Less than 12 hours after Gov. Whitmer announced the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order to prevent people from spreading coronavirus, Saline City Council declined to approve a development and utilities service agreement with M/I Homes of Michigan, developer of the proposed Andelina Farms residential development west of town.
With three members of council using Zoom to participate remotely in the meeting, council voted 6-0 to decline the agreement - at least for now. Councillor Jack Ceo was absent.
Mayor Brian Marl took the lead, issuing a prepared statement. Marl said the uncertainty created by coronavirus made it impossible for the city to guarantee it could live by the terms of the deal. Marl said he hoped the city could revisit the issue when the coronavirus issue recedes but said that the developer has expressed interest in pushing forward quickly, without the city’s utilities. M/I Homes wants to build 284 units on 117 acres west of the city between Michigan Avenue and Austin Road.
“With the COVID-19 outbreak council cannot be confident in the city’s ability to perform certain functions as outlined in the proposed agreement… within the timeframe required by Saline Ventures,” Marl said, specifically mentioning the installation of water and temporary sewer to Andelina Farms.
State government closures also make it likely the city would not be able to obtain the permits necessary to complete work within the timeframe specified in the agreement.
“This could lead to a potential breach of the agreement,” Marl said.
Marl added that the “shelter-in-place” order issued by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would inhibit the city’s ability to secure contractors for the work.
“As such, we’re concerned about entering into this contract at the present time, when there is so much uncertainty and as new problems arise daily as this virus spreads,” Marl said.
Marl said the city should use resources carefully at this moment in time.
“It is prudent we reserve our resources during times of challenge in order to effectively serve the citizens of Saline in the midst of a global health pandemic,” Marl said.
He said he hoped the city would consider the agreement at a later date if the developer was willing to wait. However, Marl said, the developer has expressed a desire to move quickly and not delay the construction of Andelina Farms.
Marl’s motion was seconded by Mayor ProTem Dean Girbach.
“This was an incredible attempt to move us forward as a city, but at this point in time, it was not beneficial for either party,” Girbach said.
City Attorney Roger Swets said municipal projects are being put on hold all over the state.
“Cities are struggling with how to bring projects forward when workers are under stay-at-home-orders from the Governor,” Swets said.
After council voted to decline the agreement, several concurrent issues were removed from the agenda, including the potential annexation agreement with Saline Township, whose Board of Trustees approved an agreement last week.
M/I Homes and Saline Ventures, after the city and developer were unable to reach a deal to extend city utilities to the project, previously received approval from the township to construct a residential project on the property. The state issued a permit authorizing the proposed private wastewater treatment system to discharge effluent into a tributary of the Saline River near Huntington Woods in the city. The city, unhappy with the plan, appealed the decision. In December, the city and developer settled their dispute with a deal that called for one of two paths forward. The first path called for the development to move forward as a Saline Township neighborhood, but with improvements to the wastewater plan. The second plan called for developer investing $5 million to help the city bring infrastructure to the development.