Pittsfield Planning Commission postpones decision on chemical company request
By Antonio Sanchez
Pittsfield Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to postpone any actions regarding a rezoning request submitted by Wacker Chemical, asking company representatives to address major concerns before meeting again at a later date.
Commissioners cast their vote following nearly three hours of questions from the board and public comment from more than 30 Pittsfield-area residents. Although commissioners did not formally vote for or against the rezoning request, the majority of the board spoke in opposition of the Wacker Chemical proposal – commissioner Deborah Williams said she approved the request, while Roland Kibler said he was “not opposed” to it.
The board’s decision arrived after months of communication between Wacker Chemical and the township – planning consultant Benjamin Carlisle said he has been meeting with the company since the beginning of last year. Wacker Chemical submitted their request to amend the existing Avis Farms South Planned Unit Development in November. The proposal includes plans to develop an 18-acre site alongside Textile Road, across from the park at Marsh View Meadows.
Greg Brabec, project lead and counsel lead at Wacker Chemical, said the proposed site would be an innovational center and regional headquarters for the company. The proposed building would have a total height of 59 feet and would house 300 employees, adding 100 new employees to the company. The site would be split between two areas of expertise: 70 percent of the building would be utilized for administrative work and 30 percent for research and development.
Commission chairman Matthew Payne voiced concern regarding the potential research and development projects, saying he would like a comprehensive list of possible chemical emissions from the site. Payne, alongside commissioner Ann Harris also took issue with the building’s proposed height and orientation, with worries that the site might be too close to Marsh View Meadows.
“I’m usually pretty pro-business, a pro-growth kind-of-guy but this just seems a bit overwhelming for this kind of site,” Payne said.
Along with a vote to postpone action, commissioners asked Wacker Chemical to address three concerns: safety concerns regarding potential site chemical emissions, the orientation and height of the building, and how the company would acknowledge and address concerns about the site’s proximity to Marsh View Meadows. Carlisle said the board could expect a response from Wacker Chemical at a later time, saying the company would not be ready by next month’s meeting.
Concerned citizens speak out
A line of residents snaked through the hallway of the Township Administrative Building as the meeting began, with concerned citizens filling nearly every seat in Morris Hall. The nearly 90-minute public comment began with a recommendation for the approval of the proposal from Jennifer Olmstead, director of business development at Ann Arbor SPARK.
“When Pittsfield prospers, so does the Ann Arbor-region,” Olmstead said. “This is one of the largest projects that we’ve had in Ann Arbor in the last 15 years, so I think this discussion is important to have.”
Olmstead’s remarks stood in contrast to the majority of the public comments, with most speaking out against the proposed site. Anne Fortunato, a member of the Pittsfield Charter Township Parks Commission, said she took issue with the site’s short distance from Marsh View Meadows.
“Wetlands are ecologically sensitive areas which links directly to our ground water. Soil waste and toxins in run-off from construction sites or fuels accidentally spilled during storage and delivery could easily enter our groundwater and with proximity to the wetland, this surely will occur,” Fortunato said.
The proposed site’s dumpster and service yards are facing the park and could introduce invasive creatures and species to the park that would disrupt life in the area, she said.
“The Park Commission is currently working with the Parks and Recreation Department on plans to remove invasive species from all of our parks in the Pittsfield Township and this would be a setback to our work,” she said.
Peter Bobbe said he’s concerned about the new traffic the site would add to the area, saying he often rides his bike with his daughter to Marsh View Meadows.
“It already scares me a little bit taking them, they’re four and seven, with the traffic that already exists, so I hope you consider the initial traffic and how this would affect it,” he said. “There’s quite a large number of children that live close enough to be traveling to this park.”
Saline resident Linda Worth said she was worried about the site’s potential impact to the area’s water. Worth and her son, recent cancer survivors, moved to this area several years ago from Jackson County, attributing their diagnoses to contaminated water in Jackson.
“There were a lot of different companies in that area many years ago that left bad water in the area,” Worth said. “I understand that things now are better regulated, but I also know that things happen, spills happen and once it’s in the water, you can’t take it out.”