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Published: Wednesday, 12/6/2006

Trial of Whitman suit pushed back to Jan. 2


The Whitman Ford Co.'s lawsuit against Bedford Township has been pushed back and is now scheduled to begin Jan. 2 instead of Dec. 11.

"We pushed it back because folks on the Bedford case thought they could settle," said Circuit Judge Joseph A. Costello, who indicated that it was also postponed to make room for a scheduled criminal drug-case trial.

The Whitman Ford suit is over a 51-acre parcel owned by the Whitman family on the northwest corner of Sterns Road and Lewis Avenue.

Jon Whitman filed suit after the township board blocked two rezoning requests - one in 2003 and another in 2004.

The board's reasoning was the same on both occasions. It said commercial zoning for the entire parcel - including the portion zoned residential - would be incompatible with neighboring residential zoning and in violation of the township's master plan.

On Nov. 14, the township board voted against a proposed settlement that would have allowed a 204,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter on the parcel.

Mr. Whitman's suit against the township asks for an injunction preventing the township from interfering with his proposed commercial use for the property, and damages in excess of $25,000.

If the township loses its pending lawsuit, the insurance company would only pay up to $1 million in damages.

The township would have to come up with any additional amount, township attorney Phil Goldsmith said.

Judge Costello said the nonjury trial was originally scheduled for January of this year, but that both parties told him that they thought a settlement would soon be reached.

"Whenever I talked with them, they said things were going well and that any time now they would work something out," the judge said.

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