Leighton Township faces massive challenges ahead

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” article. It is an editorial by the editor.

“I moved out here to get away from the city.”

“It can’t happen here. It can’t happen here. I’m telling you my dear, that it can’t happen here.” — Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, 1966

The Leighton Township Board just had a rough week, and it appears there will be tough political sledding ahead. The Planning Commission was inundated Wednesday by citizens opposing a massive residential development on the east side of Division north of 12th Street. Then it had to handle another rezoning request to accommodate an update for the Galloway Landings air park.

Furthermore, there has been some grumbling that the board has voted unwisely to spend its $650,000 in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on the aging and dilapidated former Moline Elementary and property instead of using the money for badly needed infrastructure.

It should be no secret to virtually anyone that Leighton indeed lacks infrastructure needed to handle massive growth it has experienced over the last several years. The number of building permits issued over the past five years indicates Leighton is one of the fast growing townships, in terms of population, in all of Michigan.

It could be argued that what happened to formerly farm and rural communities Byron Center and Caledonia seems to be moving now to Leighton Township, which is close to Grand Rapids and suburban Wyoming and Byron and Gaines townships. Yes, it appears that not urban, but suburban sprawl is threatening to invade these quiet rural spaces.

That massive development proposed by GRI Moline on the east side of Division is just the latest indication. Developers envision a large apartment complex and expansion of light industrial and office opportunities. That’s about as far away as you can get from rural agricultural.

Moline and Leighton Township not long ago welcomed the Hunters Glen mobile home park and the Millstone residential subdivision, both located on more southerly areas of Division. The local fire department already has issued a public statement that it might not be able to handle properly the public safety needs of another influx of people clustered in a small area.

Throw in Galloway Landings’ request to update the air park near 144th Avenue, and you have further evidence of growth, generally regarded as a good thing, but also with a history of being costly.

Leighton’s Achilles Heel just might be roads. It hasn’t been able to get much done in the way or reconstructing and paving roads recently because it simply doesn’t have the money. Exacerbating the problem is that local residents have shown more than once they don’t want to pay a higher millage rate for roads.

The Leighton Township Board meeting Thursday night revealed a desire from some residents for more or better sidewalks because pedestrians are being forced to walk on a dangerous road or street with high traffic while attempting to go to the ballpark or to Dollar General.

Some have said privately they wished the Township Board would have funneled that $650,000 in ARPA funds to a sidewalk building program rather than the old elementary.

No matter how you look at it, Leighton Township is in an uncomfortable position in dealing with its future. Though the GRI Moline project did not win the Planning Commission’s blessing this past week, you can bet your bottom dollar the developers will be back.

It’s an old, old story, an old, old issue, but urban or suburban sprawl visiting Leighton is going to tax a once rural and agricultural community in more ways than one. And I don’t think local officials can do a whole lot about it.

1 Comment

  • After being made aware that the Leighton Township Board elected to spend the entire Township allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funding (over $624,000 – the third largest township allocation in Allegan County) on an unusable 85-year old abandoned school building and the adjacent softball field it’s impossible to have ANY confidence in the Leighton Township Board’s ability to handle the inevitable expansion of housing / business needs of the township.

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