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November 20, 2012

Acme Township board sees biggest change since '04

ACME — Incoming Acme Township supervisor Jay Zollinger believes he and the rest of the township board have a mandate.

Township citizens don't want uncontrolled, unreasonable development, he said. But they definitely want "the right kind of growth in the right spots."

"We had a lot of people for a long time wanting to stop growth," he said. "People see there's a need for a change, and they want to do something different."

A township infamous for a knock-down, drag-out battle over a proposed Meijer store will have an almost-completely new township board effective today at 10 a.m., when new members are sworn in. Trustee Paul Scott is the lone holdover on the seven-member board.

Zollinger replaces Wayne Kladder, who didn't seek re-election. Trustees Amy Jenema, Gordie LaPointe and Doug White replace Ron Hardin, Erick Takayama and Frank Zarafonitis. Clerk Dorothy Dunville is replaced by Christine Bassett, and Connie Collett replaces Linda Wikle as treasurer.

Zollinger spent about five years on the township's planning commission. About a decade ago, plenty of people in the township adamantly any kind of development, he said. But a soured economy changed that, Zollinger believes. New development could mean new jobs, higher property values and more.

"We don't want a bunch of strip malls," he said. "We need quality things and things that will help the community."

Jenema, who will hold public office for the first time, believes there's been plenty of polarizing behavior in the past several years. She believes the new board will have the ability to "compromise and work together."

The last time the board saw such an overhaul was in 2004, when the board saw a 100 percent turnover, Township Manager Sharon Vreeland said.

"Thing went fine then, and I think they'll go fine now," she said. "We're doing everything we can to make it a smooth transition."

The township this year approved a large-scale project that will include a Meijer store. Meijer will anchor a large retail development at the intersection of M-72 and Lautner Road. Vreeland and Zollinger said that project is scheduled to break ground in the spring.

That decision came after a years-long battle over a proposed Meijer store in the same spot. Meijer acknowledged in 2008 it violated state law when it secretly spent more than $100,000 on lawyers and a public relations firm to fight a 2005 township referendum and support a 2007 effort to recall the township board because of board members' opposition to the store.

Meijer's illegal spending was unearthed during legal proceedings tied to a lawsuit against Meijer by former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres. He sued and obtained a settlement from Meijer for malicious prosecution after Meijer sued Boltres and other Acme officials.

Scott, an eight-year veteran of the board, said township and Meijer officials worked hard this time around to make sure both the community's and Meijer's needs were met. The battle is a thing of the past, he said.

"It might not seem that way from the outside, but we've really worked together," he said. "I think we've finally gotten to the point where those things are starting to work themselves out."

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