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Posted on Sun, May 23, 2010 : 5:59 a.m.

Pittsfield Township taking more favorable approach toward business, economic development

By Nathan Bomey

Pittsfield Township’s tactical shift toward a more business friendly environment is beginning to draw attention among developers and surrounding municipalities.

The shift - still gradual but increasingly noticeable - manifested itself in April, when Pittsfield openly celebrated the fact that big-box store retailer Costco was likely to build a store in the township.

The township, by all accounts, is welcoming Costco with open arms - a striking turnabout from recent years when businesses reported being hassled by the township. So for local observers, the shift is close to remarkable.

But Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal, who was elected to a four-year term in November 2008, sees it as necessary.

Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal.JPG

Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal, pictured in her office at the township hall administration building on Michigan Avenue, is nudging the township toward a more pro-business environment.

Angela J. Cesere |

“What we had been lacking prior to my administration coming on board was really the leadership,” she said. “We never really had leadership that was passionate about the community and went out there and made the case for Pittsfield Township. I see it as incumbent on me to get out there and outline the benefits to businesses of locating in our community.”

The implications of Pittsfield’s shift are hard to quantify. But local municipal leaders said that, although the competition for business might get stiffer, momentum for Pittsfield means momentum for the region. Pittsfield boasts the second largest tax base of any municipality in the county.

“My philosophy is that competition is good, it makes everybody stronger and a rising tide lifts all boats,” said Saline Mayor Gretchen Driskell, whose city borders Pittsfield. “If we’re bringing in new business from outside the county, this is new business and wherever it ends up going, it’s going to benefit the whole county.”

Grewal said she doesn’t apologize for unabashedly promoting Pittsfield. A large portion of the township boasts the still desirable Ann Arbor mailing address, companies get access to the same talent pool as competitors elsewhere in the county, and proximity to the University of Michigan doesn’t hurt.

Still, she’s not going to complain when a business selects another local municipality instead of Pittsfield.

“When one community attracts business, the likelihood of positive ripple effects permeating the surrounding jurisdictions are very high,” she said. “So it’s a win-win situation when new jobs come to Washtenaw County as a whole.”

In broader economic development terms, that may be true. But the controversial undercurrent that’s impossible to escape is the implications for the tax bases of local municipalities.

For example, conventional wisdom is that if Ann Arbor eventually adopts a city income tax, businesses located within the city limits will flock to the surrounding townships. Pittsfield, which is not considering an income tax, is often cited as the main beneficiary.

Costco Airport Boulevard Pittsfield Township.JPG

Airport Boulevard will be at the western edge of the new Costco, according to plans in the works to build the new warehouse store in Pittsfield Township. The location is along Ellsworth Road west of Tyner's Furniture. Some offices on the property now would be demolished.

Melanie Maxwell |

Perhaps just as important to businesses, however, is how they’re treated by municipal bureaucracies. In that category it’s hard to gauge whether Pittsfield has made substantive improvements.

But Grewal said she wants businesses to feel welcome, and that starts with encouraging expansions by approving tax abatements. Grewal’s board has approved six tax abatements since taking office after the 2008 election. That’s 30 percent of the active tax abatements in the township.

“Most of them are existing businesses in the township that are expanding,” she said.

The city of Ann Arbor, by contrast, has approved one tax abatement over the last 18 months, said Tom Crawford, Ann Arbor’s finance director, in an e-mail.

Pittsfield’s non-homestead millage rate - the base tax rate for companies - is 47.66 mills within the Ann Arbor school district and 51.64 mills within the Saline school district.

The comparable rate for the city of Ann Arbor is 59.29 mills, and for the city of Saline it’s 62.02 mills. Scio Township’s rate within the Ann Arbor school district is 43.96 mills, Ann Arbor Township’s rate is 47.93 mills and Ypsilanti Township’s rate is 56.92 mills within the Ypsilanti school district.

One company that selected Pittsfield was information technology services startup Systems In Motion, a California-based firm that plans to hire 1,100 workers over the next several years. Pittsfield awarded a tax abatement to Systems In Motion to support additional tax credits distributed by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

“The best way to reduce the tax burden on residents is to ensure that you have a vibrant and diverse commercial tax base,” Grewal said.

That commercial tax base may soon include Costco, which is eyeing a location northwest of the State and Ellsworth intersection, behind Tyner's Furniture but east of Airport Boulevard. Costco has not yet submitted plans to the township and would require rezoning approval, but the township has indicated that it views the project favorably.

That stands in contrast to the approach Scio Township took when Costco was considering building a store there about five years ago. Neighbors got upset, the township didn’t cooperate and Costco eventually axed its plan when the real estate market started to implode.

Darrell Fecho, township manager for Scio, said it was a “different world” economically. He declined to speculate on why Costco has now set its sights on Pittsfield instead of Scio.

Pittsfield Township

  • Population: 37,258
  • School districts: Ann Arbor, Saline and Milan
  • Leadership: Supervisor Mandy Grewal led a political team that swept into office after the 2008 election.
  • Tax strategy: Board has approved 30 percent of township’s active tax abatements within the last 18 months.
  • Big win: Californian startup Systems In Motion announced last fall that it had selected Pittsfield for a software services operation with plans to add 1,100 jobs.
  • Big win No. 2: Retailer Costco is forming plans to build a store in Pittsfield.

“All I can say is they were in the process, and they voluntarily left the process,” he said. “It’s difficult for us to say is that good or is that bad? A number of people probably thought it was good. Those people who had Costco cards probably thought it was bad.”

Big box irony

Pittsfield is welcoming Costco for now, but some observers privately express skepticism that the township’s attitude toward business is meaningfully different. They point to the fact that Pittsfield’s current board, including Grewal, was effectively voted into office on a platform critical of the township’s handling of the Walmart that opened last fall on Michigan Avenue.

It’s still a sensitive issue. Several people contacted for this story declined to discuss the paradoxical nature of Pittsfield embracing one big box store shortly after spurning another.

But Trish Kalmbach, a developer who ran Pittsfield Township business park Avis Farms from 1995 to 2007, said she’s not surprised the township is altering its approach. She said the township needs to find ways to survive Michigan’s distressed economy.

“What has changed in my mind? It’s the tax base,” she said. “If you turn around and look at what’s changed, property values for residential have fallen. (With commercial real estate), you can’t rent, you can’t build, you can’t sell anything.”

And Grewal acknowledges that Pittsfield is still exposed to general troubles challenging the Ann Arbor economy, which lost 13,575 jobs from 2006 through 2009, according to an economic forecast conducted by U-M.

The economy may be nudging Pittsfield toward a more pro-business atmosphere, but Grewal said it’s not a “direct cause-and-effect.”

Grewal believes the Costco store is the first positive outcome of a year-long master plan reconfiguration that’s been underway in Pittsfield for about six months.

A central tenet of that plan is encouraging infill development, she said. But she said it would reflect balanced priorities, including encouraging a vibrant tax base, green space preservation and recreational space.

“We want to have a very cohesive vision and policies that complement that vision,” she said. “I don’t think it’s exclusively going to be all pro-growth and pro-development.”

Larry Osterling, executive director of the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, which counts Pittsfield businesses as about 30 percent of its membership, said he hopes that the township will improve the environment for all businesses.

walmart opening.jpg

Shoppers swamp the Walmart in Pittsfield Township on the day it opened October 2009.

Angela Cesare |

“It’s nice that the new leadership of Pittsfield Township has recognized the viability of what many of our businesses bring, not only for large business but for the small one-two person operation that is really the backbone of what successful communities are going to be about in the future,” he said. “We’ve got to do more to encourage employers on the small scale and the large scale to bring new businesses in and drag Michigan out of economic” struggles.

Pittsfield’s office advantage

Notably, though, the township may not need significant new development opportunities to grow its business base.

Michael Finney, CEO of economic development organization Ann Arbor SPARK, which promotes activity throughout Washtenaw County, said Pittsfield is benefiting from a long list of existing office spaces available for quick occupancy.

“What we’re seeing with the inquiries we’re getting are companies looking for existing spaces. Companies are looking to be as cost effective as they can, so why build something if you can find something that’s 50,000 square feet that meets your requirements as opposed to building?” Finney said. “That really is the point, and we hear it over and over again.”

That economic reality benefits Pittsfield, which has extensive available space in Avis Farms and elsewhere. At the end of 2009, the southern part of the Ann Arbor region, which includes the office-intensive South State Street corridor in Pittsfield, had 1.21 million square feet in office vacancy, according to an annual report by Ann Arbor-based real estate firm Swisher Commercial.

Still, Finney said SPARK isn’t noticing any particular municipality with a noticeable edge over others. The city of Ann Arbor, Pittsfield’s biggest competitor, is still doing fine, he said.

“We haven’t had companies coming to us saying, ‘I only want to consider one community,’” he said. “They get the message that the Ann Arbor region is Washtenaw County.”

Collaborative movement

Roger Fraser, Ann Arbor’s city manager, said Pittsfield, for one, is pursuing collaborative opportunities.

“I’m not in a position to really evaluate whether or not Pittsfield is pro-business or not,” he said. “I will tell you that since they had a change in the board with the last election, that Pittsfield has truly changed their approach to a lot of things including our working relationship. It seems to me that their perspective is broader and they’re willing to explore more things.”’

Pittsfield, for example, collaborated with Saline to apply for Google’s high-speed fiber optic investment after first seeking to file a joint application with Ann Arbor.

Driskell said regional planning initiatives are critical to sparking growth. She said the city of Saline and Pittsfield are good partners.

“We’ve maintained a good relationship with the leadership in the township in the past, and we continue to do that and we look forward to working with them in the future,” she said. “Pittsfield can’t plan in a vacuum, and neither can the city. We abut each other and things we do impact each other.”

Grewal said she’s actively sought to cooperate more with local municipalities.

“It’s just something I do on a regular and continual basis,” she said. “Within a very regional context, I am a strong believer that if something serves to benefit one, it is most likely going to have positive ripple effects for many.”

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Change Michigan

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 4:26 p.m.

I think it is hysterical how they tried to make it sound like Saline and Pittsfield were ANTI- Wal Mart when in point of fact many are tired of paying high prices at local owned shops who charge such expensive rates for simple items. Also we see many "protesters" in the Wal-Mart and we could snap a photo or two for proof. Can you say "hypocrite" then? Yes. The "superior elite" in Saline and Pittsfield think small town grocery chains are better when they gouge us with prices so high they rival conenience store prices? Some cannot AFFORD to shop at the local gorcery stores as the bills are so high. But that is exactly what some elite's want. keep others out. Wal-Mart leveled the price field enough for everyone to afford to buy items unaffordable at many "local shops". I am all for buying at local stores IF their prices are affordable. Do an item comparison..they are twice as expensive on almost every item..I have done one. The elite love their local "elite" shops (whom they like to support on grounds of keeping things local when in fact it is not about that at all for SOME)so they can keep everyone out who in their classist opinions do not deserve to shop in thier town when they themselves are all hypocritical implants speaking of "their town". Saline is for everyone not just these simple minded classists who believe diversity means in the car you buy. A conservative means more than politics it also means in YOUR ATTUTUDE and CLASSISM is alive and thriving in Saline and Pittsfield township. Here are some questions many of us have for the supervisor: Does the supervisor shop at Wal-Mart? Will she shop at Costco? Love to hear those answers as that will allow us some insight into whether or not Costco verus Wal-Mart is a issue we need to be aware of as per classism. So what is a classist besides a snob? Snobs are nothing more than classist social climbers who refuse to own their attitude even when they profess to be "diverse' in other areas. A classist denies it by speaking to issues such as unions and working conditions when they themselves would NEVER work there. They hide their classism under "helping others". Yeah right..everyone sees right through the snobbery and elitism with their hidden agendas to keep undesirable people out who in their estimation are not the "Saline type". EVERYONE knows this game.

Change Michigan

Fri, Oct 29, 2010 : 4:13 p.m.

I find it interesting that people who opposed Walmart welcome Costco. I have heard many say they will not shop at Sam's club or Wal-Mart but will shop at Costco and am at a loss as to what the difference is. Whether Costco or Wal-mart it is funny how this supervisor embraces one and not the other as if people are not going to notice. We do. It IS the height of hypocrisy and I think she loves attention in any form as long as it is focused on her and how wonderful she is. So..flip flop is right Basic Bob as that is EXACTLY what she did as well as the others who were so ANTI Wal Mart. Hmmm we must think about the perceptions of class here and how it pertains to this situation..keep out Wal-Mart but welcome Costco? What does this mean as per snobbery and what really went on in the Wal-Mart struggle. Many who profess to be anti-Wal-Mart may in fact be against poor people or people of lower classes in THEIR opinions messing up Saline.

John Q

Wed, May 26, 2010 : 2:09 p.m.

IF I'm right? All of the millage rates are online. Go do the math and then come back here and tell everyone if I'm right or wrong. You were the one that claimed that Costco would generate enough tax revenue to make up for the budget shortfall you claimed was affecting Scio. Now that the numbers have shown that you are wrong, you are unwilling to admit you made a mistake.

John Alan

Wed, May 26, 2010 : 5:51 a.m.

Dear John Q, Millage of 46 and taxable of $6.0M results in $276K/year. According to you the township gets only $8K out of $276K.... IF you are right and the balance of $276/year goes to county (or someone's pocket)then I guess why bother.... lets keep them out of the township and drive the existing one out of the township too and let the county takecare of itself (since there is nothing in it for the township).

John Q

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 9:04 p.m.

John Allen, A store with a real and personal property taxable value of $6 million generates $6,000 per mill in tax revenue. Scio Township levies 1.4460 mills for Township services. That store would have generated $8,796 per year for the Township. How much would have the store cost the Township in additional services? I bet more than $8,796 per year. I don't know where you got the idea that Costco was a cash cow for the Township but the numbers tell the real story.

John Alan

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 2:01 p.m.

Dear John Q, Just look at Brighton Costco (Green Oak Township). SEV and Taxable of $5M+ and the Personal Property of $1M+ (from the Livingston County Website). Do the Math based on the Scio Milage and see (atlteat 10-15% of the shortfall would have been covered -- i.e., that much less burdon on the residents).... Also, please note that Costco would have brought bunch of other site-pad improvments in itssurounding that would add to the above.... Now if one says that is nothing.... I guess adding $200-$500/year on the residents property tax is nothing too so why worry about it. The interesting thing is that I just notied that for whatever reason, Meijer and Lows are not paying much in Scio!!!! I guess something to ask the township!!!! (i.e., relative to the meijer and lows in Pittsfield township which are paying Big$$$)!!

John Q

Tue, May 25, 2010 : 7:59 a.m.

John Alan, Please share with all of us how much in additional tax dollars Costco would have brought to Scio and how that would have addressed the budget shortfall you have identified.

John Alan

Mon, May 24, 2010 : 4:28 p.m.

Dear TF, If you are a Scio residents, you will get to enjoy added millage to your property tax for paying for fire department and police and the beutiful office full of un-friendly customer service.... ALL because of being short in the budget. Remember, they did it last year.... and guess what.... more is coming... Sure don't let the Costco in and drive the rest out and let the residents enjoy the increas in the prperty tax... But the good thing is they will get to the highway quick!!!


Mon, May 24, 2010 : 12:49 p.m.

@sellers. I'm glad to see someone is aware of the developing 'Cantonization' of the area as not necessarily a good thing. When a previously 5 minute drive to the freeway from your house becomes a permanent 20 minute drive, it'll be too late to reverse course. I for one applaud Scio for rejecting Costco and the traffic headaches that those places bring.


Mon, May 24, 2010 : 8:48 a.m.

Pittsfield, please be careful not to turn US12 into a horrible mess. talk to Canton Twp, Sterling Heights, and Rochester Hills to see what a mess a state trunkline can be if growth is not managed well. I applaud keeping shopping centered around a given area (ala a downtown) but be sure to work with the state to side the road structure for the state trunkline that US12 is. Simply adding lanes and traffic signals to US12 will not solve the problem, it will just take a commute from Saline to US23 from 3-6 minutes, to 12=15 minutes. Again, ask Canton what Ford Road is like any day of the week.

Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball

Mon, May 24, 2010 : 8:05 a.m.

Businesses rejected! For those of you who think businesses were somehow not severely restricted by the previous administration in Pittsfield - you just don't follow the Builder/Real Estate scene. And I doubt your going to get a list of names and faces of those were where sent packing. Those businesses don't submit plans etc. - just just walk away - in search of other spots - most don't have time or money to put up a big protest about various 30 year old restrictions and zoning rules that place a massive hurdle in front of Job makers. WalMart opened with little problem because the land was apparently zoned for that use - and changing the zoning or trying some other restriction would have sent Pittsfield back into the dark ages of development, not to mention a possible lawsuit from Walmart (would you want that). In Scio, the site was NOT zoned for Costco type use so a Multi-YEAR process began - and likely cost Costco hundreds of thousands of dollars (my guess) to build a new store - they lost at the end, and over 500pages of agreements, site plans, and blueprints was basically tossed in the trash. Business INVEST their own money to open new locations - few will take years to try' to open a new location.


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 8:04 p.m.

Basic Bob....""the paradoxical nature of Pittsfield embracing one big box store shortly after spurning another""....just a thought... the majority of the people in Pittsfield didn't spurn Walmart. In fact it was just a small group of people that were against Walmart...I guess just a way to get their names in the news. Want through Centennial Park subdivision...were some of that small group was living....notice all the "Walmart" landscaping bags on trash day. I drove through last week and was amazed at all the Walmart trash bags. Clearly this subdivision shops at Walmart.

John Alan

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 6:37 p.m.

I guess everyone needs to refresh their memory regarding Costco in Scio Township. Everybody wanted them outside Zeeb and the residents and the township keep pointing to Jackson Rd for the big box store. Guess what it did not happen!!! BIG BIG Loss for Scio.... but they asked for it and they got it. If anyone has had any experience with Scio (from unfair taxation to getting a development going to the customer service attitude toward the tax paying residents/non-residents) will agree that it is the worst place to invest in real estate in the whole region. Anyone that can get out of their commerical properties in Scio, they will be glad to dump it and take whatever left and invest elsewhere and move on. Pittsfield appears to have made significant improvement since Mandy has taken this postion. I guess time will show if she will be walking the talk or it is just make believe!!! Hope Costco make it in there since that will be the last hope for that corner becoming alive....

DB Holden

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 6:29 p.m.

Mandy and her team have done a great job of turning around the image of the Township government. They have found a good balance of promoting economic growth, preserving open space, and creating a sense of community. Mandy has earned my trust and respect as we all strive to create a community that is desireable for our families.


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 5:29 p.m.

Mr. Bomey, I find it rather curious that you weren't able to find a single business which claimed that Pittsfield previously had an unfavorable attitude towards it. Who exactly stated that businesses were being "hassled"? Cite your source, please, and verify its accuracy.


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 4:04 p.m.

Pittsfield Township seems to have a negative attitude toward independent retail business. The local laws regarding berms, retail sign height and width, banners, etc, are seemingly designed to limit visibility and hide businesses from the facade. Naturally, they love their commercial tax base, though.

Nathan Bomey

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 11:49 a.m.

John Q, thanks for the comment and thanks for reading. In the interest of transparency, I thought you might be interested in how this story came about. It started because politicians from local municipalities that compete with Pittsfield for business told me that Pittsfield is getting more competitive. This story originated from their observations, not from Mandy Grewal. Lastly, take note of the following portion of the story, which reflects your skepticism: "Pittsfield is welcoming Costco for now, but some observers privately express skepticism that the townships attitude toward business is meaningfully different. They point to the fact that Pittsfields current board, including Grewal, was effectively voted into office on a platform critical of the townships handling of the Walmart that opened last fall on Michigan Avenue."


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 10:45 a.m.

Who are the unnamed businesses that were "hassled" by the previous administration? The only business turned away was a developer who proposed a huge project that was contrary to the township master plan. That developer is now in a lawsuit with the current township administration. Let's see how the current crew has made the township more friendly to businesses. It raised the tax rate for the first time in over a decade.

Basic Bob

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 10:43 a.m.

@SalineDoe, the Walters board was run out of office by a small group of residents who falsely charged them with "allowing" Walmart to build down the street from Harvest Elementary. This is a fact. Yes, I voted against the recall because it was based on lies. The fact that Mr. Walters and Ms. Lirones were able to get financial support from developers suggests that the developers had a working relationship with them, and did not trust Ms. Grewal. When Ms. Grewal works in the interest of ALL Pittsfield residents, instead of just her "Upper Saline" neighbors, I will be happy to acknowledge it. So far, she has given me no reason to trust her and her cohort of female political activists.

John Q

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

This story makes for bizarre reading. The author creates the premise that the previous Township Board was anti-business and anti-development. But if that was the case, how is it that, as the author states, that "Pittsfield boasts the second largest tax base of any municipality in the county"? The author uses the Costco example of how one community, Scio, was anti-development, where Pittsfield is not. He states: "That stands in contrast to the approach Scio Township took when Costco was considering building a store there about five years ago. Neighbors got upset, the township didnt cooperate and Costco eventually axed its plan when the real estate market started to implode." Now take that same example, replace it with Wal-Mart, and you would be describing what happened in Pittsfield. Except in that case, the board approved the Wal-Mart development because the site had been zoned for decades for commercial development. But the Board that approved the Wal-Mart development was anti-business and anti-development? Like I said, bizarre. I give Grewal credit for her ongoing efforts to spin the media to generate positive puff pieces like this. She's managed to find reporters who readily buy into her effort to frame the previous board in a negative light and allow her to cast herself as a positive change. But if anyone actually digs into the respective records of the current board compared to the previous board, it would likely tell another story. The previous board accomplished a lot during their time, even in the area of development and new business. By comparison, Grewal's record is lacking.


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 9:02 a.m.

Excellent article,good job Mandy!

Basic Bob

Sun, May 23, 2010 : 8:58 a.m.

"the paradoxical nature of Pittsfield embracing one big box store shortly after spurning another" Can't we just say they changed their minds, lied, or flip-flopped? Or that they play favorites? We have the same thing going on with airport expansion. At least the former administration had integrity, this "leadership" is talking out both sides.


Sun, May 23, 2010 : 6:06 a.m.

"The best way to reduce the tax burden on residents is to ensure that you have a vibrant and diverse commercial tax base." somebody gets it!