City Council denied special tax exemption for Spire Devel­opment. Col­legian | Julia Mullins

The Hillsdale City Council voted Tuesday to deny a special tax advantage to the pro­posed rent-con­trolled Wells Apart­ments. 

The 7 – 2 vote opposed a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) for Spire Development’s plan. 

In a pre­vious public meeting, Tom Gry­walski, the co-founder and prin­cipal of Spire Devel­opment and Spire Con­sulting, said the PILOT is one part of the developer’s appli­cation process to receive project approval from Michigan State Housing Devel­opment Authority. 

The PILOT is a way of cal­cu­lating real estate taxes by tying the property taxes Spire pays to the amount of revenue the property brings in. 

Without the city council’s approval of the PILOT, Spire Devel­opment is not eli­gible to apply for project approval from MSHDA. 

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’s council meeting, nearly 20 res­i­dents vocally expressed their dis­ap­proval of the pro­posal. 

Many argued that the apartment building would attract those who merely need a place to stay and would erode the values of “tra­dition and family” in Hillsdale. 

Res­ident Louise Worms was the first to crit­icize the project. “I am very, very con­cerned about the Wells Apartment buildings,” she said. “I am totally and com­pletely opposed. I don’t think we need another apartment building.”

Kelly Franklin, a res­ident and assistant pro­fessor of English at Hillsdale College, attended the meeting and dis­cussed con­cerns he had with the project. 

“It doesn’t seem fair to let an apartment complex that has sub­stantial gov­ernment sub­sidies enter into com­pe­tition with the local apartment market,” Franklin said. “I think that’s kind of an unfair advantage.” 

Franklin and his wife are cur­rently ren­o­vating their century-old home on Norwood Avenue, which is near Spire’s pro­posed building site. 

“We are painstak­ingly scraping and painting it,” he said. “That’s the kind of own­ership I’d like to see more of in our neigh­bor­hoods and not focus on apartment com­plexes.” 

Only one res­ident who spoke in support of the project during public comment. Res­ident Ted Jansen clar­ified that the Wells Apart­ments would not be sub­si­dized housing, rather the complex would be rent-con­trolled housing for middle-income fam­ilies. He also said the devel­opment would attract new res­i­dents and increase business. 

 “If we turn it down, how many more devel­opers are coming to Hillsdale? The fact is, we have less pop­u­lation today than we had in 1990. This town is not growing, its shrinking,” Jansen said. “We have people who want to build business, who want to build industry. What do we have to offer them?”

Coun­cilman Tony Vear and Coun­cil­woman Cynthia Pratt were the only two who voted to approve the PILOT. They are the newest members of the Hillsdale City Council, both of which were elected during August’s special election. 

Before voting on the Wells Apartment Ordi­nance, Vear offered several reasons why the project should be approved. 

He said the current state of the houses on North West Street is unde­sirable, despite res­i­dents’ dis­ap­proval of the project.  Vear said he did not think anyone had come up with a suf­fi­cient solution to rival the Wells Apart­ments. 

Vear added that out of the four houses on West Street which would be torn down for the new building, two have been aban­doned for around five years, and one was involved in a meth fire. 

Vear also pointed out that revenue brought in by the devel­opment could be put toward infra­structure improve­ments such as roads. 

Coun­cilman Matt Bell­pointed out that people were able to find affordable housing for years before MSHDA existed. 

He also noted that the res­i­dents of Hillsdale have said they would rather keep the aban­doned houses on North West Street than have Wells Apart­ments built in their place.

Fol­lowing the vote, Stephen Naumann, a res­ident of North West Street and assistant pro­fessor of German at Hillsdale College, said he was pleased with the vote. 

“I am happy that the council was wanting to listen to its con­stituents, and they heard a pretty resounding, unified oppo­sition to the apartment complex on West Street from a lot of dif­ferent angles, from people in dif­ferent parts of town, a lot of walks of life,” Naumann said. 

“That was pretty neat to be a part of. It gives you faith in the offi­cials to have a good sense of mind or to listen, and I think a lot of them did in the last few weeks.”

Edi­tor’s Note: A cor­rection was made in the 18th graf to clarify that the duration of time the homes have been aban­doned. A cor­rection was made in the last graf to clarify the speaker was not “fil­li­busting.”