Meijer will not be able to come to Hillsdale County, not this year at least.
Following a deadlock vote at a special meeting held by the Fayette Township Board on Nov. 29, the future of a 425 agreement that would have allowed Meijer to purchase and build a grocery store on a property located off M-99 remains uncertain.
The agreement would allow for revenue sharing between the city of Hillsdale and Fayette township; Fayette would provide Meijer the land, Hillsdale the utility services. Additionally, the agreement stipulated that Meijer would have to develop the land within 10 years of its signing, should the corporation choose to buy the land, according to Hillsdale City Attorney John Lovinger.
Board members and Fayette residents expressed concerns that the proposed agreement with Meijer seemed too rushed and without further deliberation, it could not sign the agreement in good conscience.
“I think we need more information and need to do more work on this,” Board Trustee Alfred DuBois said.
According to Michigan state regulations, the state can take up to 30 days to approve a 425 agreement, making Nov. 30 the absolute last day that Fayette could sign the agreement for it to be filed this year. Since the board voted 2-2 deadlock and board supervisor John Kalusniak was not present at the meeting to cast a tie-breaking vote, the township will not be able to decide on the issue until at least next March, according to Hillsdale City Manager David Mackie.
“If Meijer finds it difficult to deal with a community, then they might decide that community is not open for business and walk away,” Mackie said at the meeting.
Hillsdale resident Penny Swan voiced her agreement, and before the board voted, urged it to take into account the welfare of the local community.
“My fear is that if you turn this down, Meijer will walk away and the residents of Hillsdale and Jonesville will lose out,” she said.
Fayette’s decision went in opposition to a decision made by the Hillsdale City Council at a Nov. 20 meeting. There, the 425 agreement passed unanimously.
Mackie said the agreement could potentially bring in $80,000 to $100,000 a year in revenue via taxation for the city of Hillsdale, and an additional $300,000 a year in utility payments to the Board of Public Utilities.
Additionally, Meijer had agreed to pay for the expansion of a water main pipe on M-99, at the cost of $600,000.
“We see that as an economic development opportunity for both the city and the township, as small businesses could eventually hook onto that main,” Mackie said.
The proposal for the 425 agreement initially garnered significant pushback from Hillsdale business owners. After Market House owner Brett Boyd stressed the value of local business at a Nov. 6 meeting, the council decided not to decide on the issue that night.
Following subsequent social media backlash against Boyd and the city council, and mayoral elections that focused heavily on the value of economic development in Hillsdale, the proposal returned to the council agenda at the next meeting.
Councilman Bruce Sharp, who initially opposed the agreement, saying he would “always support local business,” said the flood of emails and phone calls about the decision made him change his mind for the good of the community.
“I’ve had a lot of people approach me and they seemed to be in favor of this,” he said at the Nov. 20 meeting. “It’s a tax base for us. It’s a tax revenue.”
Mayor Adam Stockford abstained from both voting and discussion, as his employer Elwood Staffing, often recruits with Meijer.
Before the vote, Boyd once again asked the council to consider local businesses before passing the resolution. Boyd said that he did not appreciate the vitriol directed against him and his employees and asked that the community and council respect him as he respects them.
“I’ll never apologize for defending my family,” he said. “At the end of the day, I respect you for your time. I respect you for your investment in our community.”
Boyd added that even if Meijer does challenge him and other local businesses, he hopes the community will stand fast behind him.
“I encourage you, whenever possible, try to shop local. It’s in the best interest of everyone,” he said.
All of this debate — both in council chambers and on social media — is now moot, as the 425 agreement is stuck in limbo until Fayette can vote out of deadlock.