Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

April 25, 2010

Developer's gift to shoreline project on Acme agenda

Officials to discuss whether to accept gifts

TRAVERSE CITY — Acme Township officials will discuss whether it's appropriate to accept gifts from developers who have projects on the table after a developer pledged $100,000 for the township's shoreline preservation project.

Township Supervisor Wayne Kladder said the township has accepted gifts from people on both sides of a controversial Meijer store project, and the township won't return $100,000 it recently received from Steve Smith, managing partner of the Village at Grand Traverse LLC.

But Kladder decided the board should discuss the issue when it meets May 11 at 7 p.m.

"Steve Smith made a wonderful gift and that's a done deal," Kladder said. "The conservancy already accepted the money on our behalf ... but if anyone on the board or from the public have any concerns about the gift, this is their opportunity."

The Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy handles the township's fundraising to acquire $1.8 million in matching funds for $5.26 million in Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grants. The money will allow the township to purchase four hotels, a restaurant and a vacant lot as it expands public ownership of the shoreline from M-72 to Five Mile Road.

Township Trustee Ron Hardin said he has no reason to doubt the sincerity of Smith's gift, but wants to know if others think it creates an appearance of impropriety.

Smith led past efforts to gain township approval for the Village at Grand Traverse, a sprawling commercial and residential development on 182-acres at M-72 east of Lautner Road to be anchored by a Meijer store.

One of Smith's partners, Anderson Real Estate of Cincinnati, kick-started the project late in 2009, following five years of lawsuits, an unsuccessful recall effort that involved illegal campaign activity funded by Meijer, and plenty of political acrimony.

Hardin said he'd be more concerned had the conservancy solicited a donation from Smith.

"It's been a long six years and I don't think anybody's under any illusions that donations would sway us one way or the other, but it wouldn't be proper for the township to solicit money from people who have projects before us," Hardin said.

Conservancy representative Megan Olds said Smith called one day and offered the pledge.

"I just think it's a worthwhile project," said Smith, who offered the money as a tribute to his late wife. "Acme doesn't have that sense of place when you see the bay, that makes you feel like 'I'm at someplace.' I think that park could be an integral part of Acme's identity."

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