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Posted on Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Salem Township voters to decide on rezoning land for commercial use in November election

By Janet Miller

When Salem Township voters go to the polls Nov. 6, they will be asked to decide on an issue normally left in the hands of their elected officials: Whether to rezone almost 92 acres of land north of M-14, a decision that could pave the way for the rural township’s first significant commercial development.


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While the Salem Township Board of Trustees in a 4-3 vote last spring approved rezoning the parcel of land north of M-14 between Gotfredson and Napier roads from agriculture residential to general commercial, neighbors of the project objected and eventually collected enough signatures to force a ballot referendum.

But the issue grew even more complicated when developers of the project, Livonia-based Schostak Brothers & Company, went to court to have the ballot proposal removed. While Washtenaw Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the developer’s request, it was taken to the state Supreme Court, said Bob Heyl, township supervisor.

Regardless of a court decision, the question will appear on the ballot, Heyl said. The deadline has passed to change the ballot. And if voters reject the rezoning needed for the development to move forward, that likely won’t be the end of it, Heyl said. He expects Salem Springs to take the township to court if voters reject the rezoning. He said that’s why he voted back in May to approve the rezoning. “I look at what’s defendable in court,” he said.

The controversy really started decades ago, said Ralph L Robinson, a member of the grassroots group, Concerned Citizens of Salem, that placed the referendum on the ballot, when Salem Township created an Urban Service District. They identified a square mile off of the M-14 exit between Gotfredson and Napier roads for future urban and commercial expansion. “It’s one of the few exits between Ann Arbor and Plymouth and our city fathers thought that if there is development, it should be there,” Robinson said.

But when he purchased his house surrounded by 150 acres of woods, he said he had no idea it was in the middle of the USD. That didn’t come to light until Johnson Controls was looking to build its world headquarters on land south of M-14. That never happened and soon the economy collapsed..

In the meantime, Salem Township created a five-year master plan and eventually decided the land adjacent to Robinson and his neighbors’ houses would be zoned office park. Robinson, whose four acres of land share 1,000 feet with the developer’s property line, said he eventually came to accept he would have an office development as a neighbor.

But when Salem Springs, the limited liability corporation for the Schostak development, proposed to build a commercial project, Robinson said neighbors objected. “The houses sit 50 feet from the property line. They could put up an eight-foot cement wall and have 50-foot poles shining down an umbrella of light in our yards. We would be trading in deer and coyote for a parking lot,” Robinson said.

The Salem Township Planning Commission rejected the Salem Springs rezoning request, but the Board of Trustees approved it last May. That decision was voided with the ballot referendum asking voters to rezone the land, Heyl said.

Salem Township has been in court and arbitration in the past over other development in the area. Schostak Brothers have two other projects slated for Salem Township, close to the 92 acres at the center of the rezoning controversy: A commercial development along Gotfredson Road and a multi-family residential project along Napier Road.

Heyl and the board that approved the rezoning won’t have to worry about what happens with the November vote. Six of the seven city officials lost in the August primary election.

Read more on the Schostak Brothers plans for Salem Township here.



Wed, Oct 31, 2012 : 5:34 p.m.

How many desperately needed jobs would this development create? I'm not saying that it couldn't be built elsewhere...just asking a question since they already DO own the land.

Chip Reed

Wed, Oct 24, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

@Janet Miller- "The deadline has past to change the ballot". The deadline has not passed to change this error. "Past" is not a form of the verb "to pass". I believe you wanted "passed".


Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 4:52 p.m.

You know the most appealing thing about Salem Township? The country feel. Get rid of that and your just another soulless big-box dumping ground like Novi or Wixom. Yawn.

Superior Twp voter

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

Watching this matter closely. Please do follow-up with poll result(s).

Ron Granger

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

This is a great example of why we have the greenbelt around Ann Arbor. It helps prevent commerical developers from ramming their agendas down people's throats.

Basic Bob

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 3:59 p.m.

No, the greenbelt serves to raise property taxes in the city. It supports property values in the city where land prices are higher and utility service is cheaper. Developers still maintain their rights within the greenbelt.

average joe

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

Here is a landowner who purchased his property perhaps without investigating who owns the surrounding property, and what that owner's plans are for it. Never assume that the realtor or the person selling it will divulge this information, whether they know or not. Based on the story, it isn't like he just moved there. Mr. Robinson enjoyed "decades" of the view & seclusion of 150 acres of wooded property surrounding his 4 acres without a problem. All of a sudden his free enjoyment is threatened. That being said, I would not want this developement to 'go up next door' to me. I would however accept the fact that I don't own 'the view', & the fact that I probably don't have the funds to purchase it. But it's the taxpayers of the entire township that will be footing the bill to try & save this "view".


Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

It is always wise to find out who owns adjacent land when purchasing a house or a piece of property on which you intend to build a house. Real estate agents don't always know this but taking a trip to town hall and talking to the town clerk can be eye-opening. Zoning can be a hodge-podge of agricultural, residential, commercial, and all shades of grey in between, just within a relatively small area. I feel for Mr. Robinson and hope his worst fears don't materialize!

Chip Reed

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

"Passed", not "past".