Investigation at Sashabaw site

Investigation at Sashabaw site

By Matt Mackinder
Clarkston News Editor

INDEPENDENCE TWP. — According to Supervisor Jose Aliaga, local residents have started to question the activities behind the Tim Horton’s on Sashabaw Road, north of I-75, known as Sashabaw Crossings West.
Concerns have risen about whether the job site has been reactivated, or restarted, including land leveling concerns and potentially dangerous grading elevation.
And now the township has approved an investigation by its engineers.
It was decided internally that no one from the board of trustees would attend the investigation. No staff will be on site either. According to Aliaga, this is done to ensure that the report from the firm is truly independent and not influenced by anyone at the township.
“The engineers will be visiting the site and completing an investigation as to what has occurred and what work has or has not been done without any township staff or board members present, including myself,” said Aliaga. “After much discussion, it was determined this is the best way to move forward so the investigation is done properly and with no outside influence.”
The investigation is currently being scheduled between the engineers and the landowner.
This site was approved in 2008 for a multi-phase commercial condominium. Tim Horton’s was the first phase. The property owner, Elijah Holdings, LLC, did some grading and land balancing in the fall of 2023. Jeffrey Pearce, the township code enforcement officer, David Moran, building director, and Brian Oppmann, planning director, all investigated and monitored the site, and the owner was contacted. The goal was to address a dangerous drop in grade left by Tim Horton’s construction.
Currently, there’s no activity on the site, according to a statement from the township.
Concerns came up about wetland encroachment and soil erosion. Oppmann contacted the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) for wetland issues and Oakland County for soil erosion. The owner had a soil erosion permit, and EGLE found no wetland violations. Due to ongoing complaints, the township’s legal counsel reviewed the grading but found no ordinance or procedure violations.
At the Jan. 23 regular meeting of the Independence Township Board of Trustees, an item was added to the regular business portion of the agenda by Aliaga. The item discussed during the meeting was about the township’s outside engineering firm going to the site to see if they find that any work outside of land balancing was done. The board voted 6-1 to approve the funds, not to exceed $5,000, being spent on this. Trustee Sam Moraco, who was the planning commission chairperson when the project was first approved in 2008, was the lone “no” vote, saying that he feels the developer should be paying for the investigation, not the township.
“I don’t understand why you’re not telling the developer to put escrow in the account because he’s actively working on the job site,” Moraco said at the Jan. 23 meeting. “What is the hesitancy to say, ‘Hey, you need to put money in your escrow account because you reenergized the site?’ And then he takes the engineer and takes out the hourly rate to go over there and meet me. Listen, here’s the blueprint, here’s my name on it, here’s what it says we should do. Did we do it? You want to pay for it with taxpayers’ money. It’s absurd.”
Township attorney Dan Kelly noted that a decision has to be made by the engineers if the job site has been restarted.
“There’s a long history to where we’re at with this property,” Kelly said at the meeting. “The issue for me is Sam calls it the reactivation of the site plan work, and that’s the key determination because Sam’s not wrong when he says if this is reactivated and we’re working towards an actual site plan and construction plan, you may want to ask the developer to put up an escrow. We’re not at that point. We haven’t made that decision as a township. In fact, the decision from the township up to this point has been the opposite, which is no, we have not reactivated the construction site. Sam disagrees with this. The issue is authorize your engineers to go out there and take a look at it and give us their opinion as to whether or not the construction site has in fact been reactivated and whether or not there has been some impact to the setbacks due to the wetlands or any other concern the engineers would have.”
To note, the township doesn’t have ordinances against property grading. Oakland County oversees soil erosion per state law, under Public Act 451 of 1994. Wetland complaints go to the state of Michigan. The township also does not have a private road ordinance.

PHOTO: The land behind the Tim Horton’s at I-75 and Sashabaw Road in Independence Township, as seen on Feb. 1. Photo: Matt Mackinder

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