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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Bedford Township voters facing bid to appeal rezoning law

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to strike down the decision last year of Bedford Township officials to rezone land owned by Jon Whitman near Lewis Avenue and Sterns Road.

If approved, the ballot issue would appeal legislation enacted in December by the township board that modified zoning of property adjacent to Whitman Ford, including land that was the subject of a court battle two years ago.

Bedfordwatch.com, a citizens group that began years ago in reaction to plans to develop a Wal-Mart on the site, gathered signatures on petitions to get the referendum on the Tuesday ballot.

The nonprofit group, which includes many residents of the nearby Indian Trails neighborhood - the township's largest subdivision - fears the rezoning could open the door for the construction of a Wal-Mart or other big-box store on Mr. Whitman's property.

Traffic congestion that could be created from a large-scale retail operation and the related stress that it would place on the township's infrastructure are among the concerns of those opposed to the zoning changes.

Doug Bermick, a member of the group, said the impact that a big box store, like a Wal-Mart, would have on the township in terms of traffic, deterioration of roads, crime, and storm water drainage far outweighs the economic and tax benefits.

"Jon Whitman will make millions of dollars on the sale of rezoned land, and we, the township, will be left paying millions of dollars out of our pockets to clean up the mess of what is left behind after the sale," said Mr. Bermick, who lives in Lewiston Estates, near the Whitman property.

Mr. Bermick said figures provided by the township treasurer indicate that a $20 million investment for a big box store would generate only about $27,300 annually in property taxes for township coffers and it would only infuse about $4,000 to pay for law enforcement operations.

He said a store of that magnitude would attract weekly customer visits averaging 75,232 vehicles, traffic that the two-lane township roads in that area would not be able to support.

"There also will be the effects on our local businesses," he said. "Many of our small businesses will be forced to close if a big-box store would come to the township."

The township board approved five of six requests covering 34 acres owned by the Whitman family, including modifications of land 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 Indian Trails subdivision was changed from single family residential to zoning that would allow for the construction of housing for people 55 years and older and multi-family housing.

Four acres next to the neighborhood on Sterns was rezoned to allow for a mixed use of professional and business office development.

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

Mr. Whitman, who is president of the dealership, submitted the zoning changes to make the property attractive for potential developers, township officials said.

Voting yes on the rezoning referendum will mean that the new zoning classification on the five parcels will remain in effect.

The zoning changes approved by township board are supported by some community residents.

Gene Stock, a small-business owner in Temperance, said the Bedfordwatch.com group is exaggerating concerns about the impact retail development would have on crime, traffic, and other issues to mislead residents

He said the group has failed to explore the financial benefits it would have in providing additional jobs and generating money for schools and the community.

Mr. Stock said that a major retailer would gladly pay the infrastructure costs to improve intersections and roads to assure that customers want to shop there.

"People are worried that a big-box store will run other stores out of businesses. But it is just the opposite. There would be more business and more customer traffic for stores on Lewis Avenue," he said. "Why should we send our tax dollars to Ohio?"

Efforts by Mr.Whitman to sell the land he owns for retail development goes back several years. Whitman Ford sued the township in 2004 after township officials denied rezoning property that would have allowed for construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., ruled in favor of the township in February, 2007.



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