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A motion that could increase the City of Hillsdale’s income by levying taxes on the incoming Meijer grocery store planned to be built in Fayette Township failed to carry at a Nov. 6 Hillsdale City Council meeting, after local business owners spoke out against the the plan.

Local business owners opposed the city’s plans to reach a 425 agreement, which would have allowed Meijer to move into the City of Hillsdale. Kaylee McGhee | Col­legian

Called a 425 Agreement, the re-zoning arrangement would allow the City of Hillsdale and Fayette Township to share tax rev­enues from the Meijer cor­po­ration. Addi­tionally, it would allow the city to offer water and electric ser­vices to Meijer via the Board of Public Util­ities.

City Manager David Mackie spoke in favor of passing the agreement. He advised the council to con­sider that the way the city treats Meijer will signal to other cor­po­ra­tions looking to move into the area the degree to which Hillsdale is open for business.

“If we basi­cally turn Meijer down, which is a good Michigan-based business, the like­lihood of us finding another business, whether it be man­u­fac­turing or any­thing else, is going to be very slim or unlikely,” he said.

Coun­cilman Bill Zeiser voiced his agreement with Mackie, stating that it would be foolish for the city to turn away a big business that could provide jobs and revenue in the city.

Coun­cilman Adam Stockford abstained from voting or par­taking in the dis­cussion, because his employer, Elwood Staffing, often does scouting for Meijer loca­tions. Coun­cilmen Matt Bell and Brian Watkins were not present at the meeting.

A large gath­ering of local busi­nesses spoke out against the agreement, fearing that it might threaten their livelihood by adding a another com­petitor in an already crowded field of grocery stores that includes Market House, Kroger, and Wal-Mart.

Speaking through tears and in a voice cracked with passion, Market House owner Brett Boyd pleaded with the city to vote no on the 425 Agreement.

“What makes Hillsdale county unique is the family owned busi­nesses that we are so blessed to have in our midst,” he said. “My main concern is not just about Market House and the grocery business that could be impacted, but it’s the downtown. It’s the heart of Hillsdale, the heart of Jonesville. If you look at these folks who have a long history of giving back to the com­munity, they’re at risk. They will be threatened. They will be threatened.”

Last year, Boyd opened a Biggby Coffee fran­chise next door to Market House, adding another com­petitor to a downtown already sat­u­rated with local coffee shops such as Checker Records and Jilly Beans.

Other business owners such as Rich Gal­loway of Current Office Solu­tions, Kevin Conant of Here’s to You Pub and Grub, and Jane Stewart of Smith’s Flowers reit­erated Boyd’s com­ments and urged the city to con­sider the welfare of local busi­nesses.

“It’s a very hard decision, probably one of the hardest,” Mayor Scott Ses­sions said.

When it came time for council to vote, Zeiser motioned to pass the 425 Agreement. A long silence fol­lowed, and no one sec­onded the motion. At last, Mayor Scott Ses­sions cleared his throat and said: “Alright, motion fails to carry.”

As the meeting was drawing to a close, Coun­cilman Bruce Sharp said he chose not to vote for the agreement because of Boyd’s speech.

“I will always support local busi­nesses first,” he said. “We are family in this town and we will always be that way.”

Zeiser said he does not foresee much growth for Hillsdale if council con­tinues to make these sorts of deci­sions.

“Pre­sumably that Meijer will open in Jonesville or some­where nearby,” he said. “The only dif­ference is we won’t get any taxable revenue from it.”

Mackie con­firmed this statement, saying that Meijer could poten­tially partner with another city for taxes and utility ser­vices.

After the meeting, Zeiser told The Col­legian that the motion for the 425 Agreement is not nec­es­sarily dead because council did not vote on it. He also men­tioned that even if it was dead, the City of Hillsdale and Fayette Township could poten­tially restructure the agreement and bring it up again soon.

“It’s still an open issue,” he said. “I’ll do every­thing I can to help it along.”

  • Tyler Groe­nendal

    Local business owners fear com­pe­tition as they appar­ently provide an inferior product, lobby gov­ernment for pro­tection. I won’t be shopping at Market House anytime soon.

    • Ellsworth_Toohey

      Oh the hypocrisy is even worse. Crying man not only want pro­tec­tionism, he just a few years earlier had lobbied the city for a tax abatement, to bring in Biggby coffee. A nationally chain which com­peted against the likes of Jilly Beans and Checker records, both local and both not taking handouts. Oh, and did I mention neither one of them cried like a bitch? They just doubled down and offered a better product.

  • Corey May

    Bring in the Meijer is a no-brainer.. Any ways didnt hillsdale turn away Toyota about 5 to 10 years ago would have brought in tremendous jobs but i cant remember but seem like hillsdale dont want nuthing!!

  • disqus_odKVC5cL1k

    In a single non-vote, the council sealed the demise of Hillsdale. No business would seri­ously con­sider moving here now. Perhaps Jonesville wants to take a shot at it?

  • George Gibbs

    I always hoped the best for Hillsdale, but wow, the city is screwed. Every ailing res­ident, and even the college itself, is held hostage by these hare­brained, uni­lateral deci­sions not to develop. Way to go!