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MSP nixes expansion after site plan denial
PC cites deficient landscape plans, zoning ord. violations, unauthorized outdoor storage

by CJ Carnacchio

December 26, 2012

It appears that MSP Industries has decided not to expand its Oxford Township's facilities in light of a recent decision by the planning commission to deny approval of its preliminary site plan.

"On Tuesday (Dec. 18), they stopped the project. That's where they left it," said Oxford architect Jim Wilson, who prepared and presented plans for the proposed 4,886-square-foot addition to MSP's existing facility located at 161 Plexus Drive.

"I'm not to do any more work on it . . . There was a comment to the effect (of) 'We're through trying to get along with Oxford.' What they were telling me was that they were not going to try anymore to grow their building. They would be further ahead to find another building."

The proposed addition was designed to allow MSP Industries, which is owned by the Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM), to begin making automotive components for Honda and hire up to 30 skilled trades workers.

"I want to make it clear that while they were very disappointed (in the planning commission's decision), they're not leaving Oxford," Wilson noted. "They're just not adding the addition."

Christopher Son, a spokesperson for the Detroit-based American Axle & Manufacturing (AAM), which owns MSP Industries, did not a return a phone call seeking comment by press time on Friday.

The township planning commission certainly had a laundry list of reasons to deny the preliminary site plan.

Chief among those reasons:

n Allegedly unauthorized outdoor storage of industrial equipment, which at least one planning commissioner feared could be a potential source of environmental contamination.

n Landscape plans that were deemed unacceptable because they were incomplete, inaccurate, outdated and unclear.

n Alleged violations of the township zoning ordinance.

"I just feel real uncomfortable about this," said Planning Commissioner Tom Lepping.

Although he believes "they're very good employers to a lot of people in Oxford," Commissioner Jack Curtis noted, "(MSP) doesn't seem like they're very good corporate citizens."

"They're not even here tonight to hear these comments," he said.

Wilson was the only one who attended the meeting to represent MSP.

"I'm concerned about expansion of this whole thing," said Commissioner Kallie Roesner. "To me, nothing's in control. We don't know where stuff is at."

Although he freely admitted there were problems and issues to be worked out, Wilson believes the planning commission could have still approved the preliminary site plan and had things corrected and clarified going forward.

"I think they were not justified (in their denial)," he said. "My opinion of what should have been done (is) give me the preliminary approval and say you've got to come back with a corrected landscape drawing, but in the meantime, you can get started with this project."

Wilson noted how both the township engineer and planner recommended approval.

"Although some of the design items need to be expanded upon and are not fully clear with this submittal, we believe that this site plan as submitted provides sufficient information to support that the site can be engineered to meet the requirements of the township," wrote Engineer Jim Sharpe. "Therefore, we recommend the approval of the submitted site plan pertaining to engineering related items."

"Provided that the applicant can address the items stated (in this review), we would recommend site plan approval," wrote Planner Brian Oppmann.

Much time was spent by the planning commission criticizing various aspects of the landscape plan presented by Wilson for being deficient and unclear.

There were other criticisms of the plans such as the fact they contained proposed parking in a greenbelt area, they lacked specific ingress/egress plans and the outdoor storage wasn't indicated anywhere on them.

"Mr. Wilson, I am really disappointed in these plans," said Commission Chairman Todd Bell. "We gave you excellent direction at the pre-application conference. You knew what you had to do and you come in here with this."

"I think the plans really show a lot of discrepancy (when it comes) to what we need (in order) to prove that they comply with the requirements of the township's ordinances," said Commissioner Tom Berger.

Wilson made no bones about the fact that the landscape plan was not up to snuff and it was his fault entirely.

"They leveled a lot of criticisms at me and it was not entirely unjustified," he said. "I went to (Planning Commission Chairman) Todd Bell and apologized for the quality of the work before the meeting because it was not clear and I had seen that when I got back (from deer hunting in Montana). I didn't get back until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving."

The landscape plan was turned in on Nov. 19, while Wilson was away.

"That drawing was not adequate," Wilson said. "It just was not clear enough . . . I can only blame it on the fact that it was done too damn quickly and Jim Wilson wasn't there to check the work before it left."

But the planning commission's displeasure with the landscape plan paled in comparison to the issue of MSP Industries' alleged unauthorized outdoor storage, which according to Commissioner Kallie Roesner, consisted "of chemicals, gears, grease, lubricants."

"There (were) containers. There (were) drums. There (were) leaking things and I have pictures of all this," she said. "I was really disturbed by what I saw."

Roesner reported seeing a "huge gear wheel," about 12 feet or larger in diameter, "with grease dripping off it right into the parking lot" and "draining into the grass that feeds my well."

Her biggest concerns were possible pollution of the watershed and potential contamination of the groundwater.

"We're all (on) wells out there," Roesner said. "Who's watching the water quality from this place?"

"The health and safety of the public are my primary concern on this," she explained. "Everyone out there has a well and you've got all this stuff leaking into the ground. I want to make sure that's been looked at and addressed, That scares me. It really does. There's leaking drums and all kinds of stuff."

Curtis agreed that it's not a pretty sight.

"This area is a dump and people live across the street from it," he said.

Wilson admitted the outdoor storage issue "caught me totally flatfooted."

He explained that some of that storage had to do with machinery that was going to be housed in the structure he was designing.

"The stuff that I saw on Friday (Dec. 14) was the stuff that's going into the addition," he said.

As for the "huge gear wheel" that Roesner mentioned, Wilson indicated it "had been there."

"It was a part coming out (of the facility). It had been loaded into a truck and was gone on Friday morning when I went over there," he said. "It was being rebuilt or re-manufactured or something."

Wilson said "there are a lot of steel pallet kind of containers" outside filled with "the heavy gear parts that they make axle shafts, gears, bearings and that kind of stuff."

"Those are all shipped in those metal containers," he explained. "They do have those in the yard, but that's been that way for years behind a fence."

In the end, Wilson indicated MSP's outdoor storage is a combination of things.

"Some of it was going out, some of it was coming in," he said. "There's always metal boxes around there empty ones going in and full ones coming out. That's just how they ship their parts."

In addition to being a potential environmental hazard, the outdoor storage area is a zoning ordinance violation because MSP Industries never received approval for it, according to planning commissioners.

MSP's property is zoned Light Industrial (I-1), so outdoor storage is allowed with special land use approval for it.

"If it's outdoor storage within an industrial district, it should always be shown (on the site plan) and it should always be noted where it's going to be, so the planning commission can either approve or deny it," Berger said.

He noted it also must be fenced in, not just left "exposed."

But the outdoor storage wasn't the only ordinance violation cited by the planning commission.

There was also some discussion over a parking lot that officials claim was created without approval. Wilson confirmed the lot was built without the township's okay.

"We've got a lot of things here that aren't meeting (the township's zoning ordinance)," Curtis said. "We don't need to continue adding more trouble to this piece of land."

Bell noted that whenever a property that doesn't conform with the zoning ordinance or possesses "irregularities" as he put it wishes to do something, like construct an addition, those issues "must be rectified."

"We don't mind an addition to the building as long as the other issues (are made to) comply," Berger said.

As a member of the Economic Development Subcommittee who works hard to promote the community and bring jobs here, Bell was particularly upset by the plans submitted by MSP Industries and the alleged ordinance violations taking place on its property.

"I bend over backwards to promote Oxford, to get things done, and then we get this in front of us," he said.