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E-M:/ Elmwood citizens sue township again over land use



Citizen's group files 2nd suit to block controversial site condo development
Dissenting Elmwood Planning Commission member removed in special meeting


ELMWOOD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (October 3, 2001) - Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth filed suit Friday in Leelanau District Court seeking to overturn the Elmwood Township Board's Sept. 10 approval of the controversial Lincoln Meadows site condominium project in the township's agricultural district on its southern border.

The suit alleges that before approval came to a vote, the matter had been pre-judged by the Township Board. Supervisor Noel Flohe had characterized as "insulting" an earlier Circuit Court ruling in June that overturned the Board's initial approval of the project. Flohe stated that the court decision was "appealable" and that project would be re-approved in a few subsequent meetings.

The suit further alleges that the township failed to heed the Court's explicit direction to reconsider the development proposal in the light of the clustered housing provision of the township's zoning ordinance. In particular, the decision failed to take account of the requirements that site condominium projects like the Lincoln Meadows development observe the underlying density and lot size requirements for the district in which they are located. Lincoln Meadows is within the township's "agricultural open space district," which has an underlying density of ten acres per unit. The Lincoln Meadows project places 55 units on 138 acres, resulting in an average density of slightly more than 2.5 acres per unit, a 400 percent increase.

In a related issue, Erik Saxon was removed from the township's planning commission at an unusual special meeting Sept. 26. Discussion of Planning Commission membership was a last-minute addition to the agenda for what had been announced as a working meeting on the township budget. Although Saxon had applied to remain on the commission, he was not re-nominated by Flohe, the township's supervisor, who has sole appointment powers. Saxon, a long-time township resident and commission member, had questioned recent township procedures and project approvals. Planning Commission Chairman John Gallagher, who was censured by the Circuit Court in June for an apparent conflict of interest, was retained, as was Charles Taylor.

"It's disappointing that the township's own citizens have to turn to the court system for enforcement of the law," said Steve VanZoeren, spokesman for the citizen's group. "With these blind decisions and the removal of an articulate and outspoken planning commission member, the township government is blocking free and open public discussion. The level of contempt and disregard for citizen input is astounding."

This latest news in Elmwood Township comes at an especially sensitive and ironic time in state and regional land use. Recent studies continue to demonstrate the economic problems generated by ill-conceived, sprawl developments such as Lincoln Meadows. One study, released earlier in September by the American Farmland Trust, demonstrates the negative impact on taxes of sprawling developments such as Lincoln Meadows, and the pressures they put on services such as sewer, water and roads. A joint in-depth economic paper due later this month from the University of Michigan, Michigan State and Michigan Tech details the long-term negative economics of poor land-use planning and sprawl.

"Our township board continues to ignore the facts and ignore its own laws," says VanZoeren. "They are drawing the attention of planners and organizations statewide as a case study about what not to do. The research is there for everyone to see - it's an issue of fairness to the public, and quite frankly, economics."

The citizens' group originally filed suit in January to block the Lincoln Meadows development along Bugai Road in the southern portion of the township. The group claimed that the approval process was flawed and that John Gallagher, chairman of planning commission and township trustee, had a conflict of interest with the developer. The Circuit Court found in favor of the group, stating that Gallagher's involvement had "created an impermissible appearance of impropriety," and nullified the township's approval of the project. The Circuit Court had directed the township to revisit the Lincoln Meadows decision and, specifically, to consider the project in the context of the township's clustered housing ordinance.

The Circuit Court opinion and further updates may be found 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.

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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.

www.ecsg.org