Family Fare developers won’t appeal court decision

The legal battle over an intensive development off Northland Drive in Plainfield Township is over. According to Trustee Vic Mathews, the developers, BDR Inc., agreed not to appeal a decision against their proposed development if the township agreed not to pursue damages incurred from the lawsuit.

Matthews said the township might have had a good chance to recoup about $17,000 it spent in excess of the $100,000 in lawsuit insurance coverage the case cost. However, much of that money would have likely gone back to the insurance company and pursuing the damages would require more legal proceedings and expense.

The issue has been going on for years, after BDR proposed a development on 35 acres on the north east corner of Northland Drive and Seven Mile Road. Their plan included a Family Fare grocery store, a gas station open until midnight, restaurants, office space and medical offices. The township Planning Commission recommended not approving the Planned Unit Development (PUD), in part because it was not in accordance with the township’s master plan for the property.

Family Fare representatives claimed the new location for the store was desperately needed and the existing store had no room to expand, or enough parking at its Northland Drive location just south of the Grand River. They claimed they were not consulted when new buildings, including a mattress store and coffee shop, were constructed in former parking lot space. They said nearby property owners were informed of the plans prior to construction, but as tenants, Family Fare had no notice until the buildings were under construction. Because of loss of parking and lack of room to expand the store at the current location, this new site was needed to serve Family Fare customers. They claimed demographics showed that only a store north of the Grand River would allow them to compete in the township for customers.

The PUD was very nearly approved by the board of trustees in a 4-3 vote despite the Planning Commission recommendation against it. Trustee Rebecca Borek asked that the board and planning commission meet to hear the commission’s reasoning, and a subsequent vote by the Board of Trustees went against the plan 4-3.

An active coalition of neighbors against the development packed township meetings during the deliberations. An off-year election with limited voters saw none of the trustees in favor of the project reelected. At least one, however, said the issue had nothing to do with choosing not to run for reelection. Among those outted was long-term Clerk Susan Morrow, who had 24 years of service in her position with the township.

After the township turned down subsequent proposals by the developers, calling the plans too intense, the township was sued on the grounds that they were depriving the developers use of their property. Judge Dennis Leiber ruled against BDR with a strong opinion on each point BDR attornies attempted to make in their case. The week-long case, heard in Grand Rapids Circuit Court, ended in December, 2008. BDR had asked the judge to stop the township from preventing them use of the property and for $2.3 million in damages.

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