If you did not know this was in the works, its because you were not invited. An alleged substantial risk of a multi-million dollar judgment alarmed the commissioners. Lets examine the risk.
If a zoning ordinance takes essentially all reasonable value and uses from the land, then the Constitution requires the owner be reimbursed. Thus, if the Petoskey Investment Groups land could not reasonably be used for residential or farm uses, then the County may have the risk of loss.
The Group purchased the land zoned residential and agricultural. The permitted uses did not change after the purchase. Every plan proposed by the Petoskey Investment Group included extensive areas for residential homes. Yet, the Group claimed the land could not feasibly be used for residences. If the Countys risk seems counter-intuitive, well, it is. There is no constitutional right to buy low and sell high.
Our legacy, just like every generation before us, will be defined by the monuments left on the land. Historic towns became the cultural, civic, economic, and social centers. Community planners and the public memorialized a sense of place.
Communities are appreciating the loss to low density, auto-dependent, urban sprawl. Anytown, USA, bears uniformly franchised outlets, billboard peppered roads, architecturally uneventful big-boxes, parking lagoons, boarded-up store fronts, and abandoned areas. Lighting draws the curtain on the night sky while remote corporate headquarters pull the shade on local entrepreneurship.
Michigan has developed strategies to preserve communities. Our Governor is promoting a Cool Cities initiative. The Bear Creek Referendum expressed this sensitivity by firmly rejecting yet another sprawling mall.
Planning a land use legacy is a public process. It draws on hometown democracy in the creation of a master plan, public meetings, expert input, visioning sessions, educational forums, community planners, land use literature, and the adoption of a zoning ordinance. The planning process enables a community to plan the long range, big picture, proactively. In contrast, the response to a lawsuit is short range, microscopic, and reactive.
The Countys 300,000 square foot concession was reached in mediation behind closed doors. Mediation works well when the chips on the negotiating table belong to the parties. But in a zoning dispute, the bargaining chips belong to the public. Countless hours of donated time by community members have been invested in planning the big picture. This investment is lost when a microscopic planning process is ushered behind closed doors by special interests.
Everyone has not lost. The insurance company paying for the countys lawyers no longer risks more attorney fees. The congested federal court docket has one less case. And, Petoskey Investment Group, struggling for 175,000 commercial net square feet in the Court of Appeals, now receives 300,000 gross square feet.
For others, the loss is real. The porch light on our courthouse now becomes a beacon for more zoning litigation. Anyone disappointed with the irksome public in zoning hearings should move the dispute into court. Why tolerate pesky neighbors in open meetings? Why risk the publicity? Why not just hammer out a settlement behind closed doors?
Emmet County has weakened the effort to constrain sprawl within zoning lines. It skirts the public voice in a referendum. It sidesteps the efforts of professional planners and zoning administrators. It enfeebles the cooperative spirit among municipal entities. It harbingers the courts as a zoning board of appeals. By settling one suit, the county spawns many more.
The framers of the constitution attempted to form a more perfect union, to establish justice, and to promote the general welfare of we, the people. They would be sadly disappointed to find their words have been twisted into a battering ram for commercial excesses on our edge of time.