A rezoning application submitted by Wacker Chemical Corporation died before receiving a single vote during Wednesday’s Pittsfield Board of Trustees meeting. After a two-hour public hearing, a motion to rezone the property died for lac of support.
The request to approve the amendment’s first reading was moved by trustee Yameen Jaffer but was not supported by any other trustee. Because the request did not receive support from a second trustee, the amendment request received no deliberation by the board and died. Trustee George Ralph and Treasurer Patricia Tupacz Scribner were absent from the meeting.
Moments following the action, Supervisor Mandy Grewal said the moment was nearly unprecedented.
“In 11 years, never have I seen something like this,” Grewal said.
Although Wacker’s request died during the board meeting, the rezoning application could be reintroduced at a future board meeting if either two trustees or the board’s supervisor decides to do so.
The zoning ordinance amendment would have allowed Wacker Chemical to develop a regional headquarters and research center on an 18-acre site alongside Textile Road. The proposed development would include a 140,622-square foot building and would be placed across from the park at Marsh View Meadows.
The application previously received feedback and comments from the Pittsfield Planning Commission during four public hearings this year, with meetings held in January, April, May and August. When tasked last month with recommending the application to the Board of Trustees, the planning commission were split. Planning Chairperson Matthew Payne, Vice Chairperson Ann Harris and township resident Stanley Young approved recommending the amendment; township residents Mike Petraszko and Roland Kibler, alongside Trustee Ralph, voted against recommending the application. Planning Secretary Deborah Williams was absent.
Public comment split on Wacker proposal
Nearly 50 people spoke to the board during the meeting’s public comment. Support for the proposed development dominated the public comment’s first hour, as business leaders, college advisors, chemistry students and Wacker employees spoke of the potential business opportunities the site would bring to the area.
David Wilhoit, president of Wacker Chemical Company, told the board the proposed project would bring 200 employees to the area and would hire an additional 100 new workers.
“We’ve been in Michigan close to 50 years – 55, actually,” Wilhoit said. “We started in Michigan and we want to grow in Michigan.”
Susan Montgomery, chemical engineering academic advisor at the University of Michigan, said her students have benefited from previous internships with Wacker Chemical. With 20 years of experience as an advisor, Montgomery said she is concerned that a growing negative public sentiment against chemical companies could hurt her students’ prospective careers.
“Given the issues with water in Flint, I can understand some people’s suspicions of companies, such as chemical companies,” Montgomery said. “But it really breaks my heart because we have kids who are working so hard to do the right thing and they’re going into these communities and they’re being looked at with such suspicion.”
Pittsfield resident Anita Close said she has reason to be wary of chemical companies like Wacker Chemical. Raised in a Detroit neighborhood surrounded by small factories, Close said she and her family never gave a second thought to their proximity to chemical companies. As time passed and following the diagnosis of a lung disease at the age of 40, Close said families should think twice before supporting the development of a chemical company near their neighborhood.
“With this (project) so close to residential, to children, that seems just too close of a risk for me that I don’t want other people to have to suffer,” Close said.
The latter half of the meeting’s public comment spoke mostly against the project, as Pittsfield residents who would live near the proposed site weighed in. Pittsfield resident Christina Lirones said she was against the project, saying she joined a common sentiment from residents in the area who spoke out about the proposal at previous public hearings.
“We’re having to come here over and over and over again to tell you over and over and over again what should be obvious: this does not fit in this location,” Lirones said. “This is wholly inappropriate for the area and I hope that you deny it. End it. Tonight.”