More than a month after Anthony Spokojny decided to resign from his position on West Bloomfield’s Environmental Commission, the reason for his resignation continues to resonate in the township.

Spokojny was the chair of the Environmental Commission before opting to resign in protest of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to approve a use permit request for the construction of a behavioral health hospital.

Now a second commissioner has announced that she won’t pursue another term, saying that the Environmental Commission was being set aside. Adria Brown’s term on the Environmental Commission is set to expire April 15.

Due to an oversight, she said, she did not respond to a written inquiry requesting confirmation of her interest in reapplying for the position by a certain date.

However, in an email, she stated that, “It just meant that I would have to reapply (for) my position on the Board, and I declined to do so.”

Brown has served on the Environmental Commission for more than 12 years.

Although she said it has been a “privilege and honor” to serve, among the many reasons for her decision to not reapply are ones “not dissimilar to (those of) Tony Spokojny.”

“I am disappointed with where the township is taking their vision,” Brown said. “I support the expansion of the city, but with good taste. … They have not considered, in making decisions, the very important decision about the legacy of our trees with Henry Ford Hospital. It was a devastating thing.”

According to West Bloomfield Township’s website, the proposed development is Henry Ford Health System/Acadia Health Behavioral Health Hospital.

“Allowing Henry Ford to tear down 18 acres of trees has largely undone all of the environmental preservation that preceded it,” Spokojny stated in a letter of resignation to the Board of Trustees.

He further stated that the damage to the environment in knocking down a stand of mature trees is “incalculable” and that “Henry Ford should have been required to provide a more environmentally sensitive plan.”

At a regular meeting Nov. 10, the Environmental Commission unanimously recommended that the Planning Commission deny a use permit for the construction of the proposed 192-bed behavioral health hospital, which is to be located south of the Henry Ford West Bloomfield and Maplegrove Center on the Henry Ford campus, located at 6777 W. Maple Road.

The Environmental Commission recommended denial of the use permit for the construction of the facility, along with construction of stormwater management systems with “impact to” woodlands, according to minutes recorded at the Nov. 10 meeting.

Spokojny said there has never previously been a petition for which the Planning Commission did not accept a recommendation from the Environmental Commission.

Despite Spokojny’s belief that the mental health facility is important to the community at large, from his perspective, there is a high environmental cost, and that environmental cost should have been mitigated better.

Township Treasurer Teri Weingarden shared that perspective.

“When I learned that the Planning Commission had overturned the Environmental Commission suggestions regarding the preservation of mature trees on the Henry Ford site, I was mortified,” Weingarden stated via email. “I discussed our options with our legal counsel to see if we had authority over this matter. Unfortunately, the members of the Township Board (are) unable to personally file this appeal.”

Jim Manna is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He is in favor of the Planning Commission’s approval.

“I support their decision 100%,” Manna said. “There’s two sides to this, and if you think saving trees is more important than mental health, that’s wrong. I think there has to be a balance there. We’re forgetting the need for mental health right now, especially with what we’ve been through with COVID.”

Manna expanded on his thoughts.

“We’re talking about human life versus tree life,” he said. “I love trees. I love the environment, but there has to be a balance here. … This is a mental health facility that is so needed in our state right now. … I’m shocked at the outpouring by some of the public.”

Another member of the Board of Trustees, Jonathan Warshay, also shared some thoughts.

“I regret the impact this project is causing to our environment,” he stated via email. “I will do everything in my power to protect the township’s natural resources from future harm.”

From Brown’s perspective, the current direction of the township is not in line with her “feeling of responsibility.”

“I felt that the Environmental Commission was being set aside,” she said. “Its purpose was no longer meaningful, and there was no reason for me to continue on in the direction that it was going.”

Brown said the township is moving “too swiftly, “without respect to the long-term consequences to the historical beauty of our township and its irreplaceable woodlands, wetlands and wildlife, on land, in the streams and in the lakes. And though their vision for a greater, busier, larger township may be admirable, it’s been done with reckless abandon and irreplaceable damage and harm.”

West Bloomfield Township Planning and Development Services Director Amy Neary disagrees with that opinion.

She said there is a woodland and wetland ordinance in the township, and the proposed site violates neither.

“None of the ordinances have changed in the township,” Neary said. “The township, in my opinion, still values our natural resources and (wants) to preserve them to the greatest extent possible. At the same time, though, we have to balance people’s rights to develop their property, and we have to balance new development.”

Neary said that West Bloomfield is a “maturing community.”

“So the parcels that we have left now are the more difficult parcels; all the easy parcels have been developed,” she said. “What’s left right now are more challenging parcels that weren’t developed before because they may have had some of these environmental constraints to them. … I don’t think that the township has wavered from their stamp, in that protecting the environment is important to the community. Our ordinances have been placed for a long time, and they’re still there.”

Spokojny noted that Henry Ford has done nothing illegal.

Manna said that Henry Ford has acted within its rights.

“It’s their property,” he said. “West Bloomfield’s only one of six townships in the state of Michigan that has its own Environmental Commission. We keep forgetting that people have property rights. They own their own property.”

West Bloomfield resident Chris Mack believes that allowing the trees at the Henry Ford site to be torn down will have a “generational impact.”

“You’re making this decision for your children, grandchildren (and) great-grandchildren,” she said. “Once that forest is gone, it’s gone forever.”

Mack said that a mental health center is needed, but she believes it doesn’t have to come at the cost of the forest and that it should be located within the hospital’s existing facility.

“The irony here is that being in nature is the most helpful thing to our mental health … so to chop down a forest that provides so much good to so many people, thousands of people, for a facility that can treat, what, 300 people at a time? The numbers don’t support it, the logic doesn’t support it (and) the humanity doesn’t support it.”

Mack said it was “highly irresponsible” for the Planning Commission to go against the recommendation of the Environmental Commission.

West Bloomfield resident Diane Hausner expressed a similar sentiment.

“They totally went against everything that was recommended,” she said. “It was all for money — tax dollars for West Bloomfield — and they don’t care about anything else.”

West Bloomfield Township Supervisor Steven Kaplan shared a statement to clarify what the township will receive from Henry Ford.

“The hospital will pay $250,000 annually to the township, in perpetuity, in the event that (the) state determines that the hospital is exempt from paying taxes,” he stated via email. “If the state does not render such a decree, the hospital thereupon will pay annual taxes.”

If the hospital does have to pay annual taxes, Kaplan said that amount would also be around $250,000.

He also said that amount would increase by 5% each year, if it’s payment in lieu of taxes.

Neary addressed the criticism about the Planning Commission not going along with the recommendation of the Environmental Commission.

“The parcels that we’re dealing with are different than the parcels we were dealing with previously,” she said. “Finding that balance is something that the Planning Commission, I think, was trying to achieve with the Henry Ford project.”

Hausner said she has lived in West Bloomfield for more than 55 years.

“People moved here for being out by the lakes,” she said. “They moved here for the trees; they moved here for nature; they moved here for the beauty of the area, and that’s all being destroyed.”

Manna addressed some of the feedback that has come from residents.

“We’ve received a ton of letters from residents telling us how upset they are, that they’ve lived here for 40 years,” he said. “The whole world changes every 10 years. In 40 years, do you expect everything to stay the same?”

Neary does not believe that the township has abandoned a commitment to protecting the environment.

“I don’t see a change in direction, in terms of preserving the environment,” she said. “I still think that is important to all of our boards and commissions here. This is one project that one commission didn’t agree with another commission, in terms of how that preservation was occurring on a particular piece of property, but I would point out that Henry Ford is still preserving almost 16 acres of woodland area on their property, in conservation easement in perpetuity. So, that will never be developed.”

Henry Ford Health System previously released a statement about the approved mental health facility site.

“The need for mental health services has reached crisis levels across the nation,” stated Henry Ford Health System Senior Vice President and CEO of the North Market Denise Brooks-Williams. “We are honored for the opportunity to increase access to those services and eager to make this a reality for the communities we serve. When we acquired the land in the 1980s, we committed to being good neighbors and mindful stewards of the land. Over the years, we have taken a thoughtful approach to our development plans.”

Brooks-Williams shared more of Henry Ford Health Systems’ perspective.

“Robust conservation efforts associated with our newest development include the permanent preservation of more than 17 acres (42% of the property) of woodlands and wetlands through a conservation easement and positioning the building to minimize the impact on natural features,” she stated. “Throughout this project, we’ve partnered closely with community leaders and neighborhood associations, and worked diligently to comply with state environmental regulations. Ongoing conversations have resulted in reducing the height of the building from 3 stories to 2 stories, limiting parking and access to the front of the building in order to preserve a substantial wooded area, and creating a tree buffer between the building and the adjacent neighborhood. We look forward to continuing conversations with the community and sharing our progress in the coming months.”

In a recent statement, Brooks-Williams added that, “Our newest development meets all state environmental regulations, and of the 40 acres rezoned for this project, we are only using 15.

According to Neary, there was a 21-day timeframe in which the Planning Commission’s decision could have been appealed to the Board of Trustees, but that step was not taken.

Although a board can’t appeal, an individual from a board or a resident can.

From Spokojny’s perspective, the only benefit in appealing the decision would have been, “Delaying the inevitable.”

“The standard for reversing the decision of a lower board is an abuse of discretion. That’s an exceptionally high bar to overcome,” he said. “You have to show that what was done, the decision made, was done with no authority, or completely contradictory to the facts or surrounding circumstances. That’s an exceptionally high bar to overcome.”

Neary concurred that there is a “standard of abuse discretion” and addressed the lack of an appeal by anyone from the Environmental Commission.

“Typically, you don’t see members of (an) Environmental Commission, Planning Commission (or) a lower body than the township board appealing to the township board,” she said. “It’s not a very common situation; I don’t think it’s ever occurred, So, could they have? Yes. Do they typically? No.”

In her email, Weingarden stated that Henry Ford Hospital has “formally” agreed to set aside more than 15 acres for a permanent tree conservation area and obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for the behavioral medicine hospital.

“I support trying to establish more conservation areas in the township to avoid future destruction of mature trees, wetlands and woodlands,” she stated.

Spokojny said that there has been talk of residents opposed to the Planning Commission’s decision picketing at the entrance of Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, but he isn’t confident that would make a difference.

“I don’t think our group is big enough to man an appropriate sort of picket line for a number of hours during the course of the day,” Spokojny said. “I think the only thing that we can do is appeal to the powers that be at Henry Ford and plead with them to find some way of putting up this building without knocking down 18 acres of trees.”

Spokojny later sent an email stating that the “deforestation” process has commenced.

Members of West Bloomfield’s Planning Commission did not respond to opportunities to provide comment.

Kaplan shared a statement about Brown via email.

“In 2009, I had the honor of supporting Adria’s nomination for serving on the Wetland Review Board (now the Environmental Board),” he stated. “Adria has been a caring, zealous and dependable board member, with a commitment to protecting and preserving the township’s environmental features.”

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