ATHENS, MI — Plans to break ground and develop eight initial homes of an 18-unit affordable housing project for tribal families will persevere following the Athens Township board of trustees’ decision to uphold the previously approved site plan during a special meeting on April 18 that put these plans in jeopardy.
The NHBP Phase VIII Residential Development Project, which was approved by the board of trustees on March 1, was threatened when a special meeting was called “…due to the board receiving significant pushback on its approval for the NHBP’s open space preservation development.” NHBP Tribal Members filled Athens Township Hall to assert that the Township has no authority to reopen or revoke the site plan for development on the tribally-owned land, as it would infringe on the tribe’s constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
Immediately upon opening, the board called a closed session with their legal counsel, then returned to declare their intent to uphold the already approved plans, deeming the meeting a wasted effort to block affordable housing for tribal families in the Athens community.
“I’m a homeowner in Athens [and have] been here my whole life, since I was 5 years old,” said Tribal Member Danielle Pfeifer. “We don’t have anything to hide. We are trying to prosper. We are trying to better our community. We are trying to better our people. So, I just question the timing of this objection because we are slated to break ground May 25. We are four to six weeks away, and all of this time we’ve had this property that has been vacant for so long, dilapidated before the tribe bought it. Now we are in the last hours before we break ground, before we can start prospering more for our community, and now we have this objection. I don’t think we ever as a tribe, or as tribal citizens, have ever tried to hide anything from you. I just question the timing.”
Tribal Council Secretary Nancy Smit emphasized the relationship between the tribe and Athens and hopes the two governments will continue to work with each other in the future to better their community.
“[My mom] always talked about how Athens were good neighbors, and that you as a community now have a reputation for helping, and we, in return, are grateful for that, and also offer back that help,” said Smit. “Thank you for consideration of this and for allowing our families to sit back on their sovereign land and continue this history of being good neighbors.”
The NHBP Phase VIII Residential Development Project is set to break ground next month.