Letter to the Editor: Why Don't Freedom Township Officials Follow Their Own Ordinances?
The Michigan Township Association supports the notion that residents are the owners of township government. I wish that were true in Freedom Township, where I live. We have seen failure to act by township officials on zoning, enforcement, water protection, high-speed internet, public safety, and road repairs – unless they are pushed. Residents also complain that leaders fail to return phone calls, emails, and, in some cases, even follow the township’s own laws.
We simply want local government to lead and solve issues, not play favorites. When a local farm sold land in 2022 to an energy firm with a gas plant near the lake, the township rushed through approvals. Yet in another situation, they’ve continually failed to enforce the short-term rental ordinance. And they have refused to meet with me, my attorney and other residents about important zoning problems.
The MTA understands zoning is a critical township government role. The home next door to mine was sold, and the owners decided to replace a 2,300-square foot home on a 60x150-foot lakefront lot with a 4,400-square foot home. Building a larger home is anyone’s right. However, construction must meet township zoning ordinances, Western Washtenaw Construction Authority building codes, Washtenaw County well, septic and runoff regulations, and it must honor legal easements.
For more than a year, we warned the township and WWCA about possible issues. The township supervisor, planner and WWCA told residents: “the building meets code”. Finally, after pressure, the Board funded an independent land survey. Five Freedom of Information Act requests later, we clearly understood the new construction had problems, including violations of zoning ordinances noted by the township planner and confirmed by the professional survey.
My attorney attended the October 2022 Board meeting with 40 residents (including engineers, lawyer, and builders) who showed evidence of violations, including encroachment on the 50-foot setback from the lake high water mark and disregard for the 2.5 story limit. There was never any follow-up meeting or response to my attorney’s or residents’ questions. Why didn’t the Board confirm the facts and call for corrective action?
Instead, days later, I looked out my window and saw township officials and their attorney and the homebuilder – but no residents – on the construction site using laser measuring devices. At the November 2022 meeting, the supervisor released a report stating the house meets regulations, but offered no new evidence All you have to do is look at the house in relation to other nearby lake homes and see things aren’t right.
What’s more, the Board spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to pay their attorney and an engineering firm to support their approval, including $1,800 to survey all Pleasant Lake lots to identify “issues”. Is this a proper use of property taxes?
People ask me why I keep working to hold township officials accountable. My answer is simple: I want to stand up for our rights. Unfortunately, my lake view to the east is now blocked, light and air reduced, and property value impacted. My family has owned land here for 90 years and I was born in this house. My upgrade to the home 20-some years ago followed zoning rules, and the inspections were completed by the current township supervisor.
Residents want to work as a team with the township to protect our land, lake, and water for the future. A responsible township government would re-check the evidence we read in the FOIAs about the house next door, enforce zoning ordinances, respond to calls and emails, and work collaboratively with residents.
Beth Heuser, Freedom Township