Citizen opposition may stall plan to build new Chelsea police station
A new police station in downtown Chelsea, all but a foregone conclusion just a few months ago, is in limbo.
Plans to issue $2.5 million in bonds and to hire an architect were under way well into late March, but a groundswell of citizen opposition has stopped the proposal from moving forward.
Citing concerns about the traffic, cost and timing of the project, the citizens made a last-ditch effort to oppose the station through word-of-mouth and door-knocking campaigns. Last month their efforts led to a surprising 4-3 vote by planning commissioners to deny the city’s zoning request to build at the corner of Main and Summit streets.
City Council can overlook the commission’s recommendation and approve the project anyway at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday. But Mayor Jason Lindaur said he’s not sure the matter will be up for a vote.
“We’re in desperate need of a new police station, that fact is undeniable, but we’re listening and working with the residents to try and address their concerns,” he said.
Six residents spoke out against the project at the previous council meeting.
“It might be the right thing, but it’s not the right time,” said Robert Daniel, who lives within a block of the proposed location.
He admitted opposition started because he and other neighbors didn’t want a police station “in their back yard.” But it spread to other parts of the city when the scope and price tag of the proposal became known.
Many wondered if an 11,000-square-foot facility with holding cells and City Council chambers was needed, and worried about future operational costs not covered in the bond. They also argued several existing properties, such as the Palmer Ford building on Main Street, vacated due to the recession could make a suitable home.
About 650 residents signed a petition requesting the bond issue appear on the November ballot, but it was denied on a technicality. Daniel said that the citizens have consulted with a lawyer who intends to draft a letter contesting the city’s decision.
“There’s genuine voter frustration because we’re in a recession, we’re a middle-class town, and we’re wondering why our taxes aren’t going down when all the property values are,” Daniel said.
City officials declined to discuss the petition since it is now a legal matter.
City Manager John Hanifan said the bonds would not immediately raise residents' tax rates but they would be paid off with general fund dollars. He plans to give a presentation Tuesday night about the need for a new station that will include a timeline of the many times it has been discussed and delayed since 1993.
Police Chief Ed Toth said he understands the need for further discussion now that vocal opposition has surfaced. However, he’s not hiding frustration over the lack of progress on a station, something that’s been discussed by city officials for nearly 20 years.
“My goal is to have a highly-regarded, professional police agency and it’s hard to do our job in this spot,” he said, noting problems with black mold and rodents in the current facility at 104 E. Middle St. “It’s not a functional facility.”
Council Member Rod Anderson, who voted against the project, said he was glad to see citizens energized by the issue.
“When this was approved there were no citizens speaking out about it,” he said. “I think the planning commission listened to the people and said we don’t want to do this right now.”
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at email@example.com or 734-623-2530.