If Biltmore Holdings, a land developer, has its way, parts of rural Saline Township may be turned into sprawling suburban subdivisions. Citing increasing pressure for affordable housing in areas around Ann Arbor, David Stollman, Biltmore’s senior vice president for development, has announced a project to construct up to 4,000 houses on what is currently undeveloped farmland. Saline officials are now debating the plan. Though Ann Arbor is facing a shortage of affordable housing, development of rural areas outside of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt’s jurisdiction only exacerbates the pressing problem of urban sprawl. The residents of Saline should act quickly to oppose this proposal by sponsoring a Greenbelt-type initiative, while Ann Arbor leaders must work within the city limits to create affordable housing.
In 2003, the passage of Proposal B — the “Greenbelt” — partially protected eight townships around Ann Arbor from further development and forced Biltmore Holdings to turn to rural Saline for its project. With a population of merely 9,180, Saline is widely known for its agricultural beauty and its residents’ commitment to the status quo has largely limited development pressures. Unfortunately, lackluster implementation of the Greenbelt has enabled Stollman to further his housing initiative. The bipartisan Michigan Land Use Leadership Council, charged with monitoring development and combating urban sprawl within the state, will most likely not oppose this proposal, leaving the battle for land preservation into the hands of Saline residents.
Despite promises to cluster houses among the parks, open spaces and wetlands in the area, the total costs inflicted on the township are large enough for residents to demand their land remain untouched. Saline is a small, rural township lacking infrastructure; new, larger roads as well as an effluent sewage system would need to be built. The school system, geared toward a small community, would need overhaul. Saline Schools Superintendent Sam Sinicropi foresees that new schools will need to be built simply to accommodate the influx of students. Despite the larger tax base a housing development would bring, it is questionable as to whether the township would be able to afford these construction projects. Furthermore, the environmental costs of urban sprawl — pollution and noise — cannot be quantified.
Since the proposal was suggested, Saline farmers have organized a growing movement against the housing project. One group, Neighbors for Preserving Saline Township, say they will seek a direct voter referendum if officials approve Biltmore’s plan. This group should not only work to bar the Biltmore housing development, but also go further and sponsor a Greenbelt-like initiative. The immediate problem presented by Biltmore must be tackled, but a long-term solution to the pressures of urban sprawl in Saline is needed. In the end, Saline should implement its own Greenbelt, as the success of the larger Ann Arbor Greenbelt hinges on the support and cooperation of neighboring townships.
The pressure driving sprawl — the quest for cheaper, more affordable housing — must be alleviated. Low-income and affordable housing must be built in Ann Arbor, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to afford the skyrocketing real estate prices within the city’s limits. The families the Saline project is catering to must be provided with an opportunity to purchase affordable housing within Ann Arbor to successfully fight sprawl. Only by simultaneously opposing sprawl in neighboring townships and providing viable alternatives within the city itself can concerned residents curb urban sprawl.