BAD AXE – Following an agreement between both sides, a Huron County judge on Monday ordered to adjourn a hearing in a lawsuit the Brookfield Township clerk filed against the township and county, claiming the county does not have the authority to oversee the township’s zoning matters.
Along with the lawsuit, Michael Lorencz last week submitted a request asking Huron County Circuit Court Judge M. Richard Knoblock to approve a restraining order prohibiting the county from zoning Brookfield Township. Knoblock approved the request, and ordered the county to appear Monday morning to show cause as to why it should be able to proceed with any business pertaining to Brookfield Township zoning.
However, the hearing was adjourned until May 28, as lawyers representing the township and a wind developer working on a project that includes Brookfield Township sought input in the case.
Attorneys representing Lorencz and the county sought additional preparation time.
Huron County Corporate Counsel Stephen J. Allen then asked the court to modify its temporary restraining order, as the current one had prohibited the Building and Zoning Office from working with NextEra Energy in its work on a site plan for its Pheasant Run Wind energy project.
Because the county was prohibited from deliberating or making any determinations regarding zoning over Brookfield Township, the Huron County Planning Commission on Wednesday had to postpone a site plan review requested by NextEra Energy for the Pheasant Run Wind Energy project located in Brookfield, Fairhaven, Grant, Sebewaing, Winsor and Oliver townships. The majority of those townships are under the county’s zoning jurisdiction, except for Oliver Township (which is self-zoned). Whether Brookfield Township still maintains its zoning authority is the subject of the lawsuit Lorencz filed.
The lawsuit claims when the township board voted in January to transfer the township’s zoning authority to the county, it did so in error – and without a vote of the township residents. The township had voted 119-188 to overturn a prior decision by the township board to transfer its zoning authority to the county.
But counsel representing NextEra during Monday’s hearing noted that the township board voted in August 2012 to ask the county to assist the township’s site plan review if there is a large project proposed. Attorneys noted there has been no legal disagreement with this vote, therefore, the court was asked to approve modifying the restraining order so NextEra can work with the county in its efforts to complete a site plan review.
After lawyers representing Lorencz, the county, Brookfield Township and NextEra agreed on language, Knoblock signed an amended order.
Though NextEra and the county will be able to work on the site plan review, only non-binding action will be permissible – and the township board will have final approval over the project. Also, the county will have to follow the more restrictive portions of the Brookfield Township ordinance as it works with NextEra through the site plan review process.
Pheasant Run Project Manager Ryan Pumford told the Tribune that based on his understanding of the two ordinances, both are materially the same, as they pertain to wind energy.
“They (Brookfield Township’s ordinance provisions) might be more restrictive, but not in a way that will impact our project,” he said.
Pumford noted that because the restraining order was reworded, the wind project still is on schedule for phase one, which is set to begin in July.
He said NextEra Energy plans to attend the June 5 Huron County Planning Commission to discuss the project. He said the company hopes the planning commission will vote during next month’s meeting to recommend that the site plan be approved.
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