ADRIAN - A Lenawee County Circuit Court judge yesterday gutted the 1995 court settlement that had bound Bedford Township from fighting a new mobile home park on land just outside Temperance, ruling that the agreement he supervised five years ago “disenfranchised the citizens in the neighborhood.”
After an hour-long hearing in a courtroom packed with residents of the nearby Mohawk Trails subdivision, Judge Harvey Koselka said he agreed with township attorneys that the 1995 township board could not give up a future board's ability to deny rezoning just to settle the 1993 suit filed against the township by Germano Management Co. of Livonia, Mich.
Germano sued Bedford Township in 1993 over the township's refusal to rezone 11 acres for an addition to its Inverness “Too” Mobile Home Park. The case was settled in 1995, and one of the terms of the formerly secret settlement gave Germano the right to find another site in the township to build a park.
Since it found out last summer Germano had optioned 46.6 acres along West Dean Road near the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks, township officials have been mounting legal challenges to stop the proposed development.
In his ruling, Judge Koselka said the 1995 agreement effectively stripped citizens in that area of their right to fight a mobile-home park developed under terms of the agreement.
“They basically lost their right to be heard; they lost any rights they were entitled to,” the judge said.
Mohawk Trails residents were ecstatic with the ruling, their first victory in a long war to stop a mobile home park from being built next to their neighborhood.
“It's a great day,” said a visibly pleased Paul Lynch, a Mohawk Trails resident who, with neighbor Rick Reinbolt, were successful in being named plaintiffs in the case during a brief hearing before Judge Koselka earlier yesterday. The ruling allows the two to actively participate in any further litigation surrounding the case.
Township officials were equally elated with the judge's surprise decision, despite the realization that their legal victory was likely headed for a higher court.
“I think it's terrific. The decision, which is obviously subject to appeal, again permits our citizens to participate in the democratic process to meaningfully participate in a rezoning process if and when it's applied for,” township Supervisor LaMar Frederick said. “Before this decision, it was the township's position that the citizens' participation was meaningless, and the judge seems to agree that the rights of the citizens were impaired by this agreement. By his decision, he restored those rights.”
Germano Mulroni, owner of Germano, vowed to appeal the judge's decision and said the township ultimately would pay for what he considered a breach of good faith in challenging the 1995 settlement.
“We will not waive any damages. We will not waive our costs. We will not waive our legal fees,” he said, adding that the estimated $200,000 liability the township faced in 1995 that caused it to settle the original suit “will be multiplied by four” if ultimately he is not able to develop the land on West Dean.
Judge Koselka took note of the heated legal battle being waged before him in making his decision and said he was sure at least some parts of the case probably would come before him again. “It probably doesn't make too much difference what I say because this is probably ultimately going to be decided by the Court of Appeals, if not the [Michigan] Supreme Court,” the judge said.