$20 million state grants protested
Jan. 23, 2019 PLYMOUTH EAGLE.
Plymouth Michigan News
Plymouth Township residents and officials are among those questioning $20 million in state grants awarded to Salem Township, earmarked to fund the installation of water and sewer lines for a planned development just west of Napier Road. The award was approved by outgoing state legislators in December, just prior to new officials taking office.
Livonia Builder Schostak Brothers is set to begin construction on one of two sub-divisions, Salem Springs South, located in a 200-acre triangle bordered by M-14, Gotfredson, North Territorial and Napier roads on the northeast edge of Washtenaw County. Plans for the 588-unit high-density development include townhouses, detached condominiums and single-family homes. To the south of M-14 will be Salem Springs North, a mixed-use development that will include retail, residential and big box stores. Bobby Schostak, company chairman, served as chair of the state Republican Party from 2011 to 2015, which has added fuel to residents’ criticisms.
The supplemental spending bill in question, approved the last day of the Legislature sessions in December, has incurred the wrath of not just area residents, but city, county, township and state legislators on both sides of the aisle. The bill included grants from $75,000 up to the subject $10 million amount. The 73 projects placed on the spending bill were said to be missing documentation about deliberations, according to those concerned about the project.
State Rep, (R) Laura Cox, District 19, chair of the House Appropriation Committee in December, now seeking to become the chair of the state Republican Party, is rumored to have fostered the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MDEC) grant earmarked for the Salem Township project that was approved by the state Legislature in July 2017. According to Bridge Magazine, Cox recently claimed to have no knowledge of the details was quoted as saying “(it’s) preposterous to believe that one person such as myself, a state rep, would have the ability to put a $10 million grant in the budget.”
The builder, who now has $20 million to start construction, is the subject of critics who question the impact on the infrastructure, roads, schools, sewers and public safety.
According to Salem Township Supervisor Gary Whittaker, Schostak approached former Plymouth Township officials a few years ago to cut a deal for water and sewer usage. He said Schostak officials then asked Salem Township to borrow the money through a bond that would be paid off by developer fees. The township declined to participate, he said.
Plymouth Township officials and other board members spoke out after hearing of the payout reflecting their feelings and those of their constituents.
“Giving away taxpayer money to fund urban sprawl and create one-time jobs is not good policy,” stated Plymouth Township Trustee Chuck Curmi.
“The $20 million is an atrocious waste of public monies. It subsidizes sprawl, mandates untold additional public infrastructure spending like widening M-14, and begs the question of how public safety will be provided. Why should any developer get a $35,000 per residence gift from the state to compete with other developers? How is this really an ‘urban services district,’ in the words of the appropriation bill [Senate Bill 601, page 75]? How many more pressing needs could have been met with these millions of dollars? It’s a sad thing to see this rural farmland slated to become home to a different kind of pork,” said Plymouth Township Trustee Jack Dempsey.
“I have serious concerns about the proposed Salem Springs project. Water, sewer, roads, traffic, stormwater and public safety are all elements of the project that are not fully addressed. Salem Townshipis in no position to handle this radical change to their community, and Plymouth Township is not going to be left to bear the burden of this ill-conceived project. The fact that Michigan taxpayers have given $20 million to this private development just adds insult to injury,” said Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise.
Ken Schwartz, supervisor of Superior Township which is sandwiched between Salem Township on the north and Ypsilanti Township on the south, said he is adamantly against the Schostak project. Schwartz said he’s in the process of asking the governor and attorney general to investigate the issue.
“It’s appalling that a big-wig republican with Lansing connections would make the taxpayers of Michigan pay for the water and sewer infrastructure for his own private, profit-driven housing development. This developer sings the praises of capitalism, then gleefully turns to corporate socialism to boost his profits. This is a total misallocation of tax dollars. Fix the damn roads. Governor Whitman are you hearing us? Please intervene on behalf of taxpayers and transparency,” he said.
Schwartz, also a lawyer, previously served on the Salem Board of Public Works. He said he’s familiar with the Schostak plans as a sewer design was sent to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the road commission for review. He said in order for Schostak’s project to go forward, a sewer line must be run south between the two townships, cutting through Superior Township, a total distance of 10.5 miles; from M14 and Godfredson to Geddes Road, then east to Ridge Road to connect to the Ypsilanti Community Utility Authority (YUCA), sewer system.
“We’ve been able to hold on to a master plan for the past 50 years that preserves thousands of ‘sensitive acres’ north of Geddes, that is the last tract of remaining green space between Detroit and Ann Arbor,” he said.
He said only an order from the Supreme Court would force him to allow a sewer line to run through that Superior Township pristine area.
Evan Pratt, Washtenaw Countywater resources commissioner and director of public works, after hearing of the second $10 million grant, said he wanted to know the source of the funds.
“Awarding infrastructure grants without a competitive process and clear criteria (besides population) is really disturbing to those of us seeking help from the state for existing sewer problems and related public health issues. I guess there’s two sets of rules for getting return on investment and the requirements are pretty skinny for a well-connected developer. I bet every legislator who voted for this represents one or more communities that could have used just 1/10th of that money back home.”
Mikey Smith, vice president of Country Club Village Home Owners Association in Plymouth Township has been a resident since the area was built starting in 1997. The upscale subdivision backs up to Napier Road on the west side and will be near the new Salem Springs. Smith says “at the end of the day you can’t stop development.’
“We feel the dollars could have been well spent on schools and public infrastructure, not private,” he said.
State Sen. Jeff Irwin, D. Washtenaw County, was disturbed to hear of the project and was curious to know who requested the funding.
“It is concerning that the records surrounding the request for this funding are sealed. This is an example of the lack of transparency that exists in the appropriations process. The public deserves to know who requested this money and who this project benefits financially because from what I can gather, this process does not benefit the public.”
Irwin represents the 18th Senate District, encompassing the cities of Ann Arbor, Saline, Ypsilanti, and Milan and the townships of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, York, Augusta, Salem, Superior, and Ypsilanti.
“The state budget is not infinite and there are very real ways in which pork barrel projects like this affect our communities, schools, roads, and mental health care. I can think of better ways to spend $10 million of the taxpayer’s money rather than subsidizing new McMansions.”