TRAVERSE CITY — A man’s attempt to develop property north of Green Lake is stalled, again, after a Traverse City judge remanded to state regulators a permit that would have allowed him to fill about a quarter-acre of wetlands.
Laurent Torno, a St. Louis-based architect whose family owns land in the area, planned for nearly a decade to build new homes on the family property with his two brothers. But he would have to reconstruct a road to reach the lots where the homes would be built, and cross through about a quarter-acre of wetlands.
The Department of Environmental Quality issued a permit allowing him to do so in 2009, and touched off a years-long legal battle prompted by neighbors, the Interlochen Center for the Arts, which owns adjoining land, and the Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council.
They contend the permit to fill wetlands was issued in violation of the state’s wetlands protection laws, which require developers to determine “no feasible and prudent alternative” exists.
Thirteenth Circuit Court Judge Thomas Power on Tuesday returned the DEQ’s decision back to the agency on the grounds that an administrative judge failed to apply the “feasible and prudent” test when he sided with the permit in 2012.
NMEAC used money from its Environmental Legacy Fund to help pay for the case. Traverse City Attorney Jim Olson, who represented NMEAC and others in the case, said the decision has statewide implications.
“The importance is not only preventing fragmentation of the wetland habitat along the Little Betsie River near Interlochen, but also to make sure that the DEQ and developers in northern Michigan understand they have to live by the letter of the law up here when it comes to protecting water and natural resources,” Olson said.
Gary Ford, Torno’s attorney, said the administrative judge considered alternatives, but failed to include them in his decision.
“My impression was he considered it and didn’t find it compelling,” Ford said. “I think in his mind he thought they were not feasible, but he didn’t explain how he came to that conclusion.”