2017-05-25 / Local News

Roommates can stay in Northport home

By Patti Brandt Burgess
Of The Enterprise staff

FORMER VILLAGE Manager Frank Goodroe, shown here, won an appeal decided by the Village Council, some of whom were were once his bosses. FORMER VILLAGE Manager Frank Goodroe, shown here, won an appeal decided by the Village Council, some of whom were were once his bosses. Northport resident Frank Goodroe will keep his three roommates after a ruling in his favor was provided last Thursday by the Northport Zoning Board of Appeals.

Board members were in unanimous agreement that the four people occupying Goodroe’s Mill Street home function as a family unit and the house is not being operated as a rooming or boarding house.

“The evidence that we heard supports this conclusion,” said Phil Mikesell, village president. “It seemed to me, based on the testimony we heard, that it is a single family unit.”

That was not the case in January, when Goodroe was given a notice that he was violating the Zoning Ordinance by running a rooming house. Goodroe filed an appeal through his attorney, Karen Ferguson.

A two-hour hearing was held in April, with testimony from several witnesses generating 91 pages of transcription from a court reporter at the hearing.

“I’m just very relieved for the members of the house that they won’t have to move out in 30 days and can continue to live together as a family,” Ferguson said on Thursday.

Goodroe was also relieved, but said he is concerned about the Appeals Board eliminating his ability to advertise for roommates. Other village home owners are allowed to advertise for seasonal rentals without facing zoning violations.

Goodroe said he often gets referrals from the Leelanau County Sheriff’s Office for people who are victims of domestic violence and need a place to live.

“I have an affinity for that kind of thing,” Goodroe said.

He is now not able to provide housing for them, he said.

The Appeals Board is made up of the seven Northport Village Council members. Trustee Charlie Rogers was absent and Trustee Mike Stoffel was asked to leave the council table and sit in the audience during the zoning hearing.

Stoffel had been told by Mikesell last week that since he was not at the original hearing and had not heard testimony, village attorney Tom Grier recommended that he not comment or vote on the case.

He was also asked not to attend a special meeting and closed session on May 17 in which council members were to discuss an attorney’s opinion on the zoning matter.

According to the Michigan Open Meetings Act, a board may go into closed session to consult with its attorney regarding trial or settlement strategy in connection with specific pending litigation.

The question at the heart of the zoning case was whether the occupancy arrangement at the home complied with the Zoning Ordinance, according to Trustee Steve Wetherbee.

“This ruling is based on the home continuing to function as it is now,” Wetherbee said.

Wetherbee said the board does not believe that the original zoning violation filed by zoning administrator Bill Fuller in January was incorrect, as the board believes that at that time the home was functioning as a boarding house.

The Zoning Ordinance defines a family as one or more people “... 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 ... who are cooking and living as a single nonprofit housekeeping unit.”

The ordinance is silent on the issue of rooming and boarding houses.

The findings of fact on the case outlined several items that board members agreed showed that Goodroe and his roommates meet the standard for a family as defined in the ordinance.

Those items include sharing household chores and maintenance, sharing holidays and birthdays, having emotional ties akin to a family, and having access to shared spaces such as the kitchen and living room.

Board members also agreed that the home has a non-transient nature, with two of the three roommates living there for about eight or nine months. One, Mike Bunn, has been there for more than two years.

Wetherbee said that according to letters that were received, two of the home’s neighbors support the living arrangement, while two don’t.

Goodroe moved to Northport in December 2014 when he was hired as the village’s administrative coordinator. Four months later he purchased the home and six months later he resigned under pressure from the village council, though no details were ever given about Goodroe’s alleged performance shortcomings.

Von Voigtlander, who had been on the council for several years but lost to Tim Kehl in the November 2014 election, was then appointed to the administrative coordinator position, a job she does for $1,000 a year.

Ferguson in her appeals brief contends that after Von Voigtlander took over the position, she harassed Goodroe and subjected him to unequal treatment.

Northport resident Fred Steffens applauded the board’s ruling.

“It’s about time we used some common sense when making decisions,” Steffens said. That’s something the Village Council has been lacking the last few years, he added.

“It’s turned into a singular-type operation,” he said. “People on this council need to speak up.”

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