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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Growth issues divide residents of Bedford

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

TEMPERANCE - In Bedford Township, the schism that separates one voting bloc from the other seems to have less to do with "Ds" and "Rs" than it does with "C-1s" and "R-2bs."

In Toledo's largest suburb, zoning and growth and how it's managed are on the minds of many local voters.

"I think the issue of growth is what people really see as the future of Bedford Township," said resident William Miller, who led an effort almost four years ago to stop a big box store from being built in the township, but has largely remained silent since.

"It's not [Republicans] and [Democrats]. It's do we want Lewis Avenue to look like Monroe Street?"

For more than three years, this area of 30,000 residents has been divided between those who'd like to see their bedroom community remain residential and those who think new local businesses are required if Bedford Township is to remain an attractive place to live.

The epicenter of the dispute is a vacant field on the northwest corner of Sterns Road and Lewis Avenue. There, in late 2001, the Whitman family, which owns the land, called their neighbors

together to announce that they intended to sell the property to WalMart, which wanted to build a 225,000-square-foot superstore on the site.

About nine months later, the disagreement boiled over again when the township board passed a series of ordinances that put strict limitations on commercial buildings, including limits that made WalMart's plans - which never were presented formally to the township - unworkable, killing the project.

The ordinances caused so much outrage that scores of business owners united to create a new group, the Bedford Industrial and Commercial Association, to politically fight their implementation.

"These things made no sense," said Chuck Faller, who has been president of BICA since its inception. "I mean, Jonny Whitman's cars [at Whitman Ford] were going to be hidden by trees! I'll give you that common sense ultimately prevailed, but it would not have gotten done without BICA and with [BICA] bringing these obvious flaws to the attention of the township board."

Though BICA has a stated goal of advancing its own political agenda and recruiting or supporting candidates who share those views, and has collected money in the past to do so, BICA never registered with the state as a Political Action Committee.

Mr. Faller maintains that it wasn't a requirement because BICA never made any actual donations, and its members are free to contribute to whomever they wish.

"We did say that we would be politically active in the community and, behind closed doors, we are. But we didn't want the headaches of being a PAC," Mr. Faller said. "We brought the issues out that were just killing us - the ordinance things that they did - and it was political in the sense that we had to go before the local politicians and convince them that something had to be reworked."

But BICA's actions were not warmly received in some quarters of township hall, where they were viewed as divisive.

"The division in the community will have to be resolved in the next couple years or it will become so ingrained that a resolution will become almost impossible," said outgoing township Supervisor LaMar Frederick, who is stepping down this year after eight years in office.

Mr. Frederick chided local "commercial and business interests" for trying to "expand their influence" at the expense of local residents who oppose them.

Those interests have manifested themselves in the races for the seven seats on the township board, and most notably in the race between former BICA Treasurer Walt Wilburn and community activist Paul Lynch for the right to succeed Mr. Frederick as township supervisor.

An inspection of major campaign contributors to the two candidates is revealing.

The largest contributions for Mr. Lynch, a paralegal and retired Coast Guard officer, have come from lawyers, labor organizations, Mr. Frederick and his wife, and local Democratic Party stalwarts. He also has received money from his neighbors in the Mohawk Trails subdivision, who joined him four years ago in successfully opposing plans to build a mobile home park next door.

Mr. Wilburn, a local business owner who has been active in local causes for decades, has received about $3,000 in campaign contributions from fellow BICA members. Among them are contributions from the plaintiffs in the only two open zoning lawsuits currently facing the township, Jon Whitman, owner of Whitman Ford, and Germano Mulroni, owner of the Inverness "Too" Mobile Home Park and the man who wanted to build a new mobile home park next to Mohawk Trails.

Mr. Wilburn said he probably shouldn't have taken the contributions. But he added that if those contributors were trying to buy future influence, they are mistaken.

"I'm not for sale, not to anybody," Mr. Wilburn said. "If you expect to contribute to my campaign and get a favor from me, I'm sorry, but that's not going to happen. I've worked very, very hard for a long number of years to get the respect that I have, and I'm not going to do anything to endanger that."

From the vantage point of watching other people fight the fight that he has made, Mr. Miller said he worries about Bedford Township over the long term and whether local residents on both sides of the growth question will ever find a compromise with which they can live.

"I think people on all sides of the issues are playing on people's fears, and everyone's really tense and hot," Mr. Miller said. "I think a few of the business people have been not too logical, and I think there are some people on the stop-growth side who have gone kind of over the top."

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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