Through their master planning process a few years ago, Acme Township residents told their government that they wanted a town center development. What they meant, and still mean, is: They want a place that feels like home, a place that is distinctive, that has a sense of neighborliness, and that carefully mixes homes with shops, offices, and civic space. They want a walkable community with quiet, pleasant streets and sidewalks. They do not want a place that is a commercial and retail epicenter for the region.
The current proposal flies in the face of those desires. Developers have proposed a shopping mall as large as the combined size of two other malls just 20 minutes away: the Grand Traverse Mall and Grand Traverse Crossings. It would have more than one million square feet of commercial space, including two 200,000-square-foot big-box stores, plus very large parking lots and, if it is to succeed, plenty of traffic. It would indeed be a commercial and retail epicenter for the county and beyond.
In the next 15 years, an estimated 50,000 people will move to this region seeking our high quality of life. So Acme is right to plan for rapid growth. But this proposed town center would not despite some claims lessen development pressure in the surrounding area. This combination of a modest housing development and a gigantic mall would in fact generate sprawl, particularly strip malls, subdivisions, and traffic congestion. The area will quickly go the way of Garfield Township.
It does not have to be that way. Last year, I co-chaired the Michigan Land Use Leadership Council, a bipartisan, public-private task force that issued many well-considered, well-researched recommendations meant to revitalize city centers and help rural areas properly manage their growth.
One recommendation encourages neighboring communities to coordinate their growth regionally. But even as the current Acme town center proposal ignores the township master plan, it is taking shape without any active input from Traverse City, Grand Traverse County, or other neighboring townships or counties. All this despite the fact that this development proposal in Acme Township, which has a population of only about 4,000 people, hinges on the expectation of attracting business from tens of thousands of households throughout the area.
This is a crucial test for the Grand Traverse region.
Thankfully, more and more people from all walks of life are realizing they must work together to make sure that we manage growth in a way that permanently protects our wonderful place, northwest Michigan. I hope you will join many of them at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 26, when the Acme Township Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the current town center proposal at the New Hope Church off U.S. 31, just north of Acme. Whether you live in Acme Township or not, this important decision affects you. Please attend and ask township officials to develop a new plan that fulfills the vision we share for our region.
Its hard work, but with active civic involvement and strong leadership we can protect our landscape from haphazard growth for generations to come.
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