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Township, resident in zoning dispute

Becky Vargo • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:46 PM

Grand Haven Township officials are considering a settlement offer on a zoning case that’s been a thorn in their side since 2007.

Homeowner Mike Risko hopes it will be resolved when the Township Board meets June 24. But his family may not find out the answer until a bench trial on one part of the case is held in September.

The Terry Trails home belonging to Mike and Rebecca Risko should never have been constructed the way it was, pending the court case, according to Sue Robertson, chairwoman of the township's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Although the Riskos received a state permit to build a home in a critical dune zone, they were denied a variance by the township to decrease the setback so a garage could be built on the side of the house.

Robertson said the township zoning board instead suggested an alternative location, with the garage facing the road, eliminating the need for a variance.

Rather than modify their plan, the Riskos appealed the decision in Ottawa County Circuit Court. Judge Jon Van Allsburg made what the township considered an incorrect ruling in favor of Risko, said Township Manager Bill Cargo.

Van Allsburg’s ruling noted that the zoning board “failed to find that practical difficulties did exist and failed to reasonably exercise its discretion to grant this variance when it had granted nearly the identical variance in similar cases.”

The township appealed that ruling and won the case at the state Appellate Court level, reversing the county judge’s decision.

While the case was under appeal, the Riskos proceeded to build their home as they had planned.

Risko is a local attorney.

“Every lawyer I’ve ever met knows the judge ruling is not final,” Roberston said.

Van Allsburg said it is an unfortunate situation.

"They went ahead and built with a court-ordered building permit, knowing this case was still under appeal," the judge said. "It’s simply the risk they took.”

Cargo said at the time the building permit was approved, the Riskos were also notified that the garage would have to be removed if the Appellate Court reversed Van Allsburg’s decision.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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