Judge rules for Holly couple in township land dispute

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Holly Township — An Oakland Circuit judge ruled Wednesday a family is entitled to reclaim 10-acres of land from Holly Township under a consent agreement — for the sum of zero dollars.

After Timm Smith broke his back and suffered a stroke more than seven years ago he was unable to work and they lost the parcel off South Holly Road — part of a 20-acres his family owned — in a foreclosure when they could no longer meet mortgage payments.

The land, which included their house, was subsequently deeded to the township and has been the focus of a protracted legal battle with the Smith family, who in the interim lived on an adjacent five-acre parcel in a modified, woodstove-heated trailer. Wednesday’s action appears to return the land to them.

“We are elated,” Timm Smith said. “Its a vindication of what we’ve been saying all along. The township should not have taken the land from the bank and under the agreement, it now rightfully belongs to us.”

The Detroit News has reported how the township has tried to evict the Smiths, citing them for blight and unsafe conditions. The Smiths countersued seeking damages from the township for alleged questionable transactions they described as a township “land grab” and part of a plan to build a park alongside the Shiawassee River, which borders the property.

In May, both sides agreed to drop their respective lawsuits as part of a consent agreement which permitted the township to select appraisers to determined the value of the property. Under the agreement, the Smiths were given first right to buy it.

A veteran appraiser, Louise Braun, was selected and she determined the parcel is landlocked — without access to the public road — and therefore of “$0 value.” The Smiths said they would take it over at that price — coincidentally, the same amount paid by the township when it took title from the bank in 2009. The bank turned it over to the township after being threatened with $300-a-day fines for blight on the property.

The township listed the property last month and reportedly has received at least one offer and inquiries from other potential buyers. They asked Oakland Circuit Judge Hala Jabou to strike Braun’s appraisal, but she declined, stating in her ruling: “The court finds no legal or factual basis to strike the appraisal. Simply put, (the township) disagrees with the results of Braun’s appraisal. However, the judgment specifically provides that an appraisal can be done by Braun. ...

“Pursuant to the consent judgment, plaintiff should convey Parcel A to the Smiths by covenant deed.”

Jarbou denied the Smiths’ request that the township pay their attorney fees. Their attorney, Casper Connolly, was out of state Wednesday.

Gregory Need, an attorney for the township, could not be reached for comment on whether Jarbou’s ruling will be appealed.


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