Michigan Land Use Institute

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Lansing Takes Hand-Off Approach

August 1, 1998 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

The Administration has ignored pleas from townships to help them respond intelligently to haphazard growth. It also has not acted to help citizens become aware of the costs of suburban sprawl, or the fact that it'sconsidered one of Michigan's top problems. This occurred despite the report's finding that a crucial problem is the public's "lack of environmental awareness ... [which] may make it more difficult to make lifestyle changes that may be necessary to correct many of the problems identified in this project." In other words, if the state is truly intent on solving sprawl, it needs to help citizens understand their role in contributing to it.

The Administration did, however, use the study to back up other actions. "We knew businesses were leaving the urban core to set up in rural townships, and one of the problems was the cost of toxic cleanup," said David Ladd, the governor's environmental policy advisor. The Administration worked with industrial interests and legislative allies in the House and Senate to change the state's toxic waste cleanup law. The changes made it easier to redevelop old industrial sites in Michigan's inner cities, but conservationists point out that the Administration has shifted much of the cost of cleaning up toxic sites from polluters to the public.

Moving Backward
Mr. Ladd and other members of the Administration cite the changes in the toxic cleanup law as evidence that the Governor is not ignoring sprawl. Efforts to encourage new economic activity in cities could help limit the pressure to develop outside them, Mr. Ladd said.

However the Administration has been exceedingly reluctant to address the bigger picture to address sprawl:
• Efforts by business leaders, environmentalists, farmers, and citizens to encourage the state to consider proposals to strengthen land use policy have been attacked as "Soviet-style centralized planning" by Russell Harding, director of the Department of Environmental Quality.

• In 1994 the Michigan Department of Agriculture published a study on farmland protection that recommended several crucial changes in state policy. These included providing assistance to local governments to establish agriculture security areas, creating a state-funded program for local farmland purchase of development rights projects, and focusing the department's overall policy on farmland protection. None were adopted.

• Most disappointing to conservationists is the Legislature's action in 1996 to open up the state law for subdividing land. The old law, already regarded as the worst in the country, allowed large parcels to be divided without any local government oversight. Succumbing to pressure from the homebuilder and real estate lobbies, the Legislature weakened it further.

When the Governor signed the amended Subdivision Control Act in March 1997 he said he was doing so "reluctantly" and that the Legislature should organize a task force to review the law again. The task force never formed, and the Governor has not prodded lawmakers to act.

CONTACTS: David Ladd, 517-335-7824; Julie Stoneman, land programs director, Michigan Environmental Council, 517-487-9539; Keith Schneider at the Institute, 616-882-4723.

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