----- Original Message -----
From: Greg Camburn
To: info@proprights.org
Sent: Saturday, July 16, 2005 7:27 AM
Subject: No land rights for farmers in Michigan

Since your website advocates for land rights, I thought you may find it interesting that the Michigan Court of Appeals has just issued a major decision in this area:

Recently the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that Townships may discard the Michigan Land Division Act and prohibit landowners from dividing parcels of property regardless of size.  In an unpublished decision dated 5/26/05, the Court did just that in Camburn and Lewis v Macon Township.  The case number is 260197.  I attach a copy of the decision for your review.  You may also obtain it online at:   http://courtofappeals.mijud.net/resources/public.htm    Just enter our docket number 260197 and scroll down to the pdf files of the decision.

My property at the heart of this case is a 105 acre family farm owned for 170 years.  It is one of the most scenic properties in my Township and located just 1 mile from the Town Hall.  As operating a small farm has become less economically feasible, our family has been unable to farm the land.  Not in the last 50 years has any member of my family been able to operate the farm and the land has been leased at a rate that barely pays the property tax ($4500 vs $3500).  As a farm, it is terrible.  Half the acreage is wooded.  Another quarter is dry, sandy, and rocky while good yield areas are only scattered throughout the last quarter.  But as bad as it is for agriculture, it is superb for residential use.  The majority of the Township has unsuitable soils which require engineered septic fields costing $10,000-$25,000 more than a regular septic drain field.  My land has very suitable soils and percolates well.   Without tearing up the forested areas, one could easily site 12-20 homes with only a few even visible from the public road.  My goal has been to maximize the value of the cleared land and preserve the forested acreage to the greatest extent possible.

Michigan's Land Division Act grants land owners the right to divide their property.  It sets forth a formula for the number of property divisions (splits) per given acreage.  For example, if my 105 acres were a single parcel (it is currently three) it would allow 13 splits with a bonus of two additional if a new road is built to divert traffic from the main Township road.  The Township in which the property is located has a Land Division Ordinance (Township Ordinance Number 5) which exactly duplicates the Land Division Act.  From my research, every Township in the State has such an Ordinance and uniformly applies the law .. Except for my Township.

It should be noted that the Land Division Act was the State's effort to make uniform law statewide for the issue of sprawl.  It is designed to reduce the unnecessary consumption of agricultural land and open space. 

Here, the Township Board enacted a Zoning Ordinance which, only for the agricultural zone (which comprises 97% of the land in the Township), nearly eliminates all property divisions.  With the same single 105 acre parcel, the Zoning Ordinance allows only three splits.  That is a loss of 12 splits from what the State Law specifies.  In other Townships and Cities in Michigan, the municipality pays farmers for their development rights to prevent loss of open spaces.  Ann Arbor has a $120,000,000 program to acquire development rights to 12,000 acres (an average of $9000/acre).  My Township simply eliminates my property rights for the "public good."

With 13 splits allowed by the State, local Realtors estimate my property to be worth $1,800,000.  With only three splits allowed by the Township it is worth $800,000.

I proposed to the Township a site plan that included 12 splits with lots ranging from 5 to 20 acres.  12 splits is fewer than my allowed total if this were a single parcel.  With the State formula and my existing three parcels my allowed total is 24.  So my proposal was for half what the State says I can do.  It left the forested land undisturbed and utilized the sandy rocky soil for building sites.  The Township flatly refused to even hear it.  They would not return my phone calls or letters.  Finally we sued in District Court.  The case was dismissed on a "ripeness" issue.  We appealed.  The Michigan Court of Appeals decision is attached in .pdf format.  Essentially it says that a Township may ignore State Law and zone away my property rights.  They found a new and unwritten portion of the Act which grants a municipality the right to regulate the number of splits.  Previously the Act allowed regulation only of size and proportions of new lots.  My Township's Ordinance in question constrains only size and not proportion, but it does include this new magical unwritten provision for eliminating 23 of my State law splits.

I am trying to sell this nearly 200 year old family farm for health and financial reasons.  I have recently survived lymphoma and also have several herniated disks in my back.  Even with my wife's salary, our expenses exceed our income by several thousand dollars per month.  Property maintenance and mortgage expenses are the lion's share of our troubles.

We have applied for Leave to Appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.  They may or may not choose to hear the case.  If that fails, I will be at the end of my rope.  I will not have finances sufficient to continue to support our losses let alone pay new attorney fees.  We will either lose the farm or be forced to sell it well below market value.

I have been searching for assistance and interest in this case since the Appellate decision in May.  As yet I have not had any success at all.  I am hopeful that your organization may be able to help in some way.  If this stands, I am but the first of many to see their property stolen by people who want to take private property for the "public good".

Thank you.


Greg Camburn
9690 Clinton-Macon Rd
Tecumseh, MI 49286
517-424-4242
517-605-6507 cell
greg@camburn.com
 
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