By Rosemary K. Otzman
Louis Kovach’s battle with Van Buren Township over lot splits is over – and he couldn’t be happier.
Kovach said Van Buren Township Supervisor Linda Combs stepped in when negotiations were at a standstill to settle the disagreement out of court and end the lawsuit.
On Feb. 28 Wayne County Circuit Court Judge John H. Gillis, Jr. signed a consent judgment between Louis Kovach and the Charter Township of Van Buren that provided lot splits for his property that was the former Coy Kendall Greenhouse land.
The property, several parcels of land at the northwest corner of the intersection of Bemis and Martinsville roads, was owned by Homer and Jean Morris before Homer’s death and now is owned by Kovach.
Kovach said former Planning and Economic Development Director Bryce Kelley had drawn up a plan for the splitting of these properties that included several “flag lots” that Kelley said wouldn’t be a problem.
After Kelley left VBT employment and Homer Morris died those flag lots became a big problem.
On May 1, 2012 Kovach submitted an application to the VBT Parcel Division board (composed of Terry Carroll, Linda Stevenson, and Tom MacDonald) proposing to divide a 9.357 acre parcel into 5 parcels, including 3 “flag lots.”
On May 8, 2012 the Parcel Division Board denied Kovach’s application.
Kovach filed a complaint on June 12, 2012 seeking a Writ of Mandamus compelling the Parcel Division Board to grant the land division he requested.
The township filed an answer to the complaint, requesting that the court deny the relief requested entirely and enter judgment in the township’s favor.
After months of negotiation, Kovach and VBT settled out of court, dismissing defendants Carroll, Stevenson, and MacDonald from the case.
The order signed by the judge said this was “to avoid further costs and expenses, the uncertainty of trial, and to resolve their disputes relative to this action without any admission of liability on the part of the township.”
Each party agreed to be responsible for their own attorney fees, costs and expenses.
Kovach said the township had created a “Homer Rule” that changed the property zoning into Agricultural Zoning with larger minimum sizes and made all the land non-compliant to the township’s own ordinance.
At the latest court session, Kovach said Judge Gillis said to the VBT attorney, “You have been causing this guy trouble and if you don’t change I will act on his request.”
Kovach said VBT attorney David Greco replied, “These are the zoning rules” and the judge replied, “Change the zoning rules.”
“I wanted the Homer Plan,” Kovach explained. “When I started, all I wanted was to get what Homer was promised.
“I wanted to show Homer could have done it, but, unfortunately, he ran out of time.
“I wanted to do this as quickly as possible so it doesn’t happen to me,” Kovach said.
The judge gave them a deadline to come to an agreement or he would act on Kovach’s request.
Kovach said there was one day left before the judge would do this and his attorney John Day called him to a 3:30 p.m. meeting at township hall. He said besides his attorney and the VBT attorney also present were Supervisor Combs, Stevenson, Carroll and MacDonald.
Kovach said he was five minutes late and when he entered the room Day was explaining to Carroll what the judge was going to do the next day.
“That’s no problem. We’ll just find another judge,” said Carroll, according to Kovach.
Kovach said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing, but bit his tongue and didn’t comment.
Instead he said, “Let’s talk about the Grand Compromise, the Consent Judgment.”
Kovach said there was a suggestion to divide Kovach’s land into nine pieces.
Kovach said he had asked for 11 pieces and asked why they said nine.
He said the answer was: “You’re not giving up anything and we’re giving up everything.”
At that point Kovach recalls he said to his attorney, “John, I think we’re meeting them in court tomorrow.” He started to get out of his chair to leave, when Supervisor Combs asked him to please wait.
“I want to resolve this for you,” she said and they worked to come up with Option 3. Kovach said the parcel division was drawn up by attorney Day and this split was more orderly and had no flag lots.
His original request was for 11 buildable lots and Option 3 had 10 places. One large parcel includes Kovach’s residence and has a large, swampy area in the back of the property.
“In the end, we lost one building lot,” Kovach said.
Kovach credits Combs with solving the disagreement. He said before the August Primary Election, Combs came to see him with the Independent stories about his fight to get his property split.
Kovach said Combs told him if she gets elected she will settle the dispute and come up with a compromise.
“Why compromise if you’re right? What did I do wrong?” he said he asked her. “What did Homer do wrong?
“We’re just trying to make happen what was promised,” Kovach said.
Kovach worked against the reelection of Supervisor Paul White who he blamed for his lot split troubles and put signs up on the property against White, one of which is still in place.
Kovach said he is thinking of cleaning up the back acreage on this property and growing an orchard for Homer.
“I hope there is a Heaven and they can see down. Both my father and Homer can see I did something good,” he said.
Kovach said the attempt to split the property has been going on for years and, “It’s really been Homer’s hope.”
He said now he can sell the lots and maybe in five years when the economy breaks families can build homes in the country.
The VBT Board had had several closed-door sessions to discuss the law suit, the most recent one after a work/study session on Feb. 19, 12 days after the court was advised the case was settled and closed.
At the regular board meeting later on Feb. 19 the board voted 6-1 to approve its attorney’s recommendation on the case, with Trustee Regina Miller casting the only nay vote. There was no discussion and no announcement that the case had been settled.
On March 15 Supervisor Combs told the Independent that Kovach and his attorney, John Day, were very good to work with and, “We all had the same goal.”
Combs said the settlement was good for both sides.
Former Supervisor White reviewed the settlement and said he was comfortable with the new splits agreed upon. He said he believes it will reasonably meet state law on land division splits.
By Rosemary K. Otzman