Category Archives: Planning Commission
This evening, City Council will decide whether or not to accept the terms of a ‘global’ settlement agreement in the lawsuits filed against it by the Department of Justice and the American Islamic Community Center (AICC) over the issue of the proposed mosque on 15 Mile Road between Mound and Ryan Roads. As always, Council should consider the terms of the settlement agreement carefully, and then approve it if it is in the best interest of the City of Sterling Heights.
I am distressed to learn that even though the terms of the settlement have not been publicly released, an opposition movement has already been launched. People are circulating fliers calling for a large turn-out to the meeting, arguing that council should not be “rushing” to approve the settlement, and demanding that the city reject the proposal.
The people who have circulated this flier opposing the proposal have not read it. It has not been released to the public. They’ve taken the incredible, nonsensical leap from knowing nothing about what is being proposed to being opposed to it.
Look, folks, I am a Planning Commissioner. I am also a long-time political activist who knows quite a few people in the administration as well as everyone sitting on council. It is not a stretch to say that if there was anyone not on council or the city’s legal team who knew what was in this proposal it would be me! And I am relieved to tell you that I don’t know a darn thing. Nothing. Neither do the people circulating these petitions. The city’s attorneys have done their job of keeping the terms of any potential legal settlement private, so they do not damage that settlement’s chances of moving forward. I applaud them for doing so.
But this means that I couldn’t tell you if the deal is good or bad. I wouldn’t even hazard to guess what’s in that proposal. It could be almost anything, from expressly permitting the AICC to build a 70-story super-mosque without regard to the zoning law to simply paying the AICC’s legal fees and bidding them adieu. Until tonight’s meeting, there isn’t anything to be for or against. I assume that the city’s attorneys have negotiated in the city’s best interest, and we will find out what the outcome of those negotiations are tonight.
Ordinarily, I encourage people to be involved in the political process, both when important decisions are being made and when routine business is being conducted. An informed, active populace is the soul of a healthy republic, and engagement rather than apathy is the preferred condition.
At the same time, if you plan to show up to a meeting to oppose something that you know nothing about, based on hearsay spoken by people who cannot know what is being proposed, perhaps you might want to reconsider. Maybe before you become opposed to something you might want to wait a bit for the facts to come out so you can find out what you’re opposed to. Maybe you might want to think about the motivations of the people who are encouraging you to show up for a meeting to oppose something that hasn’t yet been revealed. You might want to ponder whether or not you and your fear of the unknown is being taken advantage of.
In general, I would say this: the AICC more or less has a right to build a mosque on property they own or have a contract to own as long as the plans for that mosque are in compliance with the city’s zoning ordinance and the plans pass muster with the Planning Commission. Alternatively, they can have the right granted to them as part of a consent agreement or legal judgement. In 2015, the Planning Commission rejected the AICC’s plans because of technical reasons: the mosque was too large for the plot of land the group proposed to build it upon. As I’ve noted before, in an urban area we don’t get to choose our neighbors. I find the idea that we would reject any development because of the religion of the developer to be horrifying and contrary to the principles that America was founded upon.
However, if you happen to be running for council this year in opposition to the current council and you align yourself with a certain group of challenger candidates that ran in 2015 (those being Paul Smith, Jazmine Early, Verna Babula, Jackie Ryan, Sanaa Elias and Joe Judnick), you’re not terribly concerned with the principles that America was founded upon. You’re not above using people’s fear of Muslims for your own personal gain. Your only concern is to get yourself elected to City Council. And if you can do that, in part, by playing upon people’s fears and getting them to show up to oppose something about which you haven’t got any verifiable facts, well, that’s exactly the sort of voters you’re looking for: people who don’t really understand the issues all that well and who are likely to vote based on emotions like fear. If you can leverage this mosque issue into a coalition that will help get you elected, who cares about freedom of religion, the right to pursue happiness, or the rest? It’s about getting votes!
So I will be watching this evening’s proceedings with interest. I will be fascinated to learn, like the rest of you, what the terms of the proposed settlement actually are. Thus enlightened, I will hopefully then be able to make an intelligent decision as to whether or not I agree that the settlement should move forward. (And I will trust the city council to make that decision in my absence, because I feel like they represent me and my interests pretty well, on balance.)
Godspeed to our City Council at tonight’s meeting. I sincerely hope that facing the forces of ignorance and fear is not too daunting of a task, and I feel confident that I will be able to support any decision you make.
There are significant changes coming to the commercial landscaping ordinance that you should be paying attention to if you own a business or business property in Sterling Heights.
The Planning Commission reviewed the changes at tonight’s meeting, and the matter is scheduled to come up for a vote at the September 8 meeting. Some of the changes are simple common sense, and they align with what has been practiced for the past year. Some changes, however, are going to be controversial, involving new landscaping requirements, and the potential for these new requirements to become effective on businesses which have not maintained their landscaping according to their original approved site plans, even going back as far as the 1970s.
There will be a grace period before the requirement to bring things up to current standards goes into effect. Before that date, July 1, 2017, a business property can be brought into compliance with the standards in place when their original site plan was approved. After that date, however, a non-complying business property would have to be brought up to 2016 standards. There will be provisions within the ordinance allowing the city to work with business and business property owners on a flexible time schedule to make the required improvements.
The City Planner and attorney stressed at the meeting that the law is going to be applied sensibly, and I take them at their word. However, several of my fellow commissioners and I felt there will be some folks caught unaware by the new ordinance, and there may be some backlash against the somewhat retroactive nature of part of the law.
I personally want the word about this new law to get out well in advance of the meeting next month so the community has a chance to examine what has been proposed and let the city administration and the Planning Commission know how it feels about the changes. I would not describe myself as being against this new ordinance, however I do believe that public officials do their best work when a well-informed populace can give them feedback. There is time for what ultimately goes to City Council to be revised and tweaked if residents feel it is necessary and can convince the Planning Commission to go in that direction.
I give the city administration credit, they and the city’s legal team has obviously spent a lot of time and thought on crafting this proposal, and they’re doing it for sound reasons. The move forward towards realizing the Vision 2030 plan is ongoing. The devil may be in the details, however, and if you do business in Sterling Heights, you will want to be informed about this new law.
If you want to watch the 30 minutes from last night’s City Council Meeting concerning my appointment to the Planning Commission, which passed unanimously, the video is linked above. I present it here unedited, including the comments from several residents who spoke in opposition to my appointment. Transparency dictates taking the good with the bad, in my view, and if I am to be fortunate enough to have an entire agenda item devoted to myself and my own part in the city’s political process, it is only fair to note that my appointment was not without its detractors.
Regardless, I am honored and gratified to have been successfully appointed, and I look forward to going to work at the upcoming July meeting. I have been reviewing the zoning ordinance, and I have taken in some of the recent meetings on video in preparation for my new role. I hope to fully live up to council’s expectations for my performance on this important commission.
In regard to the comments made at the meeting itself, I have some thoughts and reflection on that as well. If you are interested, head on over to my other blog.
It became public last night that Mayor Taylor has decided to nominate me for the post on the Sterling Heights City Planning Commission that has been vacated by Al Kollmorgan. Predictably, it didn’t take too long for people to question what my qualifications for the job are, or what impact, if any, will this have on my writings in this space. Here’s what happened.
Mayor Taylor approached me about a month ago and asked me if I would be interested in the seat that had become vacant on the planning commision. I’m paraphrasing, but, his actual words were to the effect of “there’s an opening on the Planning Commission, and I want you to fill it.”
The reader is asked to keep in mind that the dust-up over the mosque issue late last summer has not yet receded from anyone’s memory. During that debacle, members of the Planning Commission felt intense pressure to make the right decision, especially with people like myself stating publicly what they thought should be done. So I approached this decision knowing that there could be some real work involved, and that it might not all be pleasant. So I gave this the same sort of thought one might have when considering a large purchase, say of an automobile, or in deciding whether or not to leave a job for a new one. I asked questions. I talked to people. I thought long and hard. Perhaps most importantly, I discussed it at length with my wife, Angela, who is my life’s witness, best friend and partner.
When he asked me to consider accepting a nomination, I asked to meet with the Mayor in person to discuss the reasons he had for nominating me. We met for a couple of hours one Sunday not long ago, and had a long discussion about his vision of how I would approach the job and why he thought I should seriously consider doing it.
The net result of that discussion and discussions with other people about the subject can be summarized as follows: being a Planning Commissioner requires learning how the city’s Master Plan document is put together. It requires learning about the zoning ordinance, and it relies upon the commissioner to then be able to interpret what is in the law and meld that with the recommendations of the city’s Planning Department to come up with decisions that represent the best interests of the city’s residents, both commercial and private, as a whole. It requires gaining insight into the planning process, developing an understanding of the sometimes competing interests of developers, real estate professionals, residents, and people who make use of a given area. It requires the capacity for abstract thought, and a strong ethical sense to guide the commissioner toward doing what is right. I have the ability to accomplish these tasks successfully, and I believe my thinking skills and ethics will on balance help me to make the best possible decisions. Those, in a nutshell, are my qualifications for the position. The fact that I am capable of telling people of my reasoning in a clear fashion will lend even more transparency to the planning process than there already is, which is considerable.
As informed readers know, the Planning Commission represents an oversight process within the city to help ensure that the interests of everyone who might propose or be affected by new development are carefully balanced, and that the decisions taken do not place too high of a premium on one group’s interests over the other while remaining in compliance with the law. The Commission acts as a check and balance against all of the parties involved. It is a responsibility you want the city to give to people who you can trust to be fair and reasonable, and the mayor and other members of council have assured me that they think I have those qualities. I am honored and humbled by their trust.
In addition, the city seeks to appoint people to its boards and commissions who have a track record of wanting what’s best for the city. It tries to match the prospective board members with the organization that they are interested in and willing to serve upon for little or no monetary compensation. This means that you have to want to do this type of job for the sake of doing it, and hopefully doing it well, for its own satisfaction, because it doesn’t pay much, the effort required to do it well is considerable, and the task is not to be taken lightly. I have developed a strong interest in the way local government works in my time of involvement with city politics. I am a technically-oriented man, and yes, I really am interested in and want to know what is happening at a level of government function that many people take for granted. It is unusual, I admit, but I play the cards I’ve been dealt.
So in light of the requirements and my fit within them, I gave myself time to think about this. I, too, am a busy man with the full complement of wife, family, demanding job, home maintenance responsibilities, hobbies and interests. I already have a couple of things with regard to the City of Sterling Heights that I would like to accomplish: continual improvement and nurturing of the CERT team, and a drastic improvement in the safety of the stretch of 15 Mile Road near my home. I also wish to remain one of our city’s voices on the various issues that we publicly consider, both via this blog and by speaking before council.
I could very easily, and in clear conscience, have told the Mayor that no, I am too busy with what I’ve already got on my plate, I’m already visible enough, I’m concerned about issues like the mosque, etc.
But I didn’t. Instead, I chose to accept the position, but with one important condition: this blog must be allowed to continue as I see fit. The mayor has assured me this will be the case.
Now, my understanding is that I can write about the matters that come before the Planning Commission, and if I find something to be interesting, relevant, and something I want to express myself about, I will do so. Whether or not I actually will do so is up to me. If something has to remain confidential before a decision can be made in a public meeting, I will follow the advice and counsel of the city’s attorney, but if there is something that needs to be said after the fact, I will say it.
As far as my status as a city watchdog is concerned, I daresay that will not change much, although my effort in this regard may well become better informed and more nuanced. We shall see. This is a growth opportunity for me, and I will doubtless learn many things.
I’m accepting this nomination for a few reasons: one, to have the opportunity to do good for the residents of our city; two, because it will be an interesting learning experience for me; and three, because Mayor Taylor asked me to do it. I’m not about to promise anyone a future decision about anything will go a certain way, and I am highly unlikely to be influenced by people who seek to convince me to do something I would otherwise not do. I am a contrarian and an independent thinker, and I can only promise to use my best judgement with every matter that comes before me, and to make the best informed decisions I am capable of.
I am excited about this opportunity, and I look forward to making the acquaintance of the other people who sit on this particular commission. I know a couple of them already, and I feel like I will work well with all of them.
As I said last night, if I am appointed I will be proud to serve. I look forward to the council’s decision on June 7.