Ownership of 12 parking spaces, past taxes at the core of dispute

ALMONT — The Almont Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors has decided to move forward with earlier plans to litigate ownership of 12 parking spaces behind the former Lane-Swayze Clinic.

On Wednesday, Jan. 23, DDA Board members approved a motion by DDA Vice Chairperson Lynn Zarate to proceed with legal action against Dr. Robert Lane, the former owner of the property.

All ayes, 1 abstention

DDA Director Kim Schall said all voting Board members cast “aye” votes, while two members, Tara Antonelli and Melissa Schneider absent; and another Board member, Johanna Nuculovic, having earlier tendered her resignation.

Almont Village Council President Steven R. Schneider, who represents the Village on the DDA Board, abstained from voting; presumably because of his relationship with Dr. Lane (his father-in-law) and his prior involvement with the DDA at the time of a 1996 land contract agreement involving Dr. Lane.

The property behind the former Lane-Swayze Clinic was recently purchased by local business owner Steve Francis as a site for development.

A dispute arose among the DDA Board, Dr. Lane and Steve Francis, when inconsistencies were found in DDA records regarding the 1996 land contract agreement, past taxes and ownership of property and parking spaces.

Three weeks ago, in the midst of an effort by the Almont Village Council to dissolve the Almont DDA, DDA Board members voted to place the matter in the hands of an independent mediator, who would try to forge a mutually acceptable agreement between Francis and Dr. Lane.

That option was scuttled when the mediator suggested the matter go back to the DDA’s attorney, Michael Whaling of Port Huron, for his further consultation.

Given the public outcry regarding the Council’s attempt to dissolve the DDA in the midst of the ongoing property dispute, Schneider vowed at the Village’s Jan. 15 meeting to abstain from all future votes pertaining to the property.

DDA on Nov. 5 agenda

The matter of dissolution of the Almont DDA will again appear on the Village Council’s agenda on Tuesday, Feb. 5.

If Council members hold true to the promise they made on Jan. 15, they will vote to rescind a prior 4-3 vote in favor of DDA Ordinance #204 to dissolve the DDA.

At their Jan. 15 meeting, Village Manager Mike Connors and Council member Steven C. Scheider, son of Council President Steven R. Schneider; opined that the Village would realize no financial benefit from dissolving the DDA.

“It’s not financially advantageous,” Connors told council members at their last meeting. “Any captured funds would go back to the county and township.”

When Councilman Dave Love expressed that he would still like to see the numbers, Steven C. Schneider intervened.

“The numbers are not going to change,” he said.

Accessing money from DDA-captured funds to make infrastructure improvements was the rationale expressed earlier by council members who voted in favor of dissolving the DDA.

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.