Last Monday night I went to another Byron Township Board meeting. Yes, I know, I should just get Cable. This promised to be well-attended with heated discussions. The Board was to approve, or not, the rezoning application for Tanger Outlet Mall that would officially move Byron Center out of the “rural” classification. The meeting started at 7pm with a packed room and a group of men in business suits representing Tanger. The regular Call To Order and Approval of the Minutes led to New Business.
The group representing Tanger gave a presentation explaining what had been discussed at the Planning meeting and how the mall would be situated at 84th Street and US 131 (one mile from where I grew up and about a quarter mile from my elementary school). I expected huge pushback when it came to the public hearing part. Most people were for it – it would bring jobs -just so no fast food places came with it, if Alles Drive could be made a cul-de-sac, and if it would bring in lots of tax revenue. Everyone was very polite and had obviously taken much time to gather their thoughts. Then the Byron Township lawyer stated that just that afternoon he had received petitions from two businesses on properties next to the proposed mall site and there had to be a settlement procedure before the board could vote on anything, so tabled.
Now it’s about 8pm. All the Tanger people and interested parties leave. Still a pretty full room. The next item is a rezoning application to build apartments. Now comes the real passion. Interesting dynamics here. For the mall discussion, the people who came and spoke for or against the mall had all lived here forever. The apartment discussion was different. Now the apartments (gated community with pool, pet spa, granite counters and stainless steel appliances) would be 256 units (studio, 1,2,3,and 4 bedrooms) on a plot of land bordered by Byron Center Avenue, M6, a hospital and a church. Oh, and a recently built, lovely single family home development: VanSingel Farms.
Perhaps I should mention that one of the Board members is John VanSingel. A little history. John’s father was President of Byron Center State Bank when I was in school. It was the only bank in town and funded many of the town’s activities. John has been very successful on his own and has contributed much to the direction, growth, and success of Byron Center. VanSingel Farms is the poster child of the wealth and stability that has taken Byron from the thrifty, conservative, farm village of my youth to the thrifty, conservative, prestigious town that I have returned to.
The Springs group presents their vision for the site. This is valuable land now – certainly wasn’t before M6 and the hospitals were built. Byron is a single family detached house place. “Owning” your house and a “good place to raise kids” are two of the highest values here. Renting and raising kids – not so much.
There were two arguments against building the Springs Apartment Complex. The first: is this the best use of the land, tax-wise? Would business/professional offices be better for taxes and for developing an area that recently was all farm land? Second: renters are scum, their kids will break our schools, and they will strain our police and fire department resources. Shall I go on? They have no “values”, have no interest in what they vote for, pay no taxes, and in months it will be subsidized housing and Byron Center will have become “Kentwood” – which apparently is the code word for “trashy renters destroying any town they inhabit and possibly bringing on the Apocalypse”.
One after another, they got up to speak out against the proposed apartment development. They stated their name and address (VanSingel Farms) and then noted that they had recently (some just a few months ago) moved here from Kentwood or other parts of the country and came to have a nice house in a nice area with good schools and while they just got here and were nice, well, renters would destroy property values, traffic patterns, school excellence, and would generally need tax dollars that these homeowners would have to pay.
As a renter for most of my life, I was shocked at how my housing choice branded me a drag on the community. I know many renters who have made positive contributions to society. Some have stayed renters and some have advanced to the desired mortgage situation. Another phenomena that not many understand in this area is that not everyone marries and not everyone has children -ever. In my years in Chicago, a minority of my friends/colleagues were married. Of those married, only a few had children, either by choice or circumstance. (Here, I don’t know anyone that didn’t marry and/or have children.) People moved around – around the city, to different states. It was easier to follow career paths and opportunities without a house to buy/sell/maintain. There are two hospitals in walking distance (except you’d have to walk across a highway) of the proposed apartments. Sounds perfect for medical staff that are training or on a rotation of a couple months or years. They probably don’t have kids, are professionals that are working more than 8 hour days and don’t know if they will be staying beyond their term.
After the public had spoken, the Township lawyer spoke again. And once again, this time a sort of bureaucratic glitch, the vote could not be taken and had to be tabled.
It’s now 9pm. I have to leave, because dogs must be let out and teenager accounted for. There are still six items of business that I would have liked to stayed for. Pretty much everyone else left, too. They have dogs and kids to put to bed. I don’t know how much longer the meeting went but I have sat through some or their sewer discussions and they might still be there.