Village seeks Living Hope settlement

DOWNS — A disagreement between the village and a place of worship it annexed looks like it will end in either settlement or suit after a long board meeting last Thursday night at village hall. 

The village board met for over an hour in closed session to discuss the parameters of a long-standing disagreement between the two sides. When they re-entered open session, the board informed representatives of Living Hope Christian Church that village attorney Dawn Wall was directed to seek a settlement with the church’s legal counsel. 

Wall also told the church it was the village’s position that a building permit obtained by the church was rendered void due to three months of inactivity at the building site. But, she said the village is willing to grant a temporary, limited permit while the two sides seek a settlement.

The difference between the two sides boils down to about $50,000 of road work. 

On the village side, the board believes the church is obligated to improve a section N. 2000 East Rd. up to village specifications for drainage. They also expect the road to match the quality of adjacent stretches of the road already improved by MM Bowers, the developer of the Beecher Trails subdivision adjacent to the land. 

On the church side, they believe they are not obligated to undertake road repairs, but they are willing to pony up $28,000 — money they budgeted when they believed they would be repairing the roads up to specifications they received from Old Town Township prior to annexation. 

The $28,000 number stems from an estimate received by the church from MSA Professional Services in 2012. The estimate was given without taking village drainage specifications into consideration. At last week’s meeting, the church maintained it was not contractually obligated to meet village requirements. 

An annexation agreement between the two sides passed in April 2014 addresses roadway improvements, but it does so vaguely: 

“Roadway improvements — Church and village agree and understand that the recent annexation of property to the South on a portion of 2000 E will have roadway improvements. It is anticipated that Church shall construct a Church and Worship facility on the annexed property. The Village reserves the right to require additional roadway improvements in the event the Church further subdivides the property.” 

Despite the church maintaining that they have no obligation to road improvements, their attorney, Rick Hobler, told the board they would be willing to chip in the $28,000 originally budgeted for road improvements. 

“The last thing we want is a conflict,” he said. “We’re not obligated to do this, but they are willing to do it to be good citizens.”

Hobler also pointed out that there have been multiple versions of an annexation agreement floating around, but the only one agreed to by both sides was the original April 2014 version. Any others were not mutual agreements, he said, and because both sides agreed to the April 2014 version, it is still a valid agreement. 

“I regret the day a piece of paper became more valuable than a handshake, but that’s the world we live in,” Hobler said. “You have to honor the agreement you wrote up.” 

Hobler said the church wants its water and sewer hooked up, but the village has not authorized that step yet because of the ongoing disagreements. 

Hobler spoke in open session, then members of the church adjourned for the remainder of the public portion of the meeting prior to an executive session which began at about 10 p.m. 

At 11:20 p.m., the chambers re-opened and Wall did the speaking for the village, telling a handful of church representatives who stuck out the long wait that a settlement would be sought. 

Regarding the revocation of the building permit, church representatives asked why it took two years to decide the permit was no longer valid. 

Regarding the request for road improvements, representatives of the church said they believed the village was guilty of “extortion.” 

“We have expectations of this roadway issue being taken care of,” Wall said. 

Living Hope Senior Minister Mark Moore pointed out that if the church knew about the more expensive requirements, it probably would have chosen against annexation. 

Dan Dawson, a church Elder, said the $28,000 was on the table, but it could be removed. 

“We don’t have to do anything,” he said. 

Wall said the village disagreed. 

“We’ll disagree in court,” Dawson said. 

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