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Letter: Castle Rock Township gives cozy deal to developer

To the editor:

Most of us would jump at the chance to make a quick $300,000. So what if you have to stretch the law to make it work? And so what if you, the government, goes along with it? In 2016, Poplar Grove Farms bought 80 acres of land southeast of Farmington for $200,000. Just a couple years earlier, the CapX 2020 partners paid $430,000 to condemn it under the "Buy The Farm" law. This land was somewhat unique: all but 25 acres was wetlands.

Shortly after, Poplar Grove Farms applied to Castle Rock Township for a special use permit that would allow it to sell two residential lots on the parcel. There is no notice to the public that a permit has been applied for or granted. There is one hitch: This permit was facially illegal according to the zoning ordinance because of the wetlands. I know this because I looked at the properly in 2016 and wondered if this scheme might be legal, and concluded that it was not after studying it.

Earlier this year, I noticed that the new owners were listing two lots for sale there at $240,000 each. I contacted the township. I was told to appear when the parcel split application was being considered, which I did in early August.

Now, this is hardly the first time that a permit has been issued illegally. When that happens, the proper remedy is to revoke the permit. If the permittee has expended considerable effort in good-faith reliance on the permit, a common-law remedy known as "vested rights" exists. The permittee would need to show that the reason the permit was improper was not obvious, and the effort already expended has to be considerable. This does not include things like hiring a surveyor and pounding in a "For Sale" sign. In the present case, neither prong is satisfied.

I appeared again at the September Town Board meeting, and the board took the position that because it had already granted the permit, it was too late, there is nothing to be done, very sorry. It seems to me that the township has no appetite to clean up the mess it created. Now, I wonder how many landowners of Castle Rock Township are treated with such a light touch when they make a mistake about rural building density? The goal of preserving the rural character of the township is laudable, but failing to do so equitably causes public distrust in governmental authority. This is the chief threat to our rural townships.

Thomas Vacek