City officials decided earlier this week to decline joining the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program.
Participating communities must apply to be considered, cooperate during an application review process, and then pass a resolution affirming a desire to cooperate in meeting various criteria to be deemed “redevelopment ready” and included in the program. Program participants receive priority consideration for receiving financial assistance from the MEDC on redevelopment projects.
Unfortunately for state officials who were interested in working with Dexter, their requirement that the city abolish its two-step zoning process was a deal-breaker for the city council.
A two-step zoning process involves a planning commission reviewing a site plan and then sending an approval recommendation to the governing body that appoints its members, which in this case is the Dexter City Council.
MEDC officials call for empowering the planning commission to have the final say on site plan approval or allowing administrative approval of site plans based on planning commission review results. Such ordinance changes would be the strings attached to any state money granted to the city through the MEDC’s oversight.
“It was staff’s understanding that ‘promptly acting on development requests’ was an evaluation criterion, while streamlining the site plan approval process and eliminating council approval was simply a recommended action,” said Community Development Manager Michelle Aniol, who joined councilmembers in thinking the removal of the two-step approval process is an overreach by a state agency.
Aniol also pointed out that the Best Practices Guide outlining the program criteria had been amended between the January 2014 program enrollment commencement and the present time.
City officials met with MEDC representatives on March 12 to have a final discussion to explore how committed they were to making “streamlining” of the site plan review process a requirement.
“During our meeting we were told the only way to satisfy the evaluation criteria of promptly acting on development requests, would be to amend the zoning ordinance to streamline site plan approval process and eliminate council approval of site plans for permitted uses,” Aniol said. “Staff is disappointed that MEDC has drawn a line in the sand because, according to the published Best Practices Guide, communities may choose alternate approaches to accomplish Best Practice requirements.”
Aniol concluded that the MEDC was “doing exactly what it doesn’t want communities to do to developers – provide inconsistent information and change the rules midway through the game.”
Mayor Shawn Keough concluded that the MEDC was “inflexible” during final talks with city officials.
“It’s pretty clear they’re not going to budge on that,” he said.
City Councilman Jim Carson agreed, although he praised the rest of the program.
“The important thing is why we’re declining it … on the surface this should be a good program,” Carson said. “I’ll recite what our Planning Commission Chairman said, ‘I don’t know of any community that would accept (this requirement).”
Most city officials participating in the discussion during the regular meeting agreed that perhaps a “one size fits all” approach that is being imposed on communities like Dexter, as well as other wildly different communities that have already signed up for the program such as Grand Rapids, Eastpoint, Allegan and Roseville probably isn’t the best fit in this case.
Read about the program criteria for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s Redevelopment Ready Communities program below.
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