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E-M:/ Land Use: Elmwood Twp Citizens Demand Board Recall



Title: Land Use: Elmwood Twp Citizens Demand Board Recall
Elmwood citizens demand recall of township board for pro-development
bias, zoning rollbacks and Open-Meetings Act violations


ELMWOOD TOWNSHIP, Leelanau County (November 7, 2003) -- Organizers for Save Open Space Elmwood (SOS) announced today that petition signatures were submitted today that will require an recall election for all seven members of the Elmwood Township Board of Trustees. Elmwood Township is the gateway to Leelanau County, just north of Traverse City, and its rolling hills and orchards have come under increasing development pressure.

The members of the Board are Noel Flohe, Supervisor; Connie Preston, Clerk; Debbie Street, Treasurer; and John Gallager, Terry Lautner, Jim O'Rourke, and John Stanek, Trustees.

Stating that 511 signatures were necessary to call for the election, SOS coordinator Pei-shan VanZoeren noted that within 90 days participants were able to collect as many as 601 signatures calling for a recall election to take place.
 
Citizens in Elmwood Township have questioned approvals by the Elmwood Board of Trustees which would extend subdivision-style residential development to the township's Agricultural Open Space (AO-1)zoning district since the election of the board in 2000. The controversy began when the Elmwood board approved a site condominium subdivision, Lincoln Meadows, in a rural area of the district in 2000. Repeated challenges to the project were upheld in court, culminating in a finding that the Board of Trustees was in contempt of court in 2002.
 
Charges that the decision to appeal the most recent ruling was made improperly have led to the current prosecution of Township Clerk Connie Preston by a special prosecutor appointed by the Michigan Attorney General for criminal violations of the Open Meetings Act.

Board's defense may exceed legal fees

According to handwritten minutes from the Board's Sept 27, 2002 meeting, the board voted unanimously to authorize township attorneys to spend up to $20,000 to appeal a court order that the township reimburse Elmwood Citizens for Sensible Growth for $16,000 in legal fees.
 
In 2002, the Elmwood Board adopted a new zoning ordinance which would have allowed the same Lincoln Meadows-style development throughout the Leelanau County township's Agricultural Open Space (AO-1) zoning district. The proposed ordinance was rejected by a 3-to-1 margin by township voters in a referendum in July of 2003.  At the same time, voters also rejected a proposed amendment to the existing zoning ordinance that would have formalized a one-unit-per-acre standard in the agricultural district. The Lincoln Meadows development (now known as 'The Meadows') is slated to be approved for a fourth time by the Elmwood Board Township at their regular meeting to be held Monday, November 10. Township officials are relying on a controversial rewriting of the existing ordinance to allow the one residential unit per acre density required for "The Meadows".
 
SOS supporter Erik Saxon notes, "The voters in Elmwood have been trying to get a message through to township officials since 2000. The township has been asked to follow the law, and to pay more than casual attention to the township master plan. In their zeal to push an agenda that has little public support, the board hasn't listened."

Steve VanZoeren, also active in SOS Elmwood, said, "This was a grassroots, neighbor-to-neighbor effort. This Board has refused to listen to either the voters or the courts and recall is the only way to stop the damage. Elmwood voters should be proud of the way they've stood up for themselves. They're opening up a path toward creating a real community consensus on planning for our future."
 
The submitted signatures will be certified by the Leelanau County Clerk. Upon certification a special recall election will be scheduled to take place in Elmwood within 60 days.
 
Contact:
Steve VanZoeren 933-0093
Erik Saxon 929-0979