Durand Now photo
The Vernon Township Hall was packed on Monday night with residents frustrated by a lack of clarity on a rumored industrial project. While emotions were high, and township officials refrained from sharing some information about the project citing confidentiality, on more than one occasion residents at the meeting praised officials for being much more transparent than city officials at the recent Durand City Council meeting. Two council members were in the audience but did not speak publicly during the meeting.
Vernon Township Supervisor Bert DeClerg told residents in attendance that he has known about the project for about two months but, citing confidentiality, withheld information even from the Vernon Township board until just recently.
Speaking directly to residents that were at a recent by-invitation-only meeting at the Sheridan Realty office where a pitch to land owners to sell their property was made, DeClerg said that he and others were very disappointed that more information was not given to those in attendance.
So, the township distributed five pages of "copy points" about the project, dubbed "Project Tim," that were presented to those in attendance at the Sheridan meeting, as well as a map of the total land area that the, as-of-yet, unnamed company needs to acquire for the project to become reality.
DeClerg said reports that the land needed was four square miles is an overexagerration. Rather, he said, around 2.5 square miles is needed. He did say that the dimensions of the actual structure would be three quarters of a mile wide by one and a quarter miles long, but would not confirm that the proposed project is a steel mill. He only confirmed that it would be an industrial development.
In contrast to what city officials told those in attendance at the recent city council meeting, DeClerg said that at the Sheridan meeting, he knew, and it was clear, that the option to buy properties in the proposed area was for the City of Durand, not the company interested in building there.
During the city council meeting on June 5th, city council members told the audience that they had no knowledge of the project and were unaware of any connection between the city and the option letters given to home and land owners in the proposed building area.
Durand Now asked City Manager Colleen O'Toole to clarify points discussed at the city council meeting. O'Toole said "The developers have asked that we maintain confidentiality because they are subject to a very stringent due diligence process before the project can even be formally considered. Myself and council are doing our best to maintain that confidentiality where it is necessary but we also deeply value our roles as agents of the public trust. We will continue to do what we can to make information available as it is presented to us."
Asked about a claim that at the Sheridan meeting she stood in support of the project, she said "I was in attendance at the Sheridan meeting. The developers had previously approached the City about the project and specifically asked that I attend. At that meeting, I stressed that folks maintain an open mind on the project. The developers are proposing a project that would result in significant, high-paying job creation and a commercial tax base that would help alleviate the burden on area residents; as such I showed support for its consideration."
Regarding concerns about the city imposing eminent domain, O'Toole said the city council has not discussed the subject. DeClerg told those in attendance at the Vernon Township meeting on Monday that the city could not impose eminent domain because the law requires eminent domain -- the right of government to take private property from land owners without the land owners' consent -- be for public use. This is a commercial project by a private company, he said.
The Vernon Township board urged those in attendance to talk to their neighbors about the project -- specifically the home and land owners whose property is being sought. DeClerg said the project requires a specific "footprint" of property for the development, and if the land required for that footprint is unable to be obtained, the project simply will not come to fruition.
We're told that there is just one property owner that has not yet signed the option letter.
Dr. William Foster, owner of Fries Veterinary Clinic on Newburg Road, received a round of applause from others in attendance at the township meeting when he pleaded for guidance from the board, whom he referred to as his friends and neighbors; "I need to make a decision, I've lost a lot of sleep over this," he said, telling the board that he is contemplating closing his business and moving. "I'm not going to live with that..in my front yard, literally," he said. Foster's home is on Monroe Road, immediately south of the proposed project area.
Foster pointed to the Shiawassee County Master Plan, whose number one purpose, he said, is to protect the agricultural identity of Shiawassee County. He said this project is in violation, and further declared that the way the project's details have been withheld from residents is also in violation, reading from the Shiawassee County Master Plan, Chapter 7, Future Land Use Plan Education: "Citizen involvement and support will be necessary as the Plan is implemented. Local officials should constantly strive to develop procedures which make citizens more aware of the planning process and the day to day decision making which affects implementation of the Plan. A continuous program of discussion, education and participation will be extremely important as the County moves towards realization of the goals and objectives."
Steve Lynn lives on Brown Road. He asked the board why Vernon Township isn't trying to stop progress or enter into a shared revenue scenario. DeClerg said that the board has looked into a revenue share but can't do anything at this point in time.
Township Attorney, Bill Fahey, said there's two ways the property could be annexed to the city. The first scenario would involve the city approaching the State Boundary Commission. He said this process could take up to a year and a half and would involve a public hearing, but with enough of a push behind it, would likely be approved. The second scenario would involve the township and city entering into an agreement which would allow the property to be annexed as part of an agreement. Entering into this agreement could take significantly less time, Fahey said. He noted that this second scenario gives the township some leverage in seeking a revenue sharing situation.
DeClerg said "I might be sticking my neck out here" in announcing that he believes residents will know if the project will or will not happen within 90 days.
Nearly all residents in attendance of the township meeting left following the "Project Tim" portion, but as the board navigated through other items of business, the subject popped up again, and as the meeting wound down, board members discussed amongst themselves disappointment in how the situation has been handled by Durand city officials and those directly involved with the proposed development, the lack of information available and the confidential aspects.