Howard investigates planning commission incident

Published 11:57 am Wednesday, May 17, 2006

By By NORMA LERNER / Niles Daily Star
NILES - Howard Township officials will investigate a citizen's complaint against two members of the Howard Township Planning Commission and a request for them to be removed from the commission.
During a Howard Township Board meeting Tuesday night, citizen Michael Smith presented a letter to the board in regards to an April 19 planning commission meeting saying that member Cliff Poehlman allegedly violated the Howard Township Zoning Ordinance by allowing public comments regarding the home occupation permit application of Joe and Cheryl Fortuna on 28963 White St. This was for a sand and gravel mining business.
Smith complained that member Patrick Fetherston stepped down from the planning commission prior to its consideration of the home occupation permit application since he lives within the noticed area of the Fortuna property. Smith said Fetherston allegedly addressed the commission from the floor in opposition to the permit.
Smith stated, “Fetherston's actions have increased the public's suspicion that our ordinances are not fairly administered.”
Following a brief discussion, Trustee Shelby Farmer said the April 19 meeting was a “circus.” Fetherston said he would not participate but he did, she said, in asking for his resignation as well.
Supervisor Michael Sutherland told the board to let him handle it as he wants to talk with both Poehlman and Fetherston. He said he is seeking legal advice about what needs to be done.
The board in a related issue, appointed Linda McGregor as the new zoning administrator. She replaces Carol Swanstrom who resigned. She has zoning experience in dealing with her business-owned mortgage company. However, Farmer contacted Tracy Vines, a reference on McGregor's application who is the Niles Township administrator, who said she felt Howard Township's zoning ordinances are an “absolute mess.” She said Vines recommended hiring a planning firm to get things straightened out.
Farmer said she foresees attorney fees mounting in “problem after problem.”
Treasurer Shaune Timm said she would like to copy Niles Township's zoning laws. She said it is a “lot clearer.”
Sutherland agreed saying the board realizes the ordinances are a mess. “I realize something needs to be done, but that's not the discussion,” he said before the vote to appoint McGregor. Clerk Shirley Tuttle said she, office assistant Terry Ernsberger and Timm would help McGregor.
The board also approved a conditional use permit for a cell tower on the Brian Woodbury property at 3233 Detroit Road, Niles. U.S. Cellular will lease an area 75-by-75 feet for the tower.
It was approved not to pave the public road to water's edge alley on Lakeshore Drive owned by the road commission.
A public hearing was set at 6:40 p.m. on the Southwestern Michigan Community Ambulance Service's capital budget plan and at 6:45 p.m. on the weed eradication assessment roll for Barron Lake, both on June 20 at the township hall prior to the regular meeting at 7 p.m.