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E-M:/ Elmwood Twp Faces Contempt Charges

Elmwood faces contempt charges in 3rd suit;
Township maneuvers to avoid court directive

Elmwood Township
, Mich. (May 24, 2002) -- Citizens of Leelanau County's Elmwood Township sought contempt of court charges late Thursday against their own township government, claiming it violated a recent 13th Circuit Court order regarding the controversial Lincoln Meadows development. This is the third suit filed by Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth over land use and conflict of interest issues -- the court ruled in favor of the group in both previous suits. Contempt of court charges have rarely been brought against a Michigan township.

The 200-member group, Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth (ECSG), contends that actions taken in May by the township Zoning Board of Appeals contradicted specific orders from the Court. On March 13, the Court determined that permits awarded to Stewart Investment and its Lincoln Meadows development were illegal.

In that decision, the Court ordered the township to follow one of two possible courses. Action by the Zoning Board of Appeals was not one of the options ordered by the Court. (The entire ruling is posted on the citizens' group website at www.ecsg.org and the most recent court filing is available in text and pdf formats from the group.)

The first suit was argued and won on conflict of interest grounds. Planning commission chairman John Gallagher was found by the Court to have created the appearance of impropriety by his actions in completing a real estate transaction with Stewart Investment Group while the firm's Lincoln Meadows project applications were under review by the planning commission. Subsequent permits were declared by the Court to be null, void, and illegal due to the Township's disregard for sections of its own zoning ordinance.

The third and present suit focuses on a controversial tactic employed by the township, which allegedly circumvents the Court's most recent orders of March 13.

The current legal filing, prepared by Chris Bzdok of Olson, Bzdok, P.C. of Traverse City, asks the Court for a ruling of contempt, stating that "In an apparent coordinated effort," and in "an orchestrated attempt to avoid following the Decision and Order (of the Court)... Defendants did not follow this Court's directive."

"This is not just a small town squabble. It is about citizens' fundamental rights and fighting special interests that have grabbed control of local government," said Pei-shan VanZoeren, Elmwood Township resident, and member of ECSG's board.

This case demonstrates the all-too-comfortable relationships between development interests and local government officials who often stand to benefit from approvals granted for construction in areas most sensitive to suburban sprawl, says Jim Ganter, a member of the group and a former Elmwood planning commissioner for nine years.

"The real loss here is to the public trust and common public good. When public officials use their positions for personal gain, the cost to our communities is much higher than any dollar amount we might assign the misdeeds, even though these may be considerable," Ganter said. "We don't have the power they do - we're just residents and neighbors trying to get the township to follow the rules of law."

The Township's zoning ordinance, master plan, and community attitude survey results are all based on language strongly worded to protect the township's heritage, scenic quality and rural character. Elmwood Township's government is largely composed of owners of large tracts of rural land.


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 without compromising the area's natural beauty or putting new burdens on existing services and taxes.



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

or Erik Saxon
Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth
(231) 929-0979