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Flowerfield Twp. approves Road Commission gravel operation, but litigation looms

Flowerfield Township Supervisor Ron Shaver reads over a Finding of Facts document prior to a vote on approving the conditional rezoning for a property on Cranberry Lake Road to be used for a St. Joseph County Road Commission gravel operation. (COMMERCIAL-NEWS | ROBERT TOMLINSON)

By Robert Tomlinson
News Director

FLOWERFIELD TWP. — The St. Joseph County Road Commission officially has its gravel operation in Flowerfield Township.

In two separate 3-2 votes, the Flowerfield Township Board of Trustees approved the conditional rezoning of 65 acres of property at 11546 Cranberry Lake Rd., between Day Road and Bent Road, to be used for the county agency’s gravel operation, as well as an ordinance to that effect, essentially giving the okay for the operation to proceed. Treasurer Alan Pearson and Clerk Teresa Ives were the two dissenting votes.

The action, at least for now, represents a major victory for the Road Commission, who has cited a need for gravel in St. Joseph County as a reason the operation is necessary. The agency completed a purchase of the property in question back in late December for $455,000 for the purpose of putting the gravel operation on the property.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Zoning Administrator Doug Kuhlman laid out the process that was undertaken by the Planning Commission to get to this point, as they made recommendations for the conditional rezone and approved a finding of facts, site plan, and special land use permit for the property. The rezone would be the only portion of the three-part process to require approval by the township board to secure approval.

“Now it’s back to you, and hopefully the last leg of the race that you would approve the conditional rezoning of the property,” Kuhlman said to the board. “I understand this is very controversial, but I just want to caution you they met the criteria. There’s no serious consequences that have been documented, they’re allowed to do it under a conditional rezone.”

Kuhlman added that there “could be litigation” involved with the process, to which resident Lara Mahr, one of the residents who live near the proposed site on Cranberry Lake Road and has opposed the operation, said “there will be” litigation soon after Kuhlman said what he did.

While the agenda item was not a public hearing on the issue, Township Supervisor Ron Shaver did allow some questions and comments from the audience during discussion of the item. One of them, from resident Kelly Ward, asked whether the township has consulted with their attorney regarding the operation. Shaver said they did, adding that Township Attorney Roxanne Seeber reportedly told him the township would be on “good ground” if the township approved the conditional rezoning.

Shaver then took time to read out the entirety of the Finding of Facts document the Planning Commission previously approved. During the reading, Mahr brought up the potential issue of Bent Road being a haul route for gravel allegedly being “left out” of that document.

Mahr commented after Shaver read out the Finding of Facts, claiming that the entire process of approving the operation was “flawed from the start,” claiming that the township has violated the Open Meetings Act, and alleged at one point that there was “no shortage of gravel here,” the opposite of what the Road Commission has claimed.

“There is no shortage of gravel here, there isn’t. They haven’t proven the sites they have now are actually running out. They claim they have 30,000 tons, but they have no empirical data or nothing to support this fact,” Mahr said. “This idea of a shortage of gravel is pure mythology.”

Shaver and Mahr went back and forth a bit during the overall discussion, with Mahr eventually asking Shaver when he first knew about the process, to which Shaver said he knew about it back in December. During this back and forth, though, Kuhlman interrupted to remind Shaver and the audience it was not a public hearing nor public comment and that all of the governing bodies who have looked at the rezoning request up to that point were recommending approval. He also mentioned Mahr’s involvement in litigation against the township.

“On at least three occasions, she has publicly announced she’s going to litigate against us. My recommendation is you guys don’t get into a discussion with her because it doesn’t matter what we say, she’s threatening to litigate, and we need to let her do what she wants to do,” Kuhlman said.

Mahr then claimed that she had “not been allowed to speak” during the process – she has spoken many times during both public hearings and public comment during the Planning Commission and township board meetings – and asked if the township was not letting her speak, to which Shaver said she has had time to speak and he would not give her more time.

Indeed, Mahr has brought forth litigation against the township board and the planning commission, part of two court actions that have been filed regarding the situation.

A lawsuit against both the township’s board and Planning Commission, as well a separate appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision were filed in May in St. Joseph County 45th Circuit Court by Lara and Craig Mahr and Janice and John Kindig respectively. The Kindigs, along with the Mahrs, are residents who live on Cranberry Lake Road near the property in question and have opposed the proposed operation and the process that played out at the Planning Commission level.

The Mahrs’ lawsuit alleges the Planning Commission’s approval of the Road Commission’s conditional rezoning violated the Michigan Constitution because the township “failed to adopt an ordinance” for permitting conditional rezoning. It also alleges the approval constituted spot zoning and “unlawful contract zoning,” and that the approval was unlawful because Pearson, who used to be on the Planning Commission, was told by Seeber he could not vote during the Planning Commission meetings (This was due to what Seeber said in prior meetings was a conflict of interest because Pearson lives across the street from the property in question.)

In addition, the Mahrs’ lawsuit alleges the township of violating the Open Meetings Act for not making available meeting minutes from October 2023 to January 2024; the lawsuit stated that the township board “admitted in a meeting on April 9, 2024, that they did ‘not keep minutes for a period of time.’” They also allege the township has “taken [their] property and destroyed [their] property rights for public benefit without the payment of just compensation,” that they were denied due process, and that the township violated their right to free speech by not publishing a written statement given by Lara Mahr at the Jan. 9 township board meeting in the official minutes.

The lawsuit seeks declaratory judgement that invalidates the Planning Commission’s approval of the rezoning application, as well as damages and a “preliminary and permanent injunction against the defendants from interfering with plaintiffs’ use of their property by spot-zoning a single parcel.”

The Kindigs’ appeal roughly lays out the same accusations the Mahrs had against the Planning Commission, and also seeks the invalidation of the commission’s decision.

There have been no hearing dates scheduled as of yet on the Mahrs’ lawsuit.

When asked after the meeting if the Road Commission was prepared for litigation, Lindsey said they will “do whatever we need to do.”

“I don’t know what it’ll even look like. We’ll have to wait and see what comes, and just have to turn it over to our lawyers then,” Lindsey said.

Following the vote, Ives, the township clerk, explained her “no” vote, saying that she “feel[s] for the residents on the road.”

“I know we need this gravel, but as someone who has lived on Day Road for probably 30-some years, having the dirt and dust … until you guys paved our road, we never could sit outside. Our cars were dirty, we always had high maintenance,” Ives said. “What I’m just voting no for is not against the county, but I just feel for the 14 residents on that road – I’m not doing it to be brown-nosing or anything, I’m doing it because I’ve been on a dirt road for many years. … We all move out here to the country, to the rural area to enjoy the quiet, less busy. … I feel for you if you can’t be outside because you’re going to be eating dust. I just feel bad for the people on the road.”

Trustee Deb Spencer, who replaced Pearson on the Planning Commission last month, commented that the board members are where they are to “serve for the benefit of the township.”

“We don’t want to be enemies, we want to serve and do the best we can, and we all fall short,” Spencer said. “But, we all are trying to do our best with the information we get, and to try to look at the overall of the whole township. It’s not easy, but we’re trying and we’re here to serve.”

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or

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