A Wal-Mart has been approved to go into a zone designated for ‘smart growth’ in Rochester Hills, Michigan. But instead of high tech development, office/research/technology uses and good paying jobs, the residents of Rochester Hills feel that city officials sold them out for the lowest price, when the City Council voted 6-1 to allow a 203,819 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore. The retailer is just part of a larger project on a 21 acres site that became embroiled in controversy and litigation. In a 2005 consent judgment between the city and developer, Grand Sakwa Acquisitions, the city council approved the site plan because it had been found to be in technical compliance by a review committee. The City Council voted to limit Wal-Mart operating hours from 6 am to midnight (the same as recently stipulated in Livonia, Michigan.} The city also added several minor conditions supposedly to quiet down neighborhood opposition. For example, Wal-Mart will have to post signs that the parking lot is not to be used by RVs for overnight parking. The retailer will also not be allowed to water its lawns (limited as they are) during peak water consumption hours. The City Council also required that at six months and 12 months after the store is open, Wal-Mart has to sit down with the Oakland County Sheriff’s office to review the store’s impact on local law enforcement. “The site is technically compliant, Council President Jim Rosen told the Observer & Eccentric newspaper. What we’re looking at is the things that are not included in the consent judgment. The real thing we’re trying to do is improve this, mitigate it.” But the neighbors understand clearly that there is no way you can mitigate a huge store 4 times the size of a football field. “Today is a very sad day for Rochester Hills,” Wal-Mart opponent Kim Bailiff told the newspaper. “The city of Rochester Hills was broken when (council) violated the master plan to allow this to happen.” City residents are also reeling from a second large development near the Wal-Mart site for a strip mall on land residentially zoned. The Planning Commission, City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals all unanimously denied the proposal and rezoning. The developer filed suit, now before the Circuit Court. Several months ago, the Court ordered facilitation in an attempt to reach a compromise. The developer persisted in his demand for commercial rezoning claiming residential development will not generate funds needed for clean-up of contamination on the site. This site has a Brownfield designation due to the presence of contaminants. The City appears to be weakening its former firm position on rezoning, and is bringing the current strip mall development proposal to the residents. The strip mall will abut a residential area, and is inconsistent with the City’s Master Plan. Finally, there is a third project, the Hamlin/Adams Properties, that involves a toxic landfill and a Target. Michigan taxpayers spent nearly $4 million to clean up the property at the northwest corner of Hamlin and Adams roads in Rochester Hills that was once used as a dump. Hamlin/Adams Properties sued Rochester Hills in 2004 after the Planning Commission, City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals all refused to rezone the property from residential to general business. The developers say the property is still contaminated and will cost another $14 million to clean up before it can be developed. They have already received the city’s permission to proceed with cleanup and redevelopment under the state’s brownfields law. Residents say the developers haven’t provided any evidence to back up the $14 million claim. The city’s insurer has written a letter to the council advising them to settle the case, arguing that the developer is like to win the case. A public meeting on a proposed settlement of the zoning lawsuit is scheduled for April 11. The purpose of the meeting is to explain the proposed settlement.
The city of Rochester Hills, Michigan is clearly out of control. Whatever land use planning has been done is now out the window, and homeowners who made their single largest investment in Rochester Hills, assuming that the land next to them was residential, are now being asked to pay the price in lost value as large superstores go up around them. The developers have their lawyers and deep pockets, and the city has been entering consent agreements that short-circuit the city’s own Master Plan. The whole tangled mess has become a field day for lawyers, and a nightmare for homeowners. Building a Wal-Mart superstore in a “smart growth” zone is like calling Dracula a blood donor.