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Judge dismisses NOCH's Health Pointe lawsuit

Becky Vargo • Mar 29, 2017 at 8:00 AM

An Ottawa County judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to reverse approval of a medical building currently under construction in Grand Haven Township.

Circuit Judge Jon Van Allsburg ruled that North Ottawa Community Hospital didn’t have “standing” to challenge a township ruling that allowed the Health Pointe medical center to be built as a planned unit development.

The opinion released March 24 was in response to a motion in February by defendants Grand Haven Township, the township’s community development director and Health Pointe, in which they sought summary disposition (dismissal of the lawsuit).

Township Superintendent Bill Cargo said the judge’s decision was expected.

“This decision by Judge Van Allsburg to dismiss the lawsuit follows well-established case law on three different threshold legal questions,” Cargo said. 

Cargo said the lawsuit was dismissed (1) because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; (2) because NOCH lacks legal standing; and (3) because of NOCH′s own delay in bringing this most recent lawsuit, which is often referred to as the “doctrine of laches,” or an unreasonable delay by the plaintiff in bringing the claim.

“The arguments that NOCH officials offered during the Health Pointe approval process were carefully considered by the elected officials,” Cargo said.  “However, although the opinions of NOCH officials were not unreasonable, the Township Board determined their arguments were not persuasive and concluded that the Health Pointe PUD application fully satisfied the township’s zoning requirements.”  

NOCH attorney Jon Bylsma said that the organization was disappointed by the court’s decision.

“We feel this decision means that no one has the ability to challenge the Township Board even when it completely ignores its own laws,” he said. “We are happy that this process has exposed what went on here and we’re very appreciative of the support of so many members of our community.”

NOCH officials said that the hospital board stands behind its decision to pursue legal action, based on its belief that the township’s Zoning Ordinance was clear in that its language did not permit medical facilities or facilities of the height of the Health Pointe building on that specific parcel.

“We also believe the Township Board took liberty with its interpretations, and ended up putting Spectrum Health’s agenda ahead of taxpayers,” NOCH officials said in a press release. “And it seems as though taxpayers agreed with these concerns when they voted in a referendum to overturn the Township Board’s attempt to retroactively rezone that property last fall. (NOCH) took the logical next step to ensure the community’s voice was heard.”

“Although we are disappointed with the judge’s decision, we are pleased this lawsuit helped the community better examine the troublesome business and governmental practices that have occurred with this project,” said Dr. Jack Roossien, chairman of the NOCH Board. Roossien also said the judge’s decision will allow “yet another costly, unnecessary project of Spectrum’s to progress.”

Whether or not the hospital will take further legal action is up in the air.

“I don’t think anything is out of the question at this point,” Bylsma said.

But Cargo said Tuesday that he hopes Van Allsburg′s decision will not be appealed.

“Being forced to spend additional taxpayer monies to defend well-established case law on these basic threshold legal questions would be unfortunate,” the township manager concluded.

Background:

• Oct. 2, 2015 — Spectrum Health and Holland Hospital partner to apply for a planned unit development for Health Pointe, a new health care facility in Grand Haven Township.

• Nov. 2, 2015 to March 7, 2016 — Several public hearings were held by the township’s Planning Commission and the Township Board.

• Jan. 25, 2016 — Township Board discusses PUD application and refers it to the Planning Commission to request joint meeting with City of Grand Haven Planning Commission, correct township Zoning Ordinance to include medical clinics as an allowable use in the C-PUD, correct the ordinance with regard to building heights, and amend site plan to vary roof lines and review landscape plans.

* March 14, 2016 — Township Board discusses PUD, approves Zoning Ordinance amendment, tables decision pending the production of new roof drawings and negotiations on a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

• March 28, 2016 — Township Board conditionally approves Health Pointe PUD.

• April 27, 2016 — Mark Reenders and Chester of Michigan LLC  file appeal of the Health Pointe approval.

• Aug. 11, 2016 — Ottawa County Circuit Court decision to dismiss appeal because the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Township Board decision.

• Dec. 22, 2016 — NOCH files lawsuit against the township, Township Community Development Director Stacey Fedewa and Health Pointe, seeking reversal of PUD decision.

• Feb. 6, 2017 — Grand Haven Township and Spectrum Health file motion for summary disposition (dismissal of lawsuit).

• March 24, 2017 — Ottawa County Circuit Judge Van Allsburg issues decision to dismiss lawsuit.

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