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Weldon Township Considers Development Conditions

July 29, 2000 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Dean Rhodes
Supervisor, Weldon Township
P.O. Box 57
Thompsonville, MI 49683

Re: Stone Ridge Development

Dear Mr. Rhodes,

The Michigan Land Use Institute appreciates the thorough manner in which the Weldon Township Board is evaluating the proposal to develop the Stone Ridge Farm. The Board's decision to seek legal expertise to develop a Host Community Agreement with Cheval-Knudsen Properties detailing your conditions for accepting the proposal is an excellent way to address the unique opportunities and concerns associated with hosting such a large development. Such an agreement can ensure that development at the Stone Ridge Farm will benefit Weldon Township and its residents.

We also appreciate your invitation for the Institute to share our resources, experience and expertise with the Township during this process. For the past five years, the Institute has supported other local governments and citizens groups that have considered similar developments proposed in their communities. During the course of our work, we have learned ways to ensure such developments are implemented in a way that meets the objectives of the local unit of government, and also found some approaches that fail to meet their objectives.

There are several conditions that can be included in an effective Host Community Agreement between Cheval-Knudsen Development and Weldon Township. These are:

  • Performance guarantees during a phased project
  • Modifications to the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance
  • Preservation of green space

Each of these concepts is detailed below.

Performance guarantees during a phased project

The Host Community Agreement should ensure Cheval-Knudsen Properties gives priority to building those elements the Township desires, and provide disincentives, such as performance bonds or a reduction in residential lots, for failure to meet the schedule.

As proposed, the Stone Ridge Farm development will be built over 12 to 15 years. Some components will produce construction jobs while others such as the senior center, the hotel and the retail complex will provide permanent year-round jobs. It is important to ensure that Cheval-Knudsen Properties construct the elements of the development that benefit the Township, and not change course or halt construction before this occurs.

Perhaps the most important components are those that provide permanent employment and the amenities that will attract seniors to the development and generate tax revenues from second homes while requiring relatively few services. Generally, residential developments are a drain on local tax coffers because new homes require new schools and other public facilities. Every time a community adds 500 or more homes, they must expand or build new school facilities. Under Michigan tax law, primary residences also pay a much lower tax rate than secondary residences, such as condos at a senior-oriented golf complex.

So, it is essential that Cheval-Knudsen Properties attract seniors to the development, rather than a more standard mix of households. If the first several years of the development are more akin to conventional subdivision or site condominium developments, there will be no incentive for seniors to move in and no disincentives for other households to go elsewhere. While no one can discriminate based on age, Cheval-Knudsen Properties should make every effort to attract seniors to its development by building the assisted living and other senior-oriented amenities first and limiting the number of bedrooms that each residential dwelling can have.

Modifications to the Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance

The Host Community Agreement can provide Weldon Township time to alter its master land use plan and zoning ordinance in response to the proposal by Cheval-Knudsen Properties. A great deal of volunteer time has gone into crafting the township master plans and Weldon Township's zoning ordinance. These documents describe the community's realistic desires for the future, giving due consideration to population, economy, landscape and other considerations.

If built, the Cheval-Knudsen development will change the population and demographic of Weldon Township and it will dramatically change the real estate market by meeting the demand for new homes, at least for seniors, for many years to come.

The Institute suggests the Township not consider the application in isolation, but to also work through amendments to the master plan and zoning ordinance, including identifying how this development will affect other future land uses.

Preservation of green space

The site plan should ensure a portion of the development includes preserving land in its current agricultural or natural state. Undeveloped ridgelines, expansive fields and forests, and protection of unique natural features, collectively known as "green space" now are commonplace in modern development proposals. Across Michigan, rural communities require protection of green space as a condition for granting additional development privileges for Planned Unit Developments and other comprehensive development approaches.

The agreement should include a precise definition of "green space" such as:

An unmanaged natural area, in common ownership, publicly owned or protected by conservation or agricultural easement, that is at least ten contiguous acres, viable for agricultural use, visible at a distance of one mile, or historic significance, or part of an environmental corridor or greenways plan.

If the Township is interested in pursuing these concepts as part of the Host Community Agreement, the Institute is prepared to provide more information and serve as a resource in this process. As you know, the process for evaluating the development proposal requires further site plan review and local and state permitting. It is important that Township Zoning Board be actively involved in these next steps. By requiring Cheval-Knudsen to submit its plan to the Zoning Board for final site plan review, the Township can be certain the criteria in the Host Community Agreement are followed.

The Institute stands ready to support your efforts through meetings with the Township Board, its legal experts, and its Zoning Board. In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding our comments on the elements of a sound Host Community Agreement or if we can provide any other assistance, feel free to contact me at 231/882-4723 or Policy Director Arlin Wasserman at 231/271-3683.

Hans Voss
Executive Director

cc: Art Spalding
Rhoades, McKee, Boer, Goodrich & Titta
161 Avenue Northwest, Suite 600
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Michigan Land Use Institute

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Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
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