Bedford Township is in court again, and again it is defending itself against developers who are suing because the township turned down their request for a zoning change.
The developers want to build the largest housing subdivision in the township on about 160 acres just north of Temperance Road fronting Erie Road, between Lewis Avenue and Crabb Road.
In August, 2005, the board rejected a residential rezoning request for the 80-acre parcel, currently zoned agriculture.
Mark Brant and Ron Blank of Bedford Partners LLC filed the suit against the township after the rezoning denial.
An adjoining 80-acre parcel owned by the developers - titled Albring Farms - is zoned to allow for a housing subdivision.
At the nonjury trial that began yesterday in Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Michael W. LaBeau's courtroom, township attorney David Landry and the developers' attorney, Susan Friedlaender, gave opening statements and questioned witnesses on the appropriateness of the zoning denial.
The three-day trial is scheduled to continue through tomorrow.
"The land is zoned agricultural and in order for the denial to be unreasonable it needs to be shown it can't be used as zoned," Mr. Landry said. "And the parcels in question are currently being farmed by the Albring family. It is zoned agriculture, it is being used as agricultural, and it should stay agricultural."
But Ms. Friedlaender contended the land is better suited for residential use than farmland because of its location, and she said that a property's best-suited use is more important than whether it can be used for a variety of uses.
Even so, the township's master land-use plan calls for the property to remain zoned for agriculture.
Ms. Friedlaender said her clients purchased the property from Lynn and Dorothy Albring for the subdivision because the southern portion of the township is primarily a bedroom community for Toledo and best suited for housing.
Last September, the township board gave preliminary approval to plats one and two for Albring Farms on the first 80-acre parcel along Erie.
Albring Farms' first four plats total about 207 lots. That represents half the developers' goal of 450 homes on the 160 acres they own, which would be the largest subdivision in the township if built in its entirety.
Mr. Brant said he is waiting until Judge LaBeau's decision before moving forward with his request for final plat approval.
"We'd prefer to move forward with all the 160 acres at once," he said.
Ms. Friedlaender said a 160-acre Albring Farms subdivision would simply be meeting the demand of Bedford's growing population.
The township has a population of about 31,530, according to estimates from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.
This is an increase of 10 percent, or about 2,930 residents, from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau figure of about 28,600.
Mr. Brant testified that Bedford's growth is one of the main reasons they purchased the acreage.
But Mr. Landry pointed out the housing market has declined over the last few years and demand is not what it once was.
According to the Monroe County Association of Realtors, 301 homes were sold in Bedford in 2006, a 13 percent drop from the year before.
The township has about 1,700 new single-family homes in the pipeline, pending the township board's final approval.
About eight of these 25 tentative subdivision projects have received partial approval and have slowly begun development.
Contact Benjamin Alexander-Bloch