Colony Farm Orchard: A Voter’s Guide

I sent the following to the Kalamazoo Gazette as a Letter to the Editor.  The Gazette’s automated response told me that publication could take up to 2 months, which would be a month after the primary elections on August 3rd.  So I’m posting it here, slightly modified.

To what I say in the letter, I would only add that electing politicians who were involved in passage of House Bill 5207 would be seen as, and would be, a validation of the whole process of breaking the covenant and setting the Colony Farm Orchard up for development.

By “the whole process,” I mean the sneaky introduction of the bill at a time when few students were on campus, most faculty were concentrating on their research in their labs or at off-campus sites, and many townspeople were on vacation.  I mean the way the politicians and WMU spokesmen substituted repetition of PowerPoint bullets for a debate on the issues.  And I mean the cynical marketing of development of these 53 acres next to Asylum Lake Preserve as Kalamazoo’s job creation solution, while giving a cold shoulder to remediated brownfields, in regional economic terms the logical location for BTR park expansion.

Horse chestnut tree, Colony Farm Orchard, spring 2010. Photo by Richard Brewer

Politicians whose names became notorious through their connection with House Bill 5207 are running again.

HB 5207 stripped from the Colony Farm Orchard the covenant that it be kept as open space for public use. Probably the most anti-conservation, anti-environment, anti-sustainability bill in the legislature last session, it fleeced us of dedicated open land and, if the land is developed, is a threat to Asylum Lake Preserve.

Most of us have a clear recollection of the events of 2009.  This recap is for those few who seem to have come down with a case of  early-onset political amnesia, as shown by a scattering of recent endorsements.

Robert Jones, let us recall, introduced HB 5207 July 16th, 2009 with no public notice from him or Western Michigan University at whose behest the deed was done. Jones is running again, this time in the Democratic primary for the 20th Senatorial district.  Fortunately, he is opposed by an excellent candidate, Mark Totten, untainted by the 5207 shenanigans.

And let us remember Larry DeShazor, who represented the District where the Colony Farm Orchard is located (in Oshtemo township).  He is running in Senatorial District 20 in the Republican primary. Neither Jones nor WMU had bothered to tell DeShazor about 5207; nevertheless, he voted for it in Committee and in the full House. His main Republican opponent is Tonya Schuitmaker, who also voted for 5207 in the House.

Tom George voted for 5207 in the Senate Appropriations Committee and in the Senate as whole.  Along with a bunch of other politicians, George is now running in the Republican primary for governor. In the Democratic primary is Andy Dillon, who allowed all this to happen while speaker of the House, and a second candidate, Virg Bernero, untainted by 5207 and as far as I can tell sound on other conservation issues.

Remember that the politicians who voted for 5207, local and otherwise, ignored an unprecedented outpouring of grass-roots sentiment against it.  But the letters, emails, phone calls, and personal visits were from conservationists, members of neighborhood groups, Environmental Studies students, and ordinary citizens who believe that promises should be kept–not the people these politicians are used to listening to.

And finally, remember that Jones or George and probably DeShazor, could have stopped 5207 dead in its tracks simply by saying to their colleagues, “I have concluded that this bill affecting my district is bad legislation.”

Should we put any of the supporters of 5207 in positions to do further damage?

3 thoughts on “Colony Farm Orchard: A Voter’s Guide

  1. Confused

    Hmmmm. I have followed the entire Orchard through the gazette and the community. Your recount of what transpired is very much inaccurate. That aside the most confusing part is you slam local legislators that sided with jobs (jones, deshazor,tonya & george) and then promote another (mark totten) who has come out in full support of HB 5207.

    It is just a completely irrational argument. The candidate with records are to blame but the one guy who has no voting record is an “excellent candidate”, that has came out in completely support of the bill. I think their is a better reason then misplaced spite to vote for people.

  2. rbrewer Post author

    More details about WMU’s and the legislature’s maneuvers in stripping the public use/open space restriction from the Colony Farm Orchard are given in several of my earlier posts. They may contain information the Gazette didn’t have or that has slipped your mind. Here are a few.
    What is the colony farm orchard?

    Colony farm orchard conversion: good business, smart politics, or betrayal of a public trust?

    A response to John Dunn’s Gazette Viewpoint

    The colony farm orchard is not trade land

    “The candidates with records are to blame…” Only if their record was voting “yes” on HB 5207.

    “Siding with jobs…” Every politician and, in fact, every resident of Michigan is in favor of jobs. Unfortunately, many politicians sign onto any scheme that is promoted as “job creation” no matter how phony the claim is. Expanding WMU’s BTR park onto the Colony Farm Orchard would not be some powerful engine of job creation. It is also doubtful that the original BTR has been as successful as is claimed in the mythology constructed by WMU and the local politicians. See HB-5207, WMU’s job creation bill of 2021.

    Mark Totten has not come out in support of HB 5207. As far as I know, his only written statement has been a Kalamazoo Gazette Viewpoint published 6 November 2009. In it (Here is the link:, he rightly criticized the process followed by WMU and Representative Jones and expressed the hope that Senator George would carefully examine the bill and make sure that he had heard every voice before voting. That did not happen. In the link below is a letter I sent George,

    And here is what George did in the Senate Appropriations Committee

  3. Confused

    My reply did not post for some reason.

    To portray the BTR park and it’s proposed expansion as being unsuccessful is misleading and factually inaccurate. It is cut and dry.

    I attended the WMU State Senate forum where Mark Totten said he would have voted yes, but disagreed with the process. Him disagreeing with the process is a thinly veiled attempt at attacking Jones and is factually inaccurate. The key is someone like Totten that has no experience or record can and will say whatever they have to, to get a vote.

    Did you really write this letter to the gazette without evening know that Totten supports the expansion of the BTR park? Sounds like you got played.

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