John H. Westman’s Major Accomplishments:
John has served our community since 2004, and his many contributions over the past 16 years are too numerous to list them all.
OPPOSING THE WCRC ROADSIDE SPRAY PROGRAM:
John Westman worked hard to protect our community from the arrogance of the Washtenaw County Road Commission (WCRC), and its ill-conceived proposal to douse our roadsides with chemical herbicides. During the summer of 2019, without due notice to the public, the WCRC announced that it planned to spray a cocktail of toxic herbicides to kill vegetation encroaching upon the road right of way. Township residents banded together to oppose this unsightly and environmentally unsound proposal. Anti-spray signs appeared throughout the township. John was powerful in his support of this grassroots opposition. He spoke twice to the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, and three times to the Road Commission regarding this issue. Ultimately, the Road Commission relented to the public and political pressure, and cancelled the roadside spraying project. Fortunately, this potential environmental disaster was averted.
ESTABLISHING THE LAND PRESERVATION (PDR) PROGRAM:
John was a pioneer in the land preservation initiative, both in Washtenaw County as a whole and specifically in Webster Township. Before there were any PDR ordinances or supporting millages, John served on three committees to champion the concept of permanently protecting our Township’s farms and open spaces. John served on a county wide committee along with Bill Millikin JR., John Cares SR and others to recommend a county PDR ordinance. He worked on a Washtenaw County Farm Bureau Committee to advocate for local township PDR programs. He also served on a committee chaired by John Allison, Ann Arbor Township trustee. That committee was instrumental in facilitating the establishment of funded PDR programs in Ann Arbor, Scio, Superior and Webster townships.
John currently serves as chair of the Webster Township Farmland and Open Space Preservation Board. This board is responsible for making recommendations to the township board regarding land preservation issues. As of today, Webster Township has participated in the purchase of development rights (PDR) on over 2,100 acres of farmland and open space. In the state of Michigan, Webster Township is second only to Peninsula Township in northern Michigan in the number of acres preserved and protected through PDR. The PDR program has also received national recognition by the Sierra Club. You can learn more about the accomplishments of the PDR program in its most recent annual report [LIVE WEBLINK]. Also, stay turned for the PDR Board’s upcoming newsletter, which describes the most recent acquisitions to our community-supported land preservation program.
PRESERVING NIXON FARMS:
Preserving Nixon Farms was a long-term goal of the Township’s Farmland and Open Space Preservation program. Following the defeat of the proposal to turn Nixon Farms into a trailer park, there was interest in developing the property as a dense residential site condominium development - but ultimately the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Commission, with financial support from Webster Township’s PDR program, was able to purchase the development rights on this large parcel. Nixon Farms is one of a handful of large agricultural properties in Webster Township with significant road frontage. Scenic vistas abound from both Zeeb and Daly roads. From trailer park to preserved farmland - a huge PDR success story.
PRESERVING BASE LAKE FARMS:
Early in the land preservation effort, two large agricultural properties were identified as being particularly desirable acquisitions. The first was Nixon Farms which has already been discussed. The second was Base Lake Farms, a 260 acre parcel with beautiful view shed when looking south from Strawberry Lake Road. The owner, who lived in New York, was not interested in selling the development rights for this property. Fortunately, he agreed to sell the property to new owners who wanted to protect it from development. This large, very expensive property was far too big a project for Webster Township to fund alone. Webster Township is currently accomplishing this in increments, with funding support from both federal sources and the Natural Areas Preservation Program run by the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Department.
DEFEATING THE PROPOSED AIRPORT:
The proposed airport on Gregory Road was a significant event in Webster Township. John was on both the Planning Commission and the Township Board when the application was filed. After careful review and close scrutiny, it became apparent that if the airport was permitted, the Township would have absolutely no ability to regulate its operations. Federal and state regulations would supersede anything the Township might try to do to ensure the protection and well-being of its residents. Hundreds of Webster Township residents spoke in opposition to the proposed airport. John listened – and, representing his constituents, John voted to deny the airport application at both the Planning Commission and the Township Board levels.
BUILDING A FIRE HALL TO PROTECT OUR RESIDENTS:
About fourteen years ago, Trustee Rick Kleinschmidt recommended that the Township Board create and fund a capital improvement program with the intention of constructing a fire station on Township owned property. The Township Board did this with the intention that a fire station would be built when enough money was accumulated to pay the entire cost. This fire station will significantly improve emergency response times for our Township’s residents, and the Township Board has saved carefully to fund this much-needed safety measure. A few years ago, John determined that it was time to begin planning to build the project. John served on the team that conceptualized and created the design for the proposed fire station. Despite a number of challenges, the project was approved and construction has begun. When the fire hall is completed, response times in the central area and northeast quadrant of the township will be significantly reduced. Also, Webster township residents living in Loch Alpine will benefit from the close proximity of the new station. The health, safety and welfare of the township residents will be significantly improved.
DEFEATING THE GRAND SAKWA TRAILER PARK:
Around 2002, Grand Sakwa, a large developer, applied to the Webster Township Planning Commission to build a 900 unit trailer park on approximately 275 acres of the Nixon Farm (now PDR protected by the Ann Arbor Greenbelt Commission and Webster Township). This development would have destroyed the unique rural character of Webster Township that we have worked so hard to protect. With this one development, the population of Webster Township would have doubled, and our Township’s infrastructure would have been taxed far beyond capacity. John, a Planning Commissioner, made the motion to deny the application. The developer retreated, and today we have preserved land in place of an unsustainable trailer park.
SECURING A STRONG FUTURE FOR THE DEXTER AREA FIRE DEPARTMENT (DAFD)
John Westman has been a member of the DAFD administrative Board for fifteen years. Over this time, John has repeatedly secured a strong and sustainable future for the Fire Department in the face of threats that could otherwise have negatively impacted the DAFD’s financial viability.
During a year that John was Chair, Dexter Township considered leaving the DAFD and joining the Chelsea Area Fire Authority. Had they left the department the costs to the two remaining municipalities would have immediately increased by 50%. Under John’s leadership the Fire Board was able to convince Dexter Township officials to remain part of the DAFD. This secured the continued viability of the Fire Department, as the economic impact of Dexter Township’s departure would have been catastrophic.
John’s greatest accomplishment on the Fire Board involved the revision of the firefighter retirement plan. When John joined the Fire Board, the firefighters enjoyed a “defined benefit” retirement plan. It became apparent that this pension plan was not sustainable over the long haul. John proposed switching to a “defined contribution” plan in order to guarantee the financial stability of the department. For years the majority of the Fire Board members opposed John’s plan. However, due to John’s compelling analysis and continued advocacy, the DAFD has adopted a defined contribution retirement plan for all new hires. This will secure a strong financial future for the Fire Department.