Chelsea City and Lima Township Discuss Rezoning Process as Development Draws Near

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By Melinda Baird,

With new development brewing in the area just east of Chelsea in Lima Township, the two governing bodies are actively trying to negotiate a clear method for land rezoning that is mutually beneficial.  Chelsea City Council on June 19 discussed a six-step process recently proposed by the Lima Board of Trustees resulting in varying degrees of buy-in from council members.

“It’s good to have a process and this is probably close, but I want to make sure it’s balanced—not tilted toward the township or the city,” City Manager John Hanifan said.

The subject is being raised because property owner David Wolf with developer Steve Brouwer has made known his desire to build 204 single and multi-family residences plus two medical offices on 46 acres of farmland located at the northeast corner of Freer Road and Old US 12.  The land now resides just outside the city in Lima Township, but the township doesn’t have the public infrastructure to support the development.

In fact, the majority of vacant area bordered by Freer, Old US 12, Fletcher and Dexter-Chelsea Roads—now dubbed the Urban Cooperative Area by township officials—is either up for sale or already owned by a developer.

With so much potential for development, the need among municipalities and developers alike for a cohesive process has become apparent.  Township board members took a stab at such a process by proposing to the city the following :  (1) a 425, or conditional land transfer, agreement is drafted, (2) the applicant applies for a Planned Unit Development rezoning through the township, (3) the township planning commission reviews the preliminary site plan, which establishes design and density, with input from the city’s planning commission, (4) the township board approves the preliminary site plan with the condition the final site plan will use city zoning standards, (5) the township board approves the final site plan after collaborating with the city planning commission to ensure the site is developed according to city regulations, (6) the city accepts the land transfer based on execution of the 425 agreement.

City council members agreed the proposal was a helpful starting point but debated how to make it more clear to developers which of the municipalities’ regulations and standards (regarding land use, density, design, and infrastructure location) take precedence.

Council member Jane Pacheco suggested that, since the parcel will ultimately reside within the city, the process be flip-flopped so that the Chelsea planning commission review the site plans with input from Lima Township.

“I’m not sure why we wouldn’t want to be in the driver’s seat if ultimately the land will become part of our city,” she said.

Members Cheri Albertson and Frank Hammer suggested a reversal in roles isn’t necessary because the steps inherently reflect a cooperative effort that allow for city standards to be implemented.

“These steps allow feasible, reasonable ways of developing property and sharing the taxes with an endpoint in sight, maybe 10 years or 50 years—both of which are acceptable numbers,” Hammer said.  “These agreements are not unique, and this is not a way for Lima to hassle Chelsea or Chelsea to hassle Lima. It’s not an us versus them, it’s a cooperative effort.”

Member Melissa Johnson recommended the two bodies clear the first logical hurdle before considering anything else: that is, come to an agreement on land use–whether commercial, residential, and/or mixed use.  Once that is established, the rest will more naturally fall into place, she said.  Further, developers won’t be ping-ponged back and forth between the two bodies because it will be clear the zoning standards to be used are those of the municipality into which the parcel will be incorporated.

Council took no action on the discussion item.

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Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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