2017-09-14 / Front Page

‘Donation’ or escrow for Solon zoning?

Officials differ on developer’s payment
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

While the Solon Township Board effectively ended the question of whether a proposed medical marijuana processing plant will be built off Lincoln Road, some questions remain weeks after that decision.

And those questions may never be answered completely.

The Township Board at its meeting on Aug. 10 voted unanimously to stop marijuana processing plants from locating in Solon. But the procedures used to process the prospective marijuana business remain murky.

For instance, did the township accept a $3,000 “donation” from the developer, as the township attorney says, or was the check made out by Sam Rosinski on behalf of the 42 Degrees corporation the basis for an escrow account to offset township expenses?

Tim Cypher, whose company “All Permits” is known under the corporate name Cypher Group and is contracted as zoning administrator for the township, is adamant that money received by the township met township procedure and was allowed by the township Zoning Ordinance.

Cypher, who would only respond in writing to questions for this article, wrote that a fee schedule in the township ordinance “states ‘plus professional fees and out of pocket expenses to include but not be limited to engineer, survey, planning and legal fees.’ The escrow amount was set during a Planning Commission meeting as part of an amendment request review process.”

The concept is to bill an applicant in advance for professional services that will be required by a township during the zoning process.

The Cypher Group, which is Cypher’s corporate entity, in June billed the township for 18 hours of work on Rosinski’s project at $50 per hour, receiving $900. The firm was paid for nine hours of work on the project in May for $450. Information as to what type of work was performed was not provided the township.

In addition, the Cypher Group billed the township for traveling 536 miles during May and June and received $286. No information was provided the township to explain start and stop locations, or for what project the mileage was required.

When asked, Cypher said his contract with Solon does not require such information for mileage.

Cypher also wrote that some funds in the escrow account will also be used to pay for legal fees, and unused monies are in the process of being returned.

Some township zoning ordinances in Leelanau County specifically create a method by which funds can be accepted and accounted for as part of the zoning decision process. For instance, the Suttons Bay Township ordinance requires the Planning Commission to set a budget for anticipated professional expenses before accepting advance payment from developers.

Attorney Bieganowski is at odds with Cypher over the nature of the “escrow” payment — and more.

Minutes of meetings show that Cypher gave Solon planners the impression that he was working in lock step with Bieganowski on the Rosinski project.

According to minutes of the May 2 meeting of the Solon Township Planning Commission meeting, “Tim (Cypher) stated that the township attorney advised that an escrow account be created. The PC members agreed on $3,000.”

Bieganowski was asked who suggested that Rosinski pay funds into an escrow account.

“I have no idea,” Bieganowski said. “I know our minutes say that our attorney said to do that, but that was not the case ... I was never clear on that. I didn’t ask for that.”

When speaking at the Leelanau County Planning Commission meeting in July, Bieganowski characterized funds received from 42 Degrees as a “donation.”

The proper procedure, Bieganowski said, would be for the township to approve a “reimbursable expense resolution” tied to a zoning application.

When Cypher was asked who sought the escrow, he wrote, “The PC motioned to request the escrow funds upon my suggestion due to the specific nature of the matter.”

Cypher was also asked if a statement attributed to him in the minutes of the June 6 township Planning Commission meeting was correct. The minutes have Cypher saying, “(Medical marijuana) facilities will be treated as a standard business and will be allowed in two locations, industrial and agriculture. Local Township (s) will only have a choice in how many of these businesses will be allowed.”

In fact, a new state law governing medical marijuana processing allows local governments such as townships to ban such facilities from their jurisdictions.

Cypher, in his reply, wrote, “Verify the minutes and context. I was explaining what the statute means.”

The questions surrounding the project go even deeper. Cypher maintains that Rosinski did make an application for a zoning change that, if approved, may have allowed his project. But Bieganowski maintains that an actual application was never received. Instead, 42 Degrees submitted what a cover sheet terms a “Solon Township Proposal.”

“Tim told me that was his idea, for an application, but it was no application,” Bieganowski.

The process, the attorney concluded, was far more confusing than needed.

“I’ve never seen so much miscommunication in 20 years as I’ve seen in this Solon Township thing,” he said. “This all started without me being involved months ahead of time ... I wasn’t involved with the mundane stuff Tim was doing with Rosinski.”

The Cypher Group, which is based in Lake Leelanau, also acts as the “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) officer for Solon Township. Acting as required by state law upon a FOIA request, the township provided the Leelanau Enterprise documents including a “monthly permit summary” showing that $3,000 was received by the township on May 31 from 42 degrees for a “PC Escrow.” In addition, Rosinski paid for a land use permit for an “AG Greenhouse” that was 2,448 square feet at a cost of $100.

Editor’s note: The Enterprise will follow up next week with overviews of the work of zoning administrators in Leelanau County, including the Cypher Group.

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