TEMPERANCE - For the local citizens' groups working to slow Bedford Township's growth rate, 2004 might not have been a very good year.
The township last year recorded the highest number of new single-family home starts it's had since 1998, with 240 new homes and condominium units breaking ground.
The only years in the previous 10 that have recorded a greater number of starts were in 1998 and 1995. The 2004 number is a 30 percent increase over the previous year.
"The economy has certainly been on the rebound and the interest rates were still low," explained Dennis Jenkins, the township's planning and zoning coordinator. "I think it may have been cheaper to build a new house than it is to rent an apartment in many areas."
The township board last year approved 167 new subdivision lots in five different projects, and another 66 new condominiums. Not all of those started construction in 2004, and both numbers represent a drop when compared to the 180 new subdivision lots and 104 new condominiums approved in 2003.
Dennis Phillips, one of the founders of www.nomoresubs.com, which has advocated that the township strictly adhere to its master plan, said he believes the number of housing starts is less worrisome than the general direction in which the township seems to be heading.
"It's going to be interesting over the next few years what the board wishes to do. I'm sure that they'll do the right thing," Mr. Phillips said, predicting that the 240 housing starts in 2004 could be quickly dwarfed depending on the new township board's views on growth.
"That's not where it's going to stay. If [developers] get their way across the tracks here, those numbers are going to go up very quickly," Mr. Phillips said.
"All we're asking them to do is, if they want to change the plan, change the plan. We're not against growth. We'd just like it to be thought out, approved growth, instead of just packing houses in without blinking an eye."
Bedford Township's continued high residential growth rate is beginning to chew through the available land for such development, Mr. Jenkins said.
His office is putting together a "residential buildout analysis" that he hopes will show exactly where and how much of the township remains to be developed.
"We're going to show all of the vacant parcels that could be developed, minus floodplains, steep slopes, etc.," he said. "It should give us the total developable acerage in the township taking into consideration the existing residential zoning, and areas with water and sewer service available."
A recent community profile of Bedford Township compiled by the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments estimated its population at 30,873. Interestingly enough, as the township's population continues to rise, the number of school-aged children has continued a steady decline, a trend that has begun to worry officials at Bedford Public Schools.
At a joint meeting last week between the Bedford Board of Education and the township board, school board members were shocked at the area's predicted demographic makeup in years to come.
"Our biggest concern is with some of the newer subdivisions that are going in off of Temperance Road," board vice president Shawna Smith said. "Temperance Road Elementary is really at capacity right now. Those are the things that the district is looking at the most."