I urge Acme residents to cast a yes vote and place the townships, and indeed the regions, interest ahead of an impatient few.
Ill confess to a personal interest in the outcome. I spent a memorable part of my childhood in Acme, exploring its natural places with my family and friends. Many of those places still exist and afford new generations of children the same joy Ive known. Nine months strikes me as a very small investment to protect something so priceless as Acmes rural character and quality of life.
Whats behind this concern over big-box stores? For many like me, the fear is the hidden costs that underpin the behemoth retailers costs borne not by the stores, but forced onto the communities they inhabit. These outlets promise low prices but can drive up local taxes to pay for the big problems that dont show up on their products price tags. Problems such as heavy traffic congestion, lost farmland, shuttered local shops, and weakened downtowns.
At their worst, big-box stores are little more than windowless warehouses with gaudy signs out front that cost communities more than they save them. We do not accept such negative impacts and shabby design with our homes, schools, or places of worship. So why when we go shopping, should we be expected to forfeit tax dollars and community character as the price of admission?
Of course, we should not.
The big-box lesson from across the nation is this: Communities attract quality growth when they and their residents help develop a vision for their future and the laws to make it so. By doing so, they welcome creative entrepreneurs who provide the goods and services that people need and desire.
Acme Township is already halfway there. It has a vision for a compact town center akin to that in nearby Elk Rapids, but lacks a zoning ordinance to foster it. The nine-month moratorium would allow the township board and residents to figure out the best way to manage the size, design, and location of large-scale commercial growth.
The threat to Acme Township is growing. Today, only one store there, Kmart, truly merits the big-box label. Meijer, however, is proposing to build a store in Acme more than two-and-a-half times larger than Kmart, and mega-retailer Wal-Mart has long eyed the township too. Right now, Acme has no way to control such development because its current zoning allows big-box stores of unlimited size in many locations.
I think a yes vote on August 2 is a vote for true local control. The harm big-box stores do to communities is significant and long-term. Even if you find yourself shopping at such stores, I hope you would agree that acting to eliminate or lessen their negative effects is reasonable. To me, its the difference between growing by choice or by chance.
Charlevoix and Charlevoix Township recently passed local laws controlling big-box development. Many places across the United States have done the same, and the major retailers now are designing smaller, smarter stores to be able to compete in those places.
Acme Township now faces that challenge, which shouldnt surprise anyone. Garfield Township, just south of Traverse City, has boomed big-box growth for a decade. And Blair Township, the next ring outward from the city, is experiencing the same pressures.
Acme can and should get a handle on this spiraling sprawl. The entire Grand Traverse region, in fact, sorely needs to coordinate its growth plans and laws before reckless development mars the last remnants of rural character.
Indeed, I draw hope from and endorse the fledgling Grand Traverse land use and transportation study, which aims to involve citizens and officials in charting a regional growth strategy. I continue to believe, like the study participants do, that engaging and empowering the public yields lasting results.
The debate in Acme is not about gaining this store or that. Rather, its about what the township could lose forever if shortsightedness prevails and big-box stores are allowed to trample Acmes rural heritage.
As someone who has had the honor to steward all of Michigans 37 million acres of land, I say without hesitation that Acmes acres are as worthy of protection and wise planning as any. I believe we must meet todays challenges eagerly but patiently if we are to keep our promise to our children and grandchildren of a better tomorrow.
William G. Milliken, a Republican, was governor of Michigan from 1969 to 1982 the longest serving governor in the states history. In 2003 he was appointed by Governor Jennifer Granholm to co-chair the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council, which recommended steps the state needs to take to slow sprawl, rebuild cities, conserve natural resources, and improve the states economic competitiveness.