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E-M:/ Court rules in favor of Leelanau group
- Subject: E-M:/ Court rules in favor of Leelanau group
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- Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2001 11:47:27 -0400
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Steve Van Zoeren
Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth
Olson & Bzdok, P.C.
Court rules in favor of Elmwood citizens group
Approval of controversial development plans ruled void
LELAND, Mich., June, 7 2001 - The controversial Lincoln Meadows development in Elmwood Township is on indefinite hold following a Leelanau County Circuit Court ruling issued June 6.
Judge Philip Rogers found in favor of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth on the groups' suit against Elmwood Township.
The group filed suit in January against the Township, claiming that the Township Board and Planning Commission improperly approved the Lincoln Meadows development, a site-condo project with plans for 55 homes to be built on 138 acres in the Township's southwestern agricultural district. The proposed development is four times the density allowed by right, and three times larger than the largest existing development in the agricultural district. The Lincoln Meadows plan is very similar to a depiction of the kind of conventional subdivision specifically discouraged by the Township's own master plan.
The suit also alleged that John Gallagher, a Township Trustee and Planning Commission member, had a conflict of interest and should have been removed from the Township's decision process involving the development.
The Circuit Court ruling:
... Affirmed the right of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth to bring suit against Elmwood Township. The Township had filed a summary disposition, which claimed that the citizen's group did not have standing and was not within its rights to file suit.
... Found that Elmwood Township Planning Commission Chairman and Township Trustee John Gallagher's involvement with the Lincoln Meadows developer creates "an appearance of impropriety." The court opinion continued: "...an appearance of impropriety is every bit as damaging as a conflict of interest. Both destroy the faith and trust that is integral to the operation of government in a representational democracy. ... The people's confidence in government cannot long be sustained if we turn a blind eye to behavior that creates an impermissible appearance of impropriety." And, "Gallagher's participation created an atmosphere which has weakened public confidence and created a doubt in the public mind as to the impartiality of the Planning Commission's and the Township Board's actions."
... Found that, due to the appearance of impropriety, Gallagher's participation in the Township's decisions are "invalid," and the Lincoln Meadows "site plan approval and conditional use permit are void."
As a result, the Court directed the Township to specifically discuss the relationship of the proposed development to the clustered housing provision of the Township's zoning ordinance and that the findings "must be supported factually and with reference to the relevant zoning ordinance provisions."
"This is a victory for democracy at the most local level," said Steve VanZoeren, a plaintiff in the suit and member of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth.
Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth continues to monitor the Township's efforts to weaken zoning restrictions, and ignore its own Master Plan. Additionally, the group has voiced its concern regarding the Township's newly enacted "disruptive behavior policy," which, according to the Leelanau Enterprise, "leaves the impression that the township is only interested in opinions that support its positions."
On Monday, the Township is scheduled to vote on Bahia Vista, a 28-unit site condominium project proposed for agricultural land in Elmwood Township. The citizens group maintains that, like Lincoln Meadows, the project does not meet the letter of the Township's zoning ordinance or the spirit of the Master Plan.
The complete Circuit Court opinion and further updates will soon be posted online at the group's website (www.ecsg.org).
Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth is a non-profit, 501c3 organization representing more than 200 residents of Elmwood Township in Leelanau County, Michigan.
Recognizing the unique and precious character of our area, Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to promoting sensible growth in the township. Growth and the preservation of Elmwood's rural character are not incompatible, and ECSG works to provide resources and citizen input to Township agencies to allow for the planning and decisions that will allow development to occur in Elmwood Township without compromising the area's natural beauty or putting new burdens on existing services and taxes.