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Published: Tuesday, 1/20/2009

Petition submitted to put rezoning of Whitman land issue on ballot

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE A citizens group opposed to the controversial rezoning of property owned by businessman and auto dealer Jon Whitman submitted a referendum petition last week, signed by hundreds of township residents, to get the issue on the ballot.

Bedford Watch gathered just over 2,400 signatures, more than 700 needed, to force a township-wide vote on zoning changes enacted by the township board on Dec. 2.

The nonprofit group submitted the referendum petition to the township clerk s office one day before the Jan. 14 deadline, or 30 days after the zoning ordinance changes were published in a local newspaper.

Judy Frankowski, a member of the group, said volunteers canvassed neighborhoods in search of registered voters and set up tables at local supermarkets.

We wanted to collect more signatures than we needed. We wanted an insurance policy and buffer in case signatures were disqualified, she said.

The group needed signatures from about 1,700 registered voters, or 15 percent of the total ballots cast in the 2006 election.

Mrs. Frankowski said the township board disregarded the concerns of residents who opposed the changes because of the impact that development would have on traffic and infrastructure in the area.

This needs to go to a vote of the people to reverse the decision and send a message to the board that they need to listen to their constituents, she said.

Five of six rezoning requests covering 34 acres owned by the auto dealer were approved by the seven-member Bedford Township Board.

The zoning modifications included two parcels north and south of the dealership from C-2 commercial to C-3 commercial, the township s most liberal designation for commercial land.

About nine acres adjacent to the Indian Acres subdivision was changed from single family residential to residential for people 55 and older and multifamily housing.

A four-acre parcel next to the neighborhood on Sterns was changed to allow a mixed use of professional and business office development.

The township board rejected a request from Mr. Whitman to rezone about eight acres west of the Whitman Ford dealership from single family residential to C-2 commercial.

Township Clerk Bob Schockman said the petitions, if found to be valid, would lead to the issue going before voters on May 5, when Bedford Public Schools will decide a 0.5-mill sinking-fund levy.

Mrs. Frankowski said that 90 to 95 percent of people approached by canvassers were receptive to signing the petition, and some even thanked Bedford Watch members for undertaking what they believe was a worthy cause.

A majority of the people were more than willing to sign. It was a very good feeling, she said.

In submitted the zoning change requests, representatives for Mr. Whitman said the modifications would make the land attractive to marketing and was not intended for a specific development.

Mr. Whitman, whose family owns about 57 acres at the northwest corner of the Sterns-Lewis intersection, lost a civil lawsuit two years against the township over zoning of property that was being eyed for a Wal-Mart store.

Mr. Whitman s attorney, Tom Hansen of the Ann Arbor-based law firm Dykema Gossett, said his clients would wait for the outcome of the referendum issue and study the available options.

The referendum [petition presented by the group] shows that the issue is not about keeping Wal-Mart or any particular store of Bedford Township. Instead it is about protecting the backyards of a certain number of people, he said.

Kevin Tracy, vice president of Bedford Watch, said last week his group is concerned about proper zoning and land use in the township.

It s about a zoning issue, because if they get that rezoned, it s going to be a Wal-Mart. We want a vote on the C-3 because that s the most intense commercial zoning in the township, Mr. Tracy said. If the zoning stands, Whitman can take the township back to court on Parcel 6 and the township will settle out of court and agree to C-3 and Whitman will get the Wal-Mart he wants.

It s not just about backyards. Thousands of people in the township that we talk to know this is about a Wal-Mart, Mr. Tracy said. This is about finally doing what the township board has always been against: letting the residents of Bedford vote on a Wal-Mart.

Mr. Schockman said the staff in his office should be able to finish checking signatures on the petitions in about three weeks.



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