What is the point of having a Master Plan, a Planning Commission, a professional planner or zoning ordinances if you won’t defend them?  Is it only a charade to satisfy state law?

Don't be like the politicians in DC who ignore what the people want and bend over for the big money players, like Biltmore.  Represent us, not them!

This is not progress.  This is not planning.  This is shortsighted.

Turning farmland into subdivisions is a bad idea.   There is no population surge in Michigan.  There are plenty of areas in our township ready for development where the infrastructure can handle it. This area is not one of them.

Don’t hurt your neighbors in order to profit some outsiders - especially when thousands of your neighbors will suffer.  If you can't run the town without ruining the lives of the people you serve, you need to question how you’re doing your job.

This process isn’t being driven by the folks who live here.  The Master Plan process didn’t reveal a surge of residents pushing for subdivisions in the rural area.    It's out-of-town developers vs. the folks who live here – it’s us vs. them.

Show some respect for our community and the people who live here and helped create the Master Plan.  If developers want to make money here, they are welcome to share our vision, not impose theirs.

There is nothing inevitable about subdivisions replacing farmland.  People who say it’s inevitable aren’t realists, they’re quitters.

If you want to preserve farmland, then preserve it. You can’t preserve farmland if you’re paving it over.  You can’t have it both ways.

A super majority of residents overturned the Leland rezoning, and we still live here.

We are the oasis between Ann Arbor and Brighton. Our value isn’t measured in shopping centers, subdivisions and fast food restaurants. It's measured in quality-of-life.  Protect it. 

Just because Whitmore Lake Road runs through our community doesn't mean we need to turn into a strip mall like Southfield or Canton or Northville.


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