February 22, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Michaelann Neadow is worried she is going to lose her state campground license.
If that happens, says the owner of the Clearwater Campground, 1140 S. Ortonville Road, she is not the only one who will lose.
Also suffering would be the owners of six lots within the campground who are part of a condo association and are essentially living year-round at the campground— forbidden by state law.
"The concern is that the state will find the campground in violation of their license and close down the campground entirely and they would have to move out until they regain their license," said Township Supervisor Kathy Thurman.
Thurman and Neadow spoke out this week, presenting their side on a matter that will soon be clarified by Sixth Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman.
A consent judgment from 1995 states that the campground closes for a continuous three-month period during the winter season. The Clearwater Campground Association, consisting of about 96 owners of stationary units that pay taxes on their properties, "may designate from time to time two units as caretaker units which can be occupied year-round."
Otherwise, "individual units may be "visited" and occupied by the respective co-owners on a 72-hour basis."
But how that is interpreted by some of the association members and how the township interprets it became a source of conflict and in January 2011, the township board voted 6-0 to deny a request by the Clearwater Campground Association that the township grant a variance exempting individual co-owners of campground units who are over the age of 55 from the consent judgment requiring them to vacate the premises for three months out of the year.
Neadow, who has co-owned the campground for the past 12 years, said all the condo association members left each winter, complying as the judgment dictated— until four or five years ago, when a few of them began to stay.
Among them were Jim Cartwright, an 85-year-old World War II veteran who lives in a park model trailer with his wife, Jessie, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and has several other medical issues. Cartwright says he owns his property and won't leave.
Neadow contends that when the condo association members bought their parcels of land from the previous campground owner, they knew they could not stay year-round, because it's a seasonal park.
"Ninety of them comply," said Neadow. "The condo association is riding on our campground license. I'm worried that I'm going to lose my license, which covers what I own, and the property surrounding the condo association land, and all the roads in the campground."
The condo association members each bought their own parcel, which on average are 35 foot by 50 foot lots. They pay taxes, but are not taxed the same as most property owners in the township, said Thurman.
"They pay property taxes at reduced level, because it's not a year-round living arrangement," she said.
Neadow said the condo members share utilities, the lake, wells, and roads with the campground. They have shared road maintenance expenses. In winter, the campground roads are plowed, but she is still concerned for the safety of residents who are staying in the winter months.
Thurman said the township's primary concern in 1995 when the consent judgment was made was that the condo owners association not become another mobile home park in the community.
"The township is trying to find an equitable solution," she said.
Neadow said the ones breaking the rules can't be allowed to stay year-round with a grandfather clause because they knew they were purchasing property in a seasonal park.
"We've put a lot of money and time into this campground," she said. "I want it to be a place where people bring their kids and now we've got this. It's not fair and it's not fair to the 90 condo people who follow the rules... The campground license is under my name and they are riding on it. If the township or state comes in and says you're not following the rules we set, I could lose everything."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville