2012-04-19 / Columns

Lawsuit did not make winner out of BayView

A column
Eric Carlson

A lawyer friend of mine once told me: “You haven’t lived until you’ve been sued!”

The first time I heard that I laughed, of course. Only an attorney could say something so selfserving and nutty.

Since then, however, I have come to agree with him.

Longtime readers of this newspaper may recall that back in 2007 the Leelanau Enterprise and I were sued by the developer of the BayView luxury housing project in Suttons Bay. The case was finally thrown out of court more than a year and a half ago — so I now feel far more comfortable commenting on it publicly.

Perhaps more significant than the passage of time is the fact that a big chunk of BayView — the second phase of the project, known as “Leelanau Hills” — now belongs to you and me. Just this month, Leelanau County treasurer Chelly Roush took possession of the property on our behalf after the former owners fell more than three years behind in paying property taxes. At one point in history, the Leelanau Hills property was valued at more than $6 million.

Meanwhile, the BayView condo project on the Suttons Bay waterfront remains mired in highly complex and contentious federal bankruptcy court proceedings. The latest news on that front is that a group of mortgage speculators based in Oklahoma appears poised to acquire most of the development from the federal court trustee who took possession of the property after the developer went belly up and reneged on more than $11 million in loans. Stay tuned.

The good news is that all of the people currently involved in the BayView mess seem to have far more sense than the former developer who sued and only ended up losing his shirt and, for all I know, his pants and underwear as well. The Leelanau Enterprise and its insurance paid for all defense fees.

If it wasn’t so unsettling to be officially “served” with court papers filed by someone who was intent on destroying me personally, I would simply have laughed at the developer’s complaints.

The developer’s principal complaint?

I had referred to him in newspaper articles as “the developer.”

What an outrage! He wasn’t the developer. It was his company, not him personally, that was the developer!

I only laughed years later when a judge agreed that calling someone a “developer” is not like calling someone a “thief” or a “whore” -- and that the term “developer” is not, in itself, defamatory.

But it took about three years to get to that point. The developer originally filed suit in downstate Livingston County because that was where his development company was headquartered. Never mind that the entire BayView project is located in Suttons Bay.

When the judge in Livingston County was handed the suit and immediately ordered a change of venue to Leelanau County, the developer spent the next two years fighting that in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, lawsuits against the developer himself from aggrieved condo owners, unpaid subcontractors, and many others, continued to pile up.

Of course, I made a point of covering every one of those lawsuits against the developer very carefully and completely. BayView was, after all, the largest single development project on the books in Leelanau County for several years.

Am I happy with the way things turned out?

For myself, naturally I was gratifi ed that nearly the moment the facts of the complaint were presented to a judge, the case was thrown out of court. But that took more than three years.

As for our community and the BayView project itself, there appear to be no real winners in sight even though the game is all but over.

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Good for you, Eric. What a

Good for you, Eric. What a nightmare and an absolute waste of energy the lawsuit was. However, with regards to the Bayview project, I think the developer is a thief. His failed project equates to stealing money from the SB village residents who are still on the hook for the increased fees over the new sewage treatment plant even though the development ultimately resulted in less than half the number of expected users. Funny how he didn't sue Bill O'Brien of the Record-Eagle. He has written articles referring to "the developer." Dolly