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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Do Sakwa's Bidding. Or Get Sued.

For the Tea Party, government corruption and incompetence is an element of faith. Government is always reckless and irresponsible, with private enterprise virtuous and successful. And when it comes to the Troy Transit Center, one Troy Tea Party leader thinks that Troy is engaged in a “government land grab from private citizens.”

But is this true? Is Gary Sakwa an innocent bystander being taken advantage of by an out-of-control government?

Perhaps looking at the actions of Gary Sakwa in other municipalities will give us the answer. So let us look to a neighboring community, Northfield Township, and their adventures with Gary Sakwa.

In 2002, Sakwa purchased 100 acres in Northfield Township for $6.56 million, intending to get the land rezoned. At the time, the property was a 100-year-old farm, zoned for agricultural use. Sakwa wanted to turn it into high-density housing, with up to four homes per acre. The township board granted Sakwa's application, and limited the development to 450 homes.

However, the citizens of Northfield Township didn't want the property rezoned to high-density housing. The people took to the streets. The residents of Northfield Township organized a successful referendum, reversed the decision of the board, and left the property zoned for agricultural use.

But the citizens weren't done. The supporters of the referendum ran for township board and won. They promptly rezoned the property to allow only one home per two acres, because they wanted to maintain the “rural” character of the land.

Now, at this point, you should be wondering how Sakwa would react. Would they follow the will of the people, and develop 50 homes? Would they recognize the sovereign will of the people to determine what kind of community they wanted?

Don't be silly. Sakwa cranked up the lawyer machine. And sued. For somewhere between $20 million to $30 million in damages.

And after seven years of litigation, the circuit court judge dismissed Sakwa's case, stating, “[Sakwa] presented no evidence that it engaged in, or made significant expenditures for, planning development or construction of the site.” In other words, after spending $10,000 per acre for land appraised at $3,500 per acre, Sakwa didn't work with the township to develop the land in a mutually beneficial way. Sakwa simply demanded a massive payout because he didn't get exactly what he wanted.

In describing his actions, a Northfield Township activist stated Sakwa was engaging in “an intimidation plan, plain and simple: 'If you don’t do what we want, then we’ll make you pay.'”

(Is any of this starting to sound like the ringing of a Transit Center shaped bell?)

Now, after seven years and a massive loss, did Sakwa finally come around and agree to work with the people of Northfield Township?

Nope. Sakwa took his case to the court of appeals. Sakwa believed that Northfield Township was engaged in an “unconstitutional governmental taking.” Sakwa argued that not rezoning the property to allow them to maximize their profits created a loss of value. Therefore, the people of Northfield Township had to pay.

Luckily, the Court of Appeals ruled that the only rights Sakwa had were those he possessed when he purchased the property, namely to use the land for agricultural development. In fact, when Northfield Township rezoned the property to low-density housing, Sakwa's rights were “substantially expand[ed],” in allowing residential development to occur.

Now, the Troy Transit Center matter is slightly different. Because Sakwa chose to sue Troy over the Transit Center after being initially for the development. Even Councilman Henderson recognizes this. On his Facebook page, in response to question about this alleged, “land grab,” Henderson writes, “[Sakwa] was allowed to manipulate that entire piece of property only because of the transit center property deal.” Acknowledging that Sakwa was initially in favor of the Transit Center, Henderson now believes that “[Sakwa] is sticking it to us” because Sakwa either “has it in for the city or sees a big pile of money.”

So the moral of the story seems to be clear: If a municipality doesn't comply with the exact wishes of Gary Sakwa, it can expect to be on the receiving end of a massive lawsuit.