By Rosemary K. Otzman
The Van Buren Township Board of Trustees is close to accepting a new agreement that will allow the owner of the lots to complete the failed Planned Residential Developments of Cobblestone Ridge Estates and Cobblestone Manor.
Before the board approves the new agreement with Sheldon Acquisitions, residents of Cobblestone Ridge approached board members at their work/study session on March 17 and regular board meeting March 18 to give them information from an investigation they conducted – and continue to conduct.
Karen Fort spoke of the foreclosures and tax liens on the properties in the development that they got from the Wayne County Register of Deeds office. She showed pictures of signs on the property, which are against the homeowner association bylaws since the owner of the lots refuses to be designated a developer.
Fort spoke of the dirt and rubbish left behind after buildings are completed, which makes it impossible to mow the grass.
Fort asked Supervisor Linda Combs when they can expect to get the signs removed and Supervisor Combs said she wanted to confer with township ordinance officers and have them take a drive out to the development to check it out.
Fort said in September 2011, the development changed hands. There are 113 lots and 45 occupied homes, she said, and there had been 27 months of no development at all.
She said association dues are $50 per lot per month and so the owner of the undeveloped lots owes from $85,000 to $91,000, without penalties, to the association.
“It takes money to run an association,” Fort said, noting they do snow removal and grass cutting for all the common areas.
She spoke of an email from Planning and Economic Director Arthur Mullen that said residents couldn’t see the changes to the development agreement for their subdivision because of attorney-client privilege. At the work study session Mullen said he never said that, but they later produced the email he sent.
Supervisor Combs said she had a meeting set up with Brant Biarski, owner of the vacant lots, the following week and she would provide the residents with an update after the meeting.
Julianne Chard, also of Cobblestone Ridge, asked who is Sheldon Acquisition and who is the developer of Cobblestone Ridge?
Chard told of other developments in the state owned by the same group, including Stonebridge in Ann Arbor and others in Dexter, Sterling Heights, and Auburn Hills. They all have the address of 2617 Beacon Hills, Auburn Hills, so the same organization obviously runs all of them.
She said she has continually tried to be a participant in the changes being made to her neighborhood, but, “It’s been a secret activity by the township who left the stakeholders out of it.”
She said Mullen claimed it was a client-attorney privilege and the residents don’t have a right to know.
Chard said she was told by the former economic development direct that the transfer of the land didn’t comply with condominium law so there’s no developer.
“Is there a developer for Cobblestone Manor and Estates?” Chard asked.
“I haven’t had time to determine who the developer is,” Supervisor Combs said.
Chard said, “Mr. Biarski represented himself as the developer to two men who bought a house. They said Mr. Biarski told them Toll Brothers came in and filed bankruptcy. We get all kinds of stories.”
Chard said the development started in 2005 and in 2012 all development activity expired. She said at that point it should have been turned over to the residents.
“Maybe we could have somebody come in with cash flow and good faith” to complete the development, Chard said. “Eventually it’s time to cut bait. Pull your bait in, and go home.”
At the work/study session Trustee Jeff Jahr had many questions on the agreement and the serious public safety issue with the open basements that were supposed to be secured by Jan. 1, 2013 and now are having that requirement extended to the end of summer 2014.
“After not having complied with a previous agreement, the residents have to go through another summer,” of open basements full of water, Trustee Jahr said.
“If Mr. Biarski is successful in completing this project, we all are going to benefit … playing hardball isn’t going to work…” Jahr said. He said Trustee Phil Hart, who was unable to attend the meeting, is concerned about the escrow money being used for the township to put in sidewalks and the road – and he’s concerned about that, too. “I have a real concern with that issue,” Jahr said.
“I don’t know where to begin,” Jahr said, pointing out the math doesn’t add up and Sheldon Acquisitions doesn’t have the amount of money paid to the township that it’s supposed to.
Township attorney Patrick McCauley said he thought that they had paid everything and he would check.
Jahr said if the owner goes under, the township doesn’t have enough money to complete that project. Also, Jahr asked, why is the township issuing a certificate of occupancy when the agreement isn’t complete?
After many questions at the work/study session it was pointed out that the person who provided funds for Sheldon Acquisitions ran a liquor store at 1003 Mack Ave. in Detroit.
Biarski wanted to know what relevance that had to the township. He said the store owner was kind enough to buy the lots and pay the $53,000 in unpaid township water bills. He also filled the potholes.
“I’m the builder. I’m Trowbridge Homes,” Biarski said.
Marvin Reed said he has lived on Beacon Trail since 2006 and a lot of things are going on.
“Brant is a nice guy, but he doesn’t keep his word. He doesn’t handle his business. Period…” Reed said.
Another resident said he has been a police officer for 25 years in Detroit. He and Marvin are coworkers.
“I’m not ready to move forward,” Jahr said. “Those basements were to be completed a year ago …”
Jahr suggested another meeting to consider the proposed new agreement and the homeowners should be mailed notices so they can know about the meeting and attend.
In other business at the March 18 regular township board meeting, the board:
• Approved the second readings and adoption of ordinance amendments concerning retail fraud and alcohol purchasing, consumption and possession by persons under 21, to comply with current state laws;
• Approved the fire department’s Automatic Mutual Aid Agreement with the City of Belleville;
• Approved amending the Interlocal Agreement with Western Wayne County Fire Department Mutual Aid Association and MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Division;
• Approved the Independent Contractor Agreement with Sharon L. Frischman as of April 1 to serve as assessor, following the resignation of Bob Brandemier;
• Approved resolutions approving annual permits with Wayne County for maintenance, pavement restoration, and special events;
• Approved a resolution to appoint a township resident to the Downriver Wastewater Treatment System Joint Management Committee;
• Heard Supervisor Combs read a letter from Belleville Police Chief Gene Taylor to VBT Public Safety Director Greg Laurain commending VBT Sgt. Bart DeVos and Officer Pat Wehrman in their assistance to Belleville Police in catching a fleeing subject involved in an abduction;
• Heard Marc Littleson, president of the Van Buren Area Little League, introduce members of his VBALL team who were working to get the newly organized Little League under way. He presented VBALL t-shirts to board members and thanked the Van Buren Civil Fund for the donation of $12,000 to purchase equipment for the kids for their safety. He invited everyone to the opening ceremonies of the season at 9 a.m., Saturday, May 10;
• Heard Chief Taylor commend the VBALL volunteers for all their hard work. He knows what it involves because he coached for 11 years. Taylor was present to say goodbye to VBT since he is retiring and to thank the community of VBT. He said when he started serving the City of Belleville in 1977, the VBT police department was part time and Belleville went out after midnight to serve the community. He said there have been bonds formed between city and township police officers over the years, with a difference of opinion sometimes. He said he has been told, “When hell freezes over, it’s time for me to go and this year it did. This year, time to go.” He was invited to the board table shake hands with all the board members after his presentation; and
• Heard Treasurer Sharry Budd praise her deputy Sean Bellingham for stepping in to do a presentation on the work of the treasurer’s office at Owen Middle School earlier that day, when Budd found she “wasn’t up to par.” Bellingham’s presence at Owen surprised his daughter, who didn’t expect to see him there, and surprised Budd’s grandson, who expected to see his grandmother there. She wanted to thank Bellingham on behalf of the township.
By Rosemary K. Otzman