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.”