Traverse City Record-Eagle

Meijer-Acme Township Dispute

April 30, 2009

Meijer and Village to pay $1.5M

TRAVERSE CITY -- For years they fought, bitterly so. With lawsuits and countersuits and sometimes illegally waged election campaigns.

At stake: control over development in Grand Traverse County's Acme Township.

The players: Acme Township's elected officials and a development group headed by Meijer Inc. and the Village at Grand Traverse.

On Wednesday, an agreement in 13th Circuit Court likely closed the door on much of the contentiousness that since 2004 dominated this farming and bedroom community. Meijer and the Village agreed to pay five Acme officials a combined $1.5 million to settle a malicious prosecution lawsuit.

Acme planning Commissioners Robert Carstens and Clare David, as well as Trustees Ron Hardin, Erick Takayama and Frank Zarafonitis, each will receive $300,000 before taxes and attorney fees.

Their victory came about 16 months after former Acme Treasurer Bill Boltres won an undisclosed sum when Meijer settled a similar malicious prosecution suit. Details that emerged during Boltres' legal battle exposed Meijer's illegal campaign activity in 2004 and 2007 elections in Acme, and prompted Boltres' fellow government officials to follow his lawsuit lead.

The Acme officials said they settled for several reasons and cited lawsuit stress, a need for the community to heal, and their hope the award was sufficient to deter Meijer and other developers from abusing local governments.

"Every one of these people suffered a great deal of stress and the impact on our lives and our families was terrible," Takayama said. "We all felt this was enough of a fine, enough of a settlement cost to Meijer, that there was a lesson that this is not the path to take for developers."

Unnamed Meijer officials said in a joint press release they regretted the situation that led to the suit. They apologized to the community and individuals affected by their actions.

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