BAD AXE – Future control of zoning in Brookfield Township could be decided this morning.
Huron County Circuit Court Judge M. Richard Knoblock will continue to hear a case regarding whether the county or township have zoning authority, after it was initially adjourned May 6.
The hearing stems from a late-April lawsuit filed by Brookfield Township Clerk Michael Lorencz against the township and Huron County, claiming the county does not have the authority to oversee the township’s zoning matters.
“By allowing the Huron County to zone Brookfield Township, the plaintiff (Michael Lorencz) and the other electors of Brookfield Township are being denied their right to zone and make decisions about zoning at (the) local level,” states the lawsuit filed in Huron County Circuit Court.
On May 1, Knoblock approved a restraining order prohibiting the county from zoning Brookfield Township.
Because of the restraining order, the Huron County Planning Commission held off on a site plan review for its Pheasant Run Wind Energy project located in Brookfield, Fairhaven, Grant, Sebewaing and Winsor townships. The project also encompasses portions of Oliver Township, but that township is not under the county’s zoning jurisdiction.
But on May 6, Knoblock modified the restraining order after hearing from Huron County Corporate Counsel Stephen J. Allen, and NextEra officials, who noted the township board voted in August 2012 to ask the county to assist the township’s site plan review if there is a large wind energy 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.
That amended order is expected to be re-visited today. As of now, NextEra and the county are 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.
The lawsuit claims Brookfield Township also should not be considered to be under the county’s zoning jurisdiction, because the zoning authority was not transferred by a vote of township residents.
In March 2012, the township board voted to repeal the township’s zoning ordinance. At the time, officials said there were not enough people to serve on the township planning commission and zoning board of appeals. Because it did not have complete boards, it was in violation of Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act.
However, a petition was successfully filed requesting the township be able to vote on the repeal – and township residents voted Nov. 8 to overrule the township board’s decision, 119-118.
As a result, the vote to keep local zoning passed.
But, in January, the township board passed another resolution giving the county control over some township zoning. That resolution cited the inability to fully staff the six-member and one township board representative to the planning commission.
“ … Brookfield Township is about to receive the largest investment in the township history (wind energy),” the Jan. 14 resolution states. “The township is not qualified nor prepared to accommodate the investors to proceed with the project. Therefore be it resolved: The Brookfield Township Board hereby repeals Brookfield Township Zoning Ordinance in entirety and adopts the Huron County zoning over Brookfield Township, effective immediately.”
The lawsuit Lorencz filed in April claims there actually were a sufficient number of township citizens who were contacted and agreed to serve on the township planning commission prior to the board’s Jan. 14 vote.
“Those names were presented to the township board on Dec. 10, 2012, however, the township board refused to consider appointing those citizens and provide them the resources to serve as the township planning commission,” the lawsuit states.
It claims the latest attempt by the board to repeal the township’s zoning is invalid.
“Should the Huron County, through its planning commission, be given authority to zone the township, it would change zoning classifications which would not be in the best interest of the citizens of the township nor facilitate the health, safety and welfare of those in the township,” the lawsuit states.
The plaintiff is asking the court to declare the county does not have zoning authority over the township because the township’s zoning ordinance is still in effect, and also seeks reimbursement of the plaintiff’s costs and reasonable attorney fees.
The lawsuit also is asking the court to impose a fine upon every officer who refused or neglected to comply with their duties under Michigan’s Zoning Enabling Act, and to award the plaintiff any relief that the court deems equitable or just.
Assistant News Editor Kate Hessling contributed to this report
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