Whitehall, MI. Officials Whack Reisidents With Another Huge Fee To Appeal Wal-Mart Decision
Democracy ain't cheap in Whitehall, Michigan.
One month ago, Sprawl-Busters was contacted by angry residents in Whitehall Township, Michigan. According to anti-Wal-Mart activists in Whitehall, the township hopes to discourage an appeal of their recent approval of a Wal-Mart superstore by charging a hefty financial fee for anyone filing an appeal of their decision.
The Township Board created a $1,650 fee to appeal Planning Commission rulings -- just weeks after the commission approved Wal-Mart's plans. Before this new fee was imposed, the township charged nothing for an appeal. Now any appeal of the Planning Commission tops the fee price list.
"They are specifically attacking our group and trying to prevent our group and individual citizens in this township and in this area from appealing their decision," Dave Frederick, an opposition leader told Wood TV. "I can't see any other conclusion. Citizens have the right to redress the actions of their government. This makes it very obstructive in terms of citizens being able to do that."
The Township's Supervisor explained to Wood TV Channel 8 that the timing of the new appeal fee and the Wal-Mart approval was purely coincidental. But his remarks were contradicted by one Township Trustee, who said the new fee was passed in response to Wal-Mart's plans. "We've never had an issue where that could be appealed. We've never been in a position for that to happen. It's very expensive. We have to publish it in the paper and that's like $200 or $300 dollars. We have to hire an attorney, and all those fees add up. Somebody's got to pay for it, other than our tax dollars."
But according to Wood TV, the fees charged in surrounding communities range from $0 to $100. Whitehall's Supervisor denied that the fee was set to discourage opponents from appealing.
But oppoents of the plan cried foul. "We want Wal-Mart and the people of this community and Whitehall Township, we want them to know we're not going away," David Frederick told Wood TV. "We're even more committed to stopping it now because of this kind of action that they've taken."
This week, members of the group BOW NOT contacted Sprawl-Busters with this update: "As expected, the Township Board upheld the Planning Commission's recommendation to approve Walmart's site plan. So now, we move on to filing a ZBA appeal, again another FEE of $ 2,020."
BOW NOT chairman, Dave Frederick, explained that the township's Supervisor "provided me with page 7 of the township's Fee Schedule which confirms a fee of $2,020 will be due with the application. The $2,020 fee to appeal to the ZBA was added at a meeting in June and made retroactive to April. We have to appeal to the ZBA in order to get to the Circuit Court. Today I asked them for an accounting of the $1,650 fee we had to pay to appeal to the Board of Supervisors."
Just to appeal Township decisions, local homeowners have had to dig up $3,670, and not even be at Circuit Court yet.
What you can do: Readers are urged to call Whitehall Township Supervisor Chuck Schmitigal at (231) 893-2095 with the following message:
"I was appalled to read about the outrageous filing fee your Township charged to its own citizens for appealing a decision of the Planning Commission. I guess that's one way of dealing with dissent: make it very costly to fight Town Hall.
Then I got to thinking: what does Whitehall charge for an overdue library book, or a parking meter violation?
The Township should immediately repeal the fee on Planning Commission or ZBA ruling appeals, and instead build in the cost of handling an appeal into the fee charged to developers who file plans. In this way, the developer pays for the cost of a potential appeal caused by its project.
Many communities warn developers that if there is litigation following the granting of a special permit or zoning approval of any kind--it will be entirely up to the develop to defend its own permit.
Tapayers should not be required to pay for appeals designed to protect their properties from incompatible proposals. Put the burden on the wealthy developers, not on the average homeowner."