Township Plannning Officials, Residents Raise Ethical Concerns Over Rudich/Sheridan/Kushion's Actions
It looks like the 304-acre Lake Michigan waterfront property in Saugatuck Township will continue to be a hot-button topic.
Following pressure from its planning commission members and some area residents, the Saugatuck Township Board unanimously voted to seek a special consultant to help the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission review the Jeff Padnos and Cottage Home development project.
Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Chair Kathleen “Kat” Miller Cook, particularly, has been scathing in her criticisms against Township Clerk Brad Rudich, Township Manager Aaron Sheridan and Township Zoning Administrator Steve Kushion and their handling of the development project.
Cook penned an April 12 memo to board officials saying that her request for an independent and outside planning consultant to help the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission address elements of the Cottage Home development that are beyond planners’ scope has been strategically met with resistance.
“It seems the manager (Sheridan), clerk (Rudich), and zoning administrator (Kushion) have worked together to block this request. I don’t know what their motivations are,” Jon Helmrich, the former township liaison to the Harbor Authority, told the board Wednesday alluding to Cook’s situation.
Helmrich further stated that it has been a long established standard for the township to hire a special consultant to help the planning commission in very complex matters such as the Cottage Home development (the plan calls for 40 homes on different clusters on the property, mostly houses fronting Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River, plus a boat basin).
Saugatuck Township Planning Commission Member Joe Milauckas concurred with Helmrich, noting, “That (hiring outside planning experts for complex developments) is what we have been doing ever since I’ve been on the planning commission (30-plus years).”
In an unexpected development revealed towards the end—and immediately following—the Wednesday night meeting, Milauckas and some members of the public said they have read or seen a letter written by the Cottage Home attorney to the Saugatuck Township attorney suggesting Cook ought to be removed from the Planning Commission.
“That is not true,” Saugatuck Township Board Supervisor Jonathan Phillips told area resident Sheila Putnam, who publicly claimed that she had read the letter online and also heard about it from other people.
Despite Phillips’ denial, however, Milauckas told The Local Observer he, too, had seen the letter. Milauckas explained the letter written by the Cottage Home attorney to the township attorney stated the township should “consider” the removal of Cook, not necessarily an outright call to remove her from her post.
Saugatuck Township Trustee Roy McIlwaine declined to comment on the matter and refused to provide a copy of the letter (apparently he had one with him) to The Local Observer, merely suggesting the newspaper call Saugatuck Township Manager Aaron Sheridan at a later time to request a copy.
Furthermore, some area residents have raised ethical concerns regarding the attorney Cottage Home has hired for the project, Carl J. Gabrielse, who in 2010 was sentenced to a six-month jail term following a sex assault case when he was working as the city attorney for Holland.
Of the hiring of a special consultant, Sheridan cautioned the board, “If the applicant (Cottage Home) has a strong objection to this consultant (whomever the township ends up hiring), then the township cannot move forward. Steve (Kushion), the board, the planning commission, and the applicant all have to agree who this consultant should be for the sake of fairness.”
Area resident Laura Judge responded by saying, “That seems like a conflict of interest that it ought to be contingent upon the developer’s desire.”