2017-05-18 / Front Page

When is a home a boarding house

Village goes after former administrator
By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

The fate of what Northport Village officials are calling a rooming house owned by former village administrative coordinator Frank Goodroe is being handled at two special meetings — one that was to be held yesterday and another at 4 p.m. today at the village office.

At question is whether a homeowner can have roommates, and the very definition of a family occupying one home. An earlier meeting on the subject required a court recorder and resulted in a 91-page transcription of discussions.

The case is complicated because Goodroe says he was asked to resign in 2015 by current Village President Phil Mikesell. Village administrator Barb Van Voigtlander subsequently volunteered to fill Goodroe’s position for just $1,000 a year and was appointed by a unanimous vote of the Village Council including Mikesell.

Goodroe filed an appeal after being told he was running a boarding house and violating the village zoning ordinance.

One council member is being told not to bother coming to the meetings.

Trustee Mike Stoffel said he was shocked when told by Village President Phil Mikesell that he should not attend. Stoffel said Mikesell later clarified his statement, saying Stoffel could go to the meetings, but would not be allowed to comment, to go into the closed session or have a vote on the matter.

Stoffel was told that he was being kept away because he was not at the first zoning appeal meeting held on April 20.

“I think it’s a crock of bull,” Stoffel said earlier this week. “This doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The recommendation to keep Stoffel from participating in the meeting came from village attorney Tom Grier, who is with the Traverse City firm Running Wise & Ford.

“My recommendation was based on a belief that the process is better served when the members deciding the question also had an opportunity to hear testimony and evidence at the public hearing,” Grier said on Wednesday.

Mikesell said he was acting on the recommendation of the attorney and declined to comment further.

Grier declined to comment on whether council members could legally be kept from participating in the zoning appeal.

The Northport Zoning Board of Appeal is a seven-member board made up of the seven Village Council members.

Von Voigtlander said the council expected to go into closed session at Wednesday’s meeting to discuss an opinion from Grier.

At today’s meeting the council was expecting to deliberate and come to a decision regarding the appeal, according to a public notice for the meeting.

The notice for the Wednesday special meeting, while posted on the village website, was not sent to the Enterprise until early Wednesday.

In April, the two-hour appeal included testimony from several witnesses and generated a 91-page report from a court reporter who transcribed the meeting.

The appeal stems from a notice of violation Goodroe was given in October telling him that he was in violation of the village zoning ordinance because he was running a rooming/boarding house in a residentially zoned district. Goodroe’s home is at 122 W. Third St.

The violation was filed by William C. Fuller, Northport Village zoning administrator.

That violation was dismissed, as the home is actually in a commercial/ residential zone. But a new violation notice was issued on Jan. 3 with the same charge.

Rooming and boarding houses are not addressed in the village zoning ordinance.

“The zoning ordinance is silent on it,” Von Voigtlander said on Tuesday. “The way zoning ordinances work, if it’s not listed as a permitted use then it’s not allowed.”

The violation notice Goodroe received held a definition of ‘family’ that is contained in the zoning ordinance.

That definition says that a family is “An individual, or two or more who are domiciled together as a single, domestic, housekeeping unit in a dwelling unit, or a collective number of individuals domiciled together in one dwelling unit whose relationship is of a continuing non-transient domestic character and who are cooking and living as a single nonprofit housekeeping unit.”

Goodroe filed the appeal through his Traverse City attorney Karen Ferguson.

“Mr. Goodroe has been harassed ever since he was let go for various reasons,” Ferguson said this week. “We feel this notice of violation is another form of harassment. It’s well known that there are other people renting rooms.”

Ferguson said Goodroe is not running a rooming house, that the three people living in the home with him — one of which is Goodroe’s girlfriend — are simply roommates who share household duties and eat weekly meals together and celebrate holidays and birthdays together. They all have use of the full house, Ferguson said.

“We feel it fits with the definition of a family, that they are operating as a single housekeeping unit,” Ferguson said.

The violation notice included copies of two newspaper ads placed in 2015 and 2016 stating that there are rooms for rent at Goodroe’s property. The village was also aware, Fuller wrote, of four people who rented from Goodroe between August 2015 and March 2016.

Goodroe was given 30 days to cease running a boarding house or face fines of $500 per offense, with each day considered a separate offense.

Goodroe was hired as administrative coordinator for the village in December 2014 and resigned after less than six months on the job. He purchased the home just two months before turning in his resignation.

Von Voigtlander was appointed to the position at a much-reduced pay level.

In her appeals brief Ferguson contends that after Von Voigtlander took over the administrative coordinator position, Goodroe “was harassed and subjected to unequal treatment and enforcement by Barb Von Voigtlander and the Zoning Administrator who was either acting on his own or at the direction of Barb Von Voigtlander.”

Ferguson said her co-council, Kristyn Houle, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all other violations of the zoning ordinance regarding rooming/boarding houses or the rentals of rooms.

An answer was received from the village that no such documents exist.

“The FOIA came back that they were not pursuing anybody else,” Ferguson said.

Goodroe is also charged a higher tax rate for the home, according to Leelanau Township Treasurer Denise Dunn. While his home is listed as a single-family residence, 40 percent of the home does not get the homestead exemption.

Goodroe could appeal his tax rate with the Board of Review or with the Michigan Tax Tribunal, but never has, Dunn said.

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Politically Northport is the

Politically Northport is the laughing stock of the county, seems to to be as unwelcoming possible and has personal grudges. The entire village council should be booted out for a fresh start.

Sounds to me that the folks

Sounds to me that the folks running Northport have managed to create a huge dumpster fire.