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E-M:/ Citizens group files suit against township and official

Elmwood citizens group files suit against township and official
Township violated its own ordinance; conflict of interest also cited in suit

TRAVERSE CITY (January 29, 2001) -- The non-profit community group Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth filed suit in Leelanau County Circuit Court late Friday alleging that Elmwood Township skirted public process in its approval of the Lincoln Meadows development. The suit also alleges that a Township Trustee and Planning Commission member had a direct conflict of interest that required his removal from the decision process.

The suit names as defendants Elmwood Charter Township, the Township Board and Planning Commission, and Planning Commission Chairman and Trustee John Gallagher, in his official capacity. The controversial Lincoln Meadows development is planned for a 138-acre site near Bugai and Lincoln roads three miles north of M-72 in Leelanau County. The project developer is the Stewart Investment Group.

"Elmwood Township broke the rules when they made this decision to approve Lincoln Meadows," said Pei-shan Van Zoeren, director of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth, which represents more than 200 township residents. "They went against their own zoning ordinance and master plan, and the whole process was compromised by conflicts of interest on the part of powerful people in the Township government."

"This suit is filed on behalf of all residents of Elmwood township. We need to pull back the curtains of government and have accountability on the part of our elected representatives," she said.

The suit alleges two main legal actions in the Township's approval of Lincoln Meadows:

First, the suit alleges that the Township violated the density and lot size requirements found in the clustered housing chapter of its own ordinance to approve the development, resulting in a 55-unit subdivision in an agricultural district where only 13 units are allowed. Claiming that the density and lot-size restrictions were the result of a mistake in the ordinance, the Township chose to disregard these provisions and approve Lincoln Meadows rather than amend the ordinance to correct the claimed mistake. Had the Township followed proper procedure and amended the ordinance to increase the allowable density for Lincoln Meadows, the residents of the community would have received a public hearing and the opportunity to hold a referendum on the new ordinance provisions.

Second, the suit alleges that Planning Commission Chairman and Elmwood Township Trustee John Gallagher had a conflict of interest that required his removal from the discussion and voting on Lincoln Meadows. The complaint attaches documents showing that six months after the Planning Commission began reviewing the Lincoln Meadows project, Gallagher purchased property adjacent to the site from the Lincoln Meadows developer for $50,000 below its listed price. The suit alleges that this transaction impaired Gallagher's ability to make an impartial decision on the project. Gallagher, who is the chairman of the Planning Commission, was the project's most vocal and effective advocate on the Commission and shepherded the project through the entire review process. He also voted in favor of the Lincoln Meadows project in several divided votes by the Planning Commission and Township Board, including the deciding 4 to 3 vote at the Planning Commission in June of last year.

Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth is a non-profit, 501c3 organization representing more than 200 residents of Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, Michigan.



Steve Van Zoeren
Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth
(231) 933-0093

Chris Bzdok
Olson & Bzdok, P.C.
(231) 946-0044