The development on valuable wooded land near Ann Arbor raises environmental concerns

WASHTENAW COUNTY, MI If there’s one thing developers, residents and officials can all agree on about 107 acres earmarked for new homes outside Ann Arbor, it’s natural beauty.

Stands of mature hardwood trees, wetlands and wildflowers mark the land north of Waters Road and east of Wagner Road in the town of Lodi, so perhaps it’s no surprise that environmental concerns continue to be major question marks as developers present their latest proposal.

Red Equities, LLC, which has been working to bring housing to the property since 2020, is back with a new plan that is less dense than a previous project for nearly 400 multi-family units, unpopular with officials and residents alike.

The new proposal, presented at a meeting of the Lodi City Planning Commission on Thursday, June 1, cuts density by 72 percent, now requiring 107 single-family homes on estate lots, the developers said.

It’s a much, much lighter development and we’re very, very excited and proud of it, said Jim Eppink, a land use planner representing Red Equities, at the well-attended meeting.

The development, called the Arbor Preserve, is divided into two unconnected sections, one north off Wagner and one south off Waters, both around the Orchard Grove mobile home park. The developers want to group the homes together to minimize impact on the property’s forest and wetlands, while protecting more than 50 percent as open space, they said.

This is going to be a nice place to live, what we’re trying to do here, for those who live here, Alan Greene, a developer attorney, said Thursday. Yes, they will cut down the trees. You do when you build homes anywhere, but the intent was to design it in a way that maximizes open space.

Not all residents see it the same way.

This is indeed a precious land. I don’t know if the developers have any idea what they are doing, what they are stepping on. Calling it a reserve is really offensive, Susan Miller, owner of the wooded area between the two sections of the project, said during a public hearing on Thursday.

About 15 residents joined her in voicing a range of concerns, from the impact of flooding in nearby neighborhoods to the effect of adding 107 wells to an aquifer they say has already dropped in recent years, requiring wells deeper.

While much of the area was at some point decided for agriculture, the forest on the land remains intact, resident Leslie Blackburn said. It is not ecologically possible to simply recreate or mitigate or plant elsewhere what this land offers.

Then, there’s the question of what Planning Commission Chair Cindy Strader has called the elephant in the room.

That’s the question of what happens when a toilet in new homes flushes or water runs into a kitchen sink, wastewater issues that have beset the development since its inception.

Red Equities is now proposing two separate community septic systems, which are equivalent to privately owned groundwater treatment centers to service homes, discharging treated wastewater into the Rouse Drain.

Previous plans called for a private wastewater plant near the corner of Waters and Wagner, leading to oppositional statements from a number of elected leaders in Washtenaw County, including concerns about the discharge of phosphorus from the system.

to know more: Washtenaw County Commissioners Oppose New Sewage Treatment Plant

Private wastewater systems are heavily regulated, built to the same standards as public facilities, Greene said. They’re permitted and monitored by Michigan’s state environmental agency, and the law requires a developer and neighborhood residents to set up a rainy day fund for maintenance and replacement costs, Eppink added.

The systems are actually environmentally preferable to many individual septic systems on the property, which in itself would be a challenge because the soils are clay-laden, Greene said.

However, the wastewater issue is a sticking point for urban planners. Planning consultant Kelly McIntyre, with CIB Planning, said Thursday that her company cannot recommend approval of the project because of the private wastewater system.

Lodi city ordinances ban the plants and specify that the developments require city services to be located in the South Service District near the town of Saline, he said.

That’s the only element we care about, McIntyre said, during his review for a rezoning of the property into a special planned unit development district, allowing developers more flexibility to group homes.

The proposition is unique, Greene pointed out, because the land is zoned as it is today, for low-density multi-family residential, thanks to a 2007 consent ruling that arose from a lawsuit against the city by separate property owners who tried to develop it.

Red Equities heard concerns about its initial multifamily proposal, voluntarily withdrew it and recently brought the new single-family plan back to city council for informal feedback, garnering a generally favorable response, it said.

They propose to change the consent judgment that allows multi-family members to make the new plan, as well as allowing the private sewage treatment system. While this may be done through an agreement between the developers and the city council, they have agreed to go through the entire planned unit development review process for government grant and review purposes, Greene said.

Lodi’s planning commission is tasked with recommending approval or denial to the city council, but it did not do so on Thursday.

Its members expressed the desire to obtain more information on the wastewater system in a future public working session. They asked questions ranging from what happens if the system fails, to the effect of the discharge on the Huron River watershed.

The committee then unanimously voted to present the proposal at the next meeting and schedule such a session, which will be open to the public. Some have also noted their own regrets about the removal and grading of trees that would have been necessary for the new development.

This is a gateway to our municipality, Strader said. It’s a beautiful piece of property.

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