Michigan Land Use Institute

MLUI / Articles from 1995 to 2012 / Electrifying Win in Milan Township

Electrifying Win in Milan Township

Neighbors unite to overrule industrialization of farmland

August 12, 2000 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

When it comes to grassroots organizing, few triumphs are as electrifying as the one last February in Milan Township. By a margin of 403-350, residents of this rural farming and bedroom community in Monroe County, south of Ann Arbor, approved a referendum that prevented General Motors and the Ann Arbor Railroad from turning a 1,000-acre cornfield into a giant shipping facility big enough to store 50,000 cars.

Only a year before, Milan Township neighbors who barely knew each other formed the Milan Area Concerned Citizens (MACC) and began gathering every week in a country church basement. Their goal: Find a way to protect farmland and their rural way of life.

Among the ranks of first-time organizers was Olga Mancik, who raised three children on the 200-acre farm she inherited from her father; Mary Carek, a teacher’s assistant married to a police officer and the mother of a young boy; and teacher Carol McCrae-Hokenson and her husband, Jim, a financial advisor, parents of two.

“We felt there was no other choice but to do whatever was necessary to prevent this from happening to our home,” said Ms. McCrae-Hokenson. Added Ms. Carek, “We reached out to everybody we could think of. We stayed with it, stayed with each other, and got a lot of help.”

Vigorous and Well-Organized
Milan Township always regarded itself as a haven for farmers, and more recently for professional families seeking a place in the country. But its location less than an hour north of the main east-west trunk lines of national rail carriers also attracted the attention of General Motors, which was interested in building a new loading facility for its Michigan-built vehicles.

Promising what turned out to be a smattering of new jobs and very modest increases in tax revenues, the developers found a compliant audience in members of Milan Township’s Planning Commission and Township Board, which were intent on approving the $45 million project.

What GM and the railroad did not anticipate was a vigorous, well-organized, and effective citizen movement opposing the plan. Their messages: The proposal would put at least 450 acres under black top, generate noisy and polluting traffic from hundreds of trucks and rail cars daily, raise the taxes of existing property owners an average of $1,600 per year, and violate core provisions of the township master plan and zoning ordinance.

By going door to door, publishing fact sheets, hiring attorneys, painting signs, printing posters, working with the Institute’s Grassroots Support Center, and maintaining an excellent Web site, the group turned the proposed transfer facility into the hottest issue in Monroe County. Residents routinely packed township board meetings to oppose the project. “You do whatever needs to be done after it finally dawns on you that the people you elected to take care of these things, like our township board, are not going to help,” said Ms. Carek.

What’s Next?
Last October, Milan’s township board rezoned the land from agriculture to industrial. The Milan Area Concerned Citizens had anticipated the decision, and filed a petition to hold a referendum to reverse the board’s action.

Although the railroad and GM spent nearly $90,000 to curry favor with voters, the Milan Area Concerned Citizens prevailed with a $1,600 budget and the hard work of getting out and talking with their neighbors. The group now is working to make its victory permanent by backing a slate of reform candidates to succeed the current township board members.

CONTACTS: Carol McCrae-Hokenson, 734-439-8414; Mary Carek, 734-439-0713; Web site: http://users.dundee. net/railyard.

Michigan Land Use Institute

148 E. Front Street, Suite 301
Traverse City, MI 49684-5725
p (231) 941-6584 
e comments@mlui.org