The Van Buren Township Planning Commission chairman claimed to know nothing about a plan to construct landfill methane-burning generators on Visteon-owned parcels in residential backyards.
A crowd of neighbors to Visteon Village attended the March 10 public hearing before the VBT Planning Commission to oppose Visteon’s request to rezone 18.3 acres from Agricultural and Estate (residential) to Office Technology zoning.
While those owning residences on Hannan and Tyler roads told of Visteon’s plans to provide sites for five 2,500 kilowatt, 3,000 hp generators in their back yards, planning commissioners claimed they knew nothing about it.
The residents had drawings of the proposed generator sites and copies of noise studies done for the project, which they shared with the commission.
Jim Militello, who said he was responsible for the real estate department of Visteon, said there are 277 acres on the Visteon site. He said 18.3 acres are Agriculturally zoned and 259 are Office Technology.
He said they would like to have it all zoned OT so it is all the same if “in the future we wish to develop the land.”
The property in question is in the northeast corner of the Visteon site and abuts Visteon Way, described as a county road, on the west. Although the sections of land are separated by residential properties and back up to home sites, two pieces reach all the way to Hannan Road.
He said the area includes a couple of residences Visteon recently sold.
The areas involved in the rezoning are residential areas Visteon acquired two years ago.
“We’re trying to make the land consistent,” Militello said.
At the beginning of the public hearing, Dan Swallow, VBT director of planning and economic development, read a long list of uses that are allowed in OT zoning, including offices, radio and television studios, printing operations, medical offices, laboratories, physical therapy, urgent care, pharmacy sales, schools, technical training, fire stations, recreational buildings, limited warehousing, and other things.
With special approval, uses could include daycares, motels, hotels, assembly halls, etc.
“We are not considering a site plan,” Swallow pointed out, indicating the commission is being asked to consider rezoning only. “When they get a user, then we will look at what they will put there.”
It was indicated a letter was received on the rezoning issue to be a part of the public hearing official record, but no one read the letter or said who it was from.
Sally Hodges of McKenna Associates planning consultants said the rezoning request includes three separate parcels with land in between. One abuts Visteon Village and two abut Visteon Way, which is a county road, she said, noting all three have been combined with the master parcel. The center parcel has 300 feet of footage on Hannan.
Hodges said 10 years ago VBT made a master plan amendment for the Grace Lake area. She said the OT zoning also prohibits outdoor storage.
First speaker at the public hearing was Robert Clark of 8200 Hannan Road who said he didn’t hear Swallow say in his list of approved uses that burning waste methane gas from Waste Management was an approved use.
He said such an electrical generating plant will be smelly, noisy, and “won’t be good at all.”
Clark, who held up a map of the generator site said it will open the door for other uses of this type. He emphasized that he was against the rezoning.
Swallow said he had heard about this, but it would be a special use.
“At this time we can’t consider a specific use,” Swallow said, repeating the request was only for rezoning.
“We’ve been out there 47 years and we like it nice and quiet. I’m against rezoning,” Clark said.
Hodges said such a special use would have to have a public hearing and meet specific standards, including its impact on residents. She said such a use could be denied.
George Deverich, 39540 Tyler, is a former planning commissioner and he recalled sitting up there where the present commission is sitting.
He said history tells him that once these things are up there, it’s too late to change them.
“It’s my belief [township] staff has already looked at this specific use,” Deverich said. “I can’t believe you don’t know about it.”
He said the plans that all the neighbors know about calls for five, 2500-watt generators on the Visteon property in their back yards.
“I don’t think you should let Visteon think that is going to be approved,” he added.
Deverich said he didn’t get a notice of this meeting because he is not within 300 feet of the property to be rezoned.
He said the paperwork has sound studies and so project plans are quite far along.
Deverich asked if the township staff is telling Visteon this is a suitable use. He suggested the northwest corner of the Visteon property would be more suitable than the area abutting residences.
“The staff needs to do their due diligence,” Deverich said. “I don’t like what I’ve seen happening … I know talks have taken place … It’ll be like Frankling [oversize garage] …
“There should be no consideration of putting this in the only place there’s residents … I don’t think this fits in with Office Technology … This is a heavy use,” Deverich continued.
“I don’t want to have to come back to public hearings [on a special use in Office Technology]. .. It doesn’t fit, he concluded.”
Dave Ruff of 39580 Tyler Road said Visteon speculated and bought more property. He said one resident was old and weak and he sold.
He said he doesn’t want this to end up like L&W Engineering which expanded and there are one or two residential homes in between the plants.
He said he remembers the planning commission saying they would not let what happened to the L&W area on Haggerty, where two or three houses are stranded, happen around Visteon.
“There’s information out there floating around that there’s some plans,” said Commissioner Boynton. “Is there something going on?”
“I have received calls from Ameresco, a company that does this kind of thing,” said Swallow. “They are looking at several sites…”
Ernie Tozer of 9200 Hannan said, “I’m likewise against it … These people on Hannan Road are doormats.” He referred to the siting of the landfill nearby in order to get tipping fees.
Tozer criticized the aerial photo presented by Militello that evening for the public hearing, which is several years old and shows the site as a gravel pit before Visteon Village was even constructed.
“For an organization to come to make a presentation of this magnitude … and have the gravel pit on the site … and spelled Hannan wrong…” Tozer said.
He said Visteon sold residential parcels to a couple of people for their homes and, “If you know something’s going on behind them when you sell them the property and you don’t tell them … you’re exposing yourself to all sorts of hurt…”
“This is stuff that’s out there,” Tozer said of the information circulating.
“You have phone calls and suddenly we want rezoning. What a coincidence,” Tozer said. “You have guilty knowledge right now … once you’ve allow it to go through, the door has been cracked…”
He said the township area east of I-275 is considered a business area, “but, it’s not business to us… We like it there. We pay our taxes. We keep our places up,” Tozer said.
“Once you change the zoning, it’ll be ready for the site plan,” Tozer said. “They don’t need it today and they won’t need it tomorrow,” he said of Visteon.
“If you change zoning. If you allow that to happen. The only argument will be how much they can get away with. Please don’t do it,” Tozer said, and the audience applauded.
Deverich returned to the podium to say that in the OT zoning there is some language that there has to be 10-15 contiguous acres before the property can be developed, to keep the isolation of residential areas from happening.
Commission chairman Carol Thompson said she remembered that discussion about not isolating property owners. She asked Hodges to find the wording in the ordinance on that.
Chuck Finch of 8812 Hannan said he is half way between Ecorse and Tyler roads.
“This fellow’s got this paperwork from somewhere. If some of us stuck together, they wouldn’t be able to do this,” he said.
Hodges said she remembers some of the discussion from the Grace Lake Master Plan and she recalled the neighbors said they wanted OT zoning all the way to Hannan Road which would bring higher values for their land, as long as there was contiguous property required to avoid isolation.
“We have not reviewed the application yet,” Hodges said of the rezoning. “We wanted input from you first… Concerns for future use is helpful … We weren’t aware of the information you have.”
Deverich said it was true the neighbors agreed to the OT plan, but also agreed on the contiguous wording.
“How do we get this far?” Deverich asked. “If there is some reason we can’t rezone … maybe we should tell him.”
Tozer asked if anyone notified the residential properties across Hannan in the City of Romulus.
“I’m one of those people who looks out for other people,” Tozer said. “If I were in Romulus, I would thank Van Buren Township for keeping the Romulus residents informed.”
He said a representative of Ameresco offered him $175,000 for two landlocked acres, that are not worth $20,000.
“He called back and said he would make it worth my while to speak in favor of the rezoning tonight,” Tozer said, adding the man also took them to a place on Rawsonville to show them what a generating plan looked like. Tozer said he wouldn’t want it next door.
Vern Hallworth said he had lived on Hannan for 40 years and complained that he had no notice of this meeting. He asked those in the audience who were against the rezoning to raise their hands, and about 15 raised hands.
Roy Roeser, 7830 Hannan, said he has lived there for 75 years and farms 30 acres at Ecorse and Hannan.
“I am opposed to the rezoning for future plans,” Roeser said and there was more applause from the audience.
John Delaney of Mida Drive said a phone call was made to the building department and Swallow said the person didn’t need to be at the public hearing that evening because nothing important was going to be discussed.
“Don’t pull the wool over our eyes,” Delaney said to the officials.
“Special use is a higher-level review with more public hearings,” Swallow said, adding there can be conditions placed on the approval… It doesn’t open up Pandora’s Box.”
Delaney called out from the audience, “You say, you say,” and Thompson said there would be no calling out.
“It closes the box tighter,” Swallow continued, saying special use designation has higher standards.
Commissioner Boynton said what he keeps hearing is what’s going to go there.
Visteon’s Militello said in his real estate position, he has had many inquiries about using Visteon property.
He said the University of Michigan asked about a cancer care center. Another wanted to know about putting a data center in for computers and broadband. Oakwood hospital talked of a medical center. Someone else talked of a movie theater, a movie studio.
“And, also what you’re talking about tonight,” he said. “Nothing’s been finalized.”
Militello said he’s never had a farmer come to ask to buy the land to put a house on,” indicating it wasn’t valuable as residential property.
“Ameresco has been around. Those are just talks,” Militello continued. “I’ve entertained 12 potential tenants and landed GE. The other 11 went away.
“We are looking at rezoning to develop. No one wants to build a house there,” he said.
“I did speak with a gentleman from Ameresco about a landfill gas to energy plant. To burn landfill gas to produce electrical energy,” Swallow said. “I haven’t looked into it … the odors, noise. If they come up with a site plan, I’ll look into it more.”
“All we have is inquiries,” Boynton said. “Are you against cancer research?” he asked the audience.
Several replied, “Yes, it doesn’t fit the neighborhood.”
“I’m not trying to be contentious,” Boynton said.
“They have 260 acres,” Ruff replied. “I hope the planning commission values these residents. It looks like spot zoning to me.”
Ruff said when Visteon was getting ready to build they offered residents 50% of what their houses were worth.
Now, he said they are trying to force the residents out by rezoning around them.
His wife Pam Ruff also took offense at the “ancient picture” used to show the property that doesn’t even have Visteon Village on it.
She spoke to Swallow, saying at first he didn’t know about the generators, then he knew a little, and now he knows a little more.
“Cut to the end and tell us what’s going on,” Pam Ruff urged Swallow.
“I said I’ve had calls from Ameresco,” Swallow said, defending himself.
“Seems like there’s a hidden agenda,” Pam Ruff said.
“You have my word on this,” said chairman Thompson. “There is no hidden agenda. I’m here to tell you there is no hidden agenda. You all have a lot more information tonight than we do.”
The hour-long public hearing closed and those present were told the earliest the issue would be taken up by the planning commission for a vote would be the March 24 meeting.
Thompson asked people who wished to be notified when the rezoning was coming back to be discussed to leave their names and contact information with the building department and they would be alerted. She gave the meeting a five-minute break at that point so people could put their names on a list to be invited to the next meeting on the topic.
Another 45 minutes was spent at the March 10 meeting for a public hearing on amendments to the accessory structures and uses in zoning ordinance section 4.14.
The maximum size of accessory structures will be increased to 1,280 square feet, doors allowed 2 feet taller, and a definition of accessory structure added.
In researching accessory structures, VBT Treasurer Sharry Budd said she got obsessed with barn doors.
She said she went all over the township and looked at barns and door sizes.
“We’ve got a lot of nice barns in Van Buren Township and a lot of different-sized doors,” Budd said.
Swallow said in the past people have paid $400 to go through the procedure for modification to the ordinance. He said there seems to be a real trend for larger accessory buildings.
The ordinance amendments will come before the commission one more time when it is expected to be recommended to the township board for adoption.
During general discussion at the end of the meeting, Deverich said with the Visteon development and GE going in, “Have we updated standards for noise and vibration?”
He said he read that GE was going to have a test facility for wind generation and there are some studies on these facilities in residential areas. There are some real issues with constant, low-frequency noise. There could be problems with the gas generator, as well.
“I think we should look at updating the ordinance if these kinds of uses are coming,” Deverich said.
“You don’t want to get involved after the facilities are in place,” he said.