When he was running for Governor, Rick Snyder had a ten point plan to reinvent Michigan. Point #5 was “Restoring cities and controlling urban sprawl.” Snyder came to the Michigan Farm Bureau annual dinner recently at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus is wondering if Snyder has done what he said he would in the campaign.
Governor Snyder spoke to farmers about how they can make more money. If they do earn more money they still might not have enough land. Some farmers complain they can’t compete with what real estate developers will pay. Or they say the fields they wanted are already developed. So I asked Governor Snyder what he’s doing to help.
“I don’t see a massive change in sprawl happening all of a sudden because there’s a lot of available lands within the cities. We do want to be thoughtful and we want to encourage people to do brown field redevelopment in our urban areas and we do want to stay focused on that. To support that, one of my views is we talked about infrastructure and the need to spend more on roads and bridges. My view is most of those dollars should go to reconstruction and maintenance and not new construction.”
The Michigan Planning and Zoning Center says about 100 subdivisions were halted because of the real estate and banking crash of 2008. The Center says some of those home projects are being completed.. But no new ones are being approved. Snyder says:
“So if you start saying my goal is to get things back in the core cities, let’s invest more, let’s do more brown field, let’s focus on that, let’s put our dollars and infrastructure in redevelopment and reconstruction to keep that working well you really create an environment to say it’s not about continuing sprawl.”
The opposite of sprawl is a city jammed with people on small lots then bang. All of a sudden. Pure farmland. Take a train from Paris or London and that will hit you. Sprawl’s illegal there. You can’t turn farmland into McDonald’s. Pennsylvania, Maryland and Oregon also practice farmland preservation.
But here in Michigan farmland is a commodity. According to the USDA’s agriculture census published in August, land rose in value 10% to $4,250 an acre. Farmers can’t afford that. But developers can and you the taxpayer help them buy it. Snyder polices have not fueled urban revitalization. He cut the brown field budget by 80%. And he didn’t try to stop a 125 year old farm from becoming a new exit off I-96 near Howell. He said:
“The light switch doesn’t flip over night in terms of changing things. Usually projects like that have been in the works for five years. So again this is to set a long term strategy that addresses it and I think we’re on a path to do that.”
8 years ago Howell residents told state representatives they needed a way to cross over the expressway to reach the car dealerships, grocery and drug stores stretching along Grand River Avenue from Brighton to Howell. Tom Sullivan was Chairman of the Latson Road Interchange Coalition.
“One can only wonder in abject confusion why our public policy would not be designed to encourage job creation and economic stimulation where an existing opportunity could serve as a catalyst for growth throughout the entire region.”
Another Livingston County man at the hearing 8 years ago said money should not be spent to build new communities out of virgin ground. The Latson family had been farming there for 4 generations.
“Within Detroit where you have already a developed area, it needs to be revitalized.”
But this October, machines cut down hundreds of maple trees and ground them into wood chips. Road graders, bulldozers and dump trucks are preparing 300 acres for pavement. The cost is $32 million. This man works at the site for the Michigan Department of Transportation.
“They seem to feel OK with what’s going on. Some people are happy. Some people are concerned because their trees have disappeared and it’s a big change for everyone.”
“I did have a discussion with MDOT. Some of the projects were good and worthy projects. This one however stands out as how we’re using our precious transportation money in an irresponsible way. The graders are out there creating an interchange which is really a sprawl driver and sprawl subsidy.”
Tim Fischer heads the Transform Michigan Coalition. They want more money for rail. Fischer says the Howell exit project is being built for the previous generation of Michiganders.
“It’s hard to walk away from a project and say we squandered a huge amount of resources in the past on some of these studies. However, we should cut our losses and not throw good money after bad. That’s what we’re faced with.”
Point #5 of Snyder’s 10 point plan to reinvent Michigan was “Restoring cities and controlling urban sprawl.”