It may have taken a little coaxing, but the fifty or so residents who packed Monday night's Plymouth Council meeting finally got the answer they were looking for: council will not be accepting a settlement for the proposed 'Ridge Park Hotel' before it heads to court next week.
Residents caught word that the item would be on the agenda and possibly up for a vote through an e-mail from councilwoman Maria Riccobono-Weidinger, as posted Monday on Patch. Riccobono-Weidinger said in the e-mail that she feared a vote may have been impending on the 110-unit hotel, proposed to be build on a property next to Ridge Park Elementary School along Chemical Road, after chair Sheldon Simpson had "gathered enough votes" from council.
So it was with some puzzlement that Simpson addressed the matter early in the meeting, saying that there would be no discussion on the item.
"[The item] was put on… because there was some discussion and we didn't know where it was going to go, and we did not want the community to feel that if something happened tonight, that they weren't notified or given the opportunity to speak," Simpson said. "But there is nothing happening tonight."
Attendees stuck around anyway, and got some answers later in the meeting when resident Jeff Branagh, who serves on the township's Planning Agency and has organized opposition to the hotel, used the public comment section to tell council that he felt like the item was a "bait-and-switch.”
Simpson responded by saying that because no action was taken, council was effectively declining the settlement offer and allowing the matter to go before the courts next week.
"There will not be a hearing [before council] in the future because it goes to court Monday, and whatever happens, happens," Simpson said. "We're not taking a position…and we're not willing to make an agreement with [the developer]… and hopefully we'll prevail."
Riccobono-Weidinger clarified with Patch after the meeting that she had been concerned about a possible vote after the item appeared on the agenda without considerable discussion from council at last week's workshop meeting. Township by-laws would have allowed for a vote on the item, Riccobono-Weidinger said.
Branagh then asked Simpson if the township would file an appeal in the event that the decision does not come down in their favor, and Simpson said they'd have to see if and when the time comes.
According to township officials, developer Preferred Property filed an appeal last winter after the Zoning Hearing Board denied its application based on limited frontage along Chemical Road and because the use of a hotel was not allowed in that zoning district outside the "Township Core."
In August, Craig Robert Lewis, an attorney for the developer, appeared before council with updated designs and an offer: Settle with the new proposal, or risk the developer filing a second "inverse condemnation" lawsuit, claiming Plymouth deprived the owner of enjoyment of its land and seeking that the township be required to buy it.
Council held a special public meeting in August to discuss the new proposal, which would have moved the hotel further away from the school. At the time, Simpson implored residents to consider the wisdom of settling, since it would prevent the worst possible outcome of the hotel being built to liking of the developer, without any township input.
Simpson hinted at a similar concern on Monday, stating that even if the township prevails in court and the hotel proposal is denied, there is no knowing what could be built there down the line.
"With this council, we're pretty united and agree on what's going on in the township and doing what's right, but that's only for another 14 meetings," Simpson said. "And there's no guarantee what happens when we're done with this, and two years from now a council [could] come in and rezone all that property for commercial and you get no restrictions. Anything is possible."
Check back with Patch as we follow the appeal through the court system.
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