Final thoughts before public hearing on September 9th
For those of you keeping track, this is my fourth letter to the editor since early July, so I want to begin by thanking Wendy Wood, the managing editor of The Sun Times News, for printing my often lengthy letters and providing this invaluable service to the community.
On Monday, September 9, the Dexter City Council is holding a public hearing regarding approval of the preliminary site plan and zoning and sale of city-owned land at 7651 Dan Hoey Road—directly across from the Anchor and Beacon Elementary School complex. The proposed development is a partnership between Avalon Housing and Faith in Action to build 15 supportive housing units, 9 affordable housing units, a community center for those living in those units, and a permanent food pantry. Note that the proposed development is a very specific implementation of affordable housing in which more than 60% of the units are reserved for people on the county’s by-name list of those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The estimated cost of construction is $10 million which equates to more than $400,000 per unit.
In previous statements, I have presented evidence, including crime statistics, that indicates that the proposed development requires the City of Dexter to disproportionately meet Washtenaw County’s supportive housing needs in a way that places children at a disproportionate risk. Although the executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance has disputed the first part of this claim, she has yet to provide evidence to the contrary as I have requested in a recent email exchange. Full text of and supporting documentation for the statements I have made to date can be found at the link provided at the end of this letter.
If there was evidence that community members and elected and appointed officials shared the same understanding of what this development is and how it fits with the City’s Master Plan and the majority just disagreed with me and the more than 100 others who have signed the petition, that would be one thing. Reasonable people can disagree about the proper allocation of limited resources. However, based on the public statements I have seen to date and the direct correspondence I have had with city officials, my concern is that there is no agreed upon characterization of this development that is based on the facts. Officials have made no distinction between affordable and supportive housing—a critical distinction: affordable housing can help those currently in need in Dexter whereas supportive housing will not. Additionally, officials have made no comment on the data provided to them about the criminal and nuisance behaviors associated with existing Avalon Housing developments of this type. Further, much of the information available to the public about this development has been provided by those with a personal interest in the development’s success.
Given the continued confusion about the nature of this development, perhaps some of you have turned to local media coverage or the meeting packets put together by the city manager, Courtney Nicholls, for more information. To the best of my knowledge, key contributors to those sources—Doug Marrin and Courtney Nicholls—have not publicly disclosed, in their written documents or during participation at council meetings, that they are members of the board of directors for Faith in Action, a partner in this development. Although it appears there is no legal requirement for such disclosure to be made because their service on the board is voluntary and without financial gain, ethics in journalism and government certainly suggest that even perceived conflicts of interest should be avoided or disclosed.
As I stated at the planning commission’s public hearing on September 3, although the City’s Master Plan dated March 2016 includes a very general objective about affordable housing, it does not include any definition of affordable housing nor does it mention supportive housing. Further, in the Master Plan Update, currently available for public review and comment, the phrases “affordable housing” and “supportive housing” do not appear even once. Although one of the site plan review recommendations was to consider compliance with the Master Plan, the Master Plan is not an enforceable document that is legally binding. Ultimately, the planning commission approved the preliminary site plan and rezoning.
The upcoming public hearing is on Monday, September 9 at 7p at the Dexter Senior Center (7720 Ann Arbor Street). I encourage any of you who share my concerns to paraphrase or quote directly any of the statements I have made to date. If you are unable to attend this meeting, consider emailing members of city councildirectly. Feel free to include my email (provided below) on any such correspondence.
For those of you looking for more information about this development, including the full text of all statements I have made (e.g., in-person statements I have made to City Council), and links to all supporting documentation, please visit change.org (https://www.change.org/p/dexter-city-council-reconsider-the-need-for-and-location-of-avalon-housing-s-supportive-housing). Even if you have no intent of signing the petition, you might find the information there useful. Additionally, you can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.