Oct 6, 2008

Developer will provide steam for proposed rail line

The push by Green Oak Township developer Earl LaFave should give the stalled Washtenaw and Livingston rail Line (WALLY) the steam it needs to get rolling.

The Livingston County Daily Press & Argus reported LaFave plans to build $77 million in commercial, residential and other development in Howell and Northfield Township in Washtenaw County along the planned rail line from Howell to Ann Arbor.

Washtenaw County, the City of Howell and the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce are part of a consortium that plans to form an authority to secure federal funding for the 27-mile rail line will ease traffic and stress on U.S. 23 traffic where many county residents drive to work in Ann Arbor.

Last month the all Republican Livingston County Board of Commissioners decided not to become part of the coalition or to provide any money to the project. Despite the shortsighted decision, the consortium is going forward, and LaFave’s input will help it along.

I personally know LaFave, and I know he gets things done. I first met him when I was covering Green Oak Township for the South Lyon Herald back in 1998. Back then, GOT was known as Green Joke Township, and it was a target rich environment for a reporter. There were lots of lawsuits and conflict, and one of them was with LaFave and his brother who wanted to build the Hidden Lake development on the former gravel pit the brothers mined located behind the old township hall on Silver Lake Road.

The township originally granted the rezoning, but the township board then rescinded it when a group formed to place it on the ballot and voters rejected it. The argument was it was too large and the homes would be “cookie cuter.” The Hidden Lake issue drove GOT politics for a while in the late ‘90s. Anyone who has seen the finished development would be astonished by that description.

LaFave filed a lawsuit, and I came on the scene when the case was slowly making its way through the courts, and I mean slowly. I got to know him during the biweekly township boaed meetings when the board would go into closed session to talk about the many lawsuits, usually around 10 p.m., and just the diehards were left until the board came back into session. The LaFave offices were right next door to the township offices.

After months and months of delays he won the lawsuit, and the development was built. A few years later I got the opportunity to interview him in his home in the development for a feature story. It was and is the most beautiful home I have ever seen.

He started with one truck hauling gravel. He then took the next step of owning what he was hauling. Since s stone quarry needs to be reclaimed he took the next step of building a marina development, and the first one was in Northville.

With someone like that behind the project, we will finally see a reliable mass transit system in the region. I have heard the plan criticized because taxpayers will have to subsidize the mass transit system.

That argument holds no water when you consider how much tax money is spent on repairing, maintaining and building roads.

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