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E-M:/ Court to Elmwood Twp: No more "skirting of the law"

Court strikes down 2 recent actions taken by Elmwood Township

Warns: No more "skirting of the law"

Traverse City, MI (August 13, 2002) - For the third consecutive time, the 13th Circuit Court ruled in favor of Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth and against the government of Elmwood Township over the controversial Lincoln Meadows development planned for the intersection of Bugai and Lincoln Roads. The ruling came after a lengthy hearing that ran into the evening August 12.

While stopping short of finding the township's actions in contempt, Judge Rodgers admonished the township and its attorneys and called their actions disingenuous. The judge also sternly warned the township officials against further skirting the laws that govern the local township and enjoined them to act openly and democratically.

"We believe that the Court's decision was a victory for democracy and good government," said Steve Van Zoeren, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "Although the battle over the future of the Township is far from over, the court's ruling will help ensure that the citizens of Elmwood Township have a say in future land use decisions."

In an earlier ruling, the court invalidated the Elmwood Township's approval of Lincoln Meadows, enjoining the township to either consider the development in the light of Article 13 of the Township's own zoning ordinance, or to formally amend the ordinance in such a way as to remove Article 13's requirement to limit densities in the Agricultural and OpenSpace (AO-1) District to one unit per 10 acres.

Instead, the township took two actions: First, it "reaffirmed" an earlier amendment to the zoning ordinance which was never properly passed; and, second, it convinced the Elmwood Zoning Board of Appeals to rule that the Lincoln Meadows development was, indeed, allowable.

In its Monday ruling, the court struck down both of these actions, ruling both the "reaffirmation" and Elmwood Zoning Board decision invalid. The judge emphasized that the issue at hand was not about the merits of the Lincoln Meadows development; rather, he insisted, it was about the democratic process and importance of local government following the rules.

The township's reaffirmation of its earlier amendment had already been challenged by the citizen's group, which filed petitions on July 22 to bring the matter to a referendum. As of August 12, the township government had still not certified the signatures or scheduled a referendum.

The controversy surrounding Lincoln Meadows may not be over yet. A properly drafted zoning ordinance amendment has been scheduled for the Sept. 3 planning commission meeting. If it is approved by the township, citizen groups will likely file another petition in order to bring the issue to a township referendum.

In addition, the Elmwood Planning Commission recently passed the draft of a new zoning ordinance intended to allow development at Lincoln Meadows' levels or higher. In an unusual move, the commission amended the township's own master plan during its regular July meeting in order to remove language that explicitly forbade such densities. The master plan amendment was done despite public comment unanimously against the move. It is very likely that this new zoning ordinance will be brought before the voters for a referendum as well.

The Lincoln Meadows development was first invalidated in a June 2001 decision in which the court ruled that the Elmwood Board of Trustees member and planning commission chairman John Gallagher should not have participated in the planning commission review of the project. Gallagher had concluded a land deal with the developer of Lincoln Meadows while the matter was before his commission, resulting in his bargain-price acquisition of property adjoining Lincoln Meadows.

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Contact: Steven Van Zoeren