Saline City Council began to shape its response to the Andelina Farms annexation proposal Monday night.
Saline Ventures, owned by Pinnacle Homes, wants to develop Andelina Farms, a 276-unit project with multi-family homes, single family homes and 20 acres of commercial development. The parcel of land is between Michigan Avenue and Austin Road, immediately west of the city’s boundary. The city is considering a 425 agreement that would see the parcel of land annexed into the city, with the township receiving a 1.5 mill levy on the property until 2033, when the deal would expire. The biggest concern is the proposal involves using water and sewer from the River Ridge community in Saline Township instead of the city’s utilities. A city study, partially funded by Saline Ventures, pegged the cost of providing water and sewer at $3.6 million. That costs rises to $5.1 million if the city were to build enough infrastructure for future service of other potential developments west of town. Alan Greene, of Dykema Engineering, reiterated Saline Ventures’ position Monday night.
“It’s economically unfeasible for the city and developer to use the city’s utilities at this time. It’s not even close,” Greene said.
Greene laid out the timeline of Andelina Farms dealings with the township and city. The general message to council was that Saline Ventures has been ready to build with the township using River Ridge utilities for years and that it only approached the city at the request of the township.
Mayor Brian Marl, who was mostly silent when council questioned this proposal at a work meeting in July, did most of the speaking from the dais Monday. Still, Marl refrained from opining, saying he’d not yet reviewed a memorandum from the City of Saline Attorney Scott Smith.
“I am not unbiased. I do have concerns and want to understand more about the potential ramifications that exist, with (the developer) connecting to a private wastewater treatment plant,” Marl said. “But I’m also keenly aware that the property in question is really the nail head that connects the City of Saline to other properties that have the potential to be developed and annexed into the City of Saline.”
The mayor said the city ought to grow, but it ought to be smart, strategic and thoughtful about it.
But how can the city grow to the west with this proposal?
How can the city grow at all if the cost of extending water and sewer beyond the current city limits is prohibitive?
Councillor Dean Girbach said what nobody at the dais has said in years.
“We’re strapped with our current capacity, unless we start expanding and doing something. We’re now at that point where we’ve got to start talking future,” Girbach said. “We don’t know what would happen, in terms of annexation, in larger sections north or to the south. So we are at that point where we have to talk about our utilities and where we are going to go in the future.”
Girbach said council hoped the city wouldn’t be at this point so soon.
Marl agreed with Girbach’s assessment.
“You’re absolutely right. We have existing capacity as it relates to infill and vacant parcels in the city or subject to automatic annexation,” Marl said. “When we start talking about annexing parcels that are in adjacent municipalities we have some serious issues related to infrastructure.”
“If we can’t figure out how we’re going to grow, then we’re stuck,” Girbach said.
Marl told council he wants to address the “complex and multidimensional” proposal as a discussion at council’s next meeting Aug. 21.
“It gives us two weeks to review information recently distributed by the developer and to ask questions of the city manager’s office,” Marl said.
At the Aug. 21 meeting Marl will be looking for consensus on how the city should answer Pinnacle Homes’ proposal.
Marl said city council must also decide what it will do about its policies on annexation. He said the city has a longstanding policy stating the city will not extend water and sewer outside the city limits unless a development joins the city. But Marl wondered if there needs to be a proposal that deals with the Pinnacle Homes proposal.
“One thing me want to consider is, if we bring parcels into the City of Saline, do we want a similar parcel, saying, if you come into the City of Saline, you have to take our water and sewer services. I don’t know if that’s appropriate or prudent, but I think it’s something we ought to consider,” Marl said.
Marl also wants consensus on how the city handles 425 agreements that bring parcels into the city.
“One of the things that would helpful for staff when they are approached or when they are negotiating is to understand what council’s opinion is on the 425 – specifically the length of the 425 agreement and how we share revenue,” Marl said.
For example, in the current proposal, the city would send 1.5 mills of taxes from the property back to Saline Township for 15 years. In past agreements, the amount shared was much lower. Marl also wants council to clarify a position on whether or not the city should allow property to return to a township at the end of a 425 agreement.
“Obviously, that’s something we’d want to avoid in a policy. I’m in favor of, if the property comes into the city, it’s in the city in perpetuity,” Marl said.
Three people spoke out against the deal Monday night.
Mary Hess asked city council to put the issue on a ballot for residents to decide how the city should grow. She then referred to advice she received when she was on council, which suggested the city could be on the hook for another development if the private utilities failed.
“We were told that if at any time River Ridge has problems with water and sewer the city shall provide it with water and sewer, because the state will not let them be without,” Hess said.
Erik Grossman, who worked for the Saline DPW for 30 years and knows the city’s utilities better than anyone, said he approved of a 425 agreement for annexation, but he was concerned about the utilities coming from River Ridge. He said the city will have a headache if some residents have high quality water and others do not.
He said the city would be forgoing a lot of money if it allowed River Ridge utilities to serve the development.
“I look at the water and sewer fund like a bank. Just the tap-in fees alone are worth about $2 million that won’t go to the city. Then there is the ongoing revenue that the water and sewer produces. And all that is going into someone else’s bank and not the city’s bank,” Grossman said.
Grossman said that if in 5 or 10 years the residents want better water, the city won’t have the money in their fund to upgrade the system. The city would have to charge those residents tap-in fees again, he said. Such a scenario would leave River Ridge stuck with a higher capacity plant and the desire to find other township land owners to use it, Grossman said.
Grossman suggested with the city’s lack of capacity, that might look for ways to take control of the River Ridge utilities and operate them to city standards.
Saline Township resident Brian Milkey advised council to talk to residents at River Ridge about their utility service.
“Check out the water at River Ridge. Ask the people there if they are happy with it,” Milkey said. “Ask them about their dishwashers and their sinks and their faucets and about the troubles they run into with it. There are no perfect water systems, there are better ones.”
Marl said that this proposal was challenging.
“It’s somewhat of a minefield. That’s why we’re trying to carefully navigate and be thoughtful while being cognizant of the fact that the city ought to grow and expand in very strategic and thoughtful ways,” he said.