By Jessica Mathews /

A company currently suing the City of Howell has been granted an extension on a scrap yard expansion project and shredder.

The Planning Commission earlier approved a site plan and special land use request for Padnos Iron and Metal last November, which wants to install and operate a new metal processing facility at 645 Lucy Road that would include a scrap metal shredder. However, the project has been on hold due to COVID-19 and litigation. The company had initially sought three variances for their site - which already had site plan approval and a special land use permit. In February, the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) unanimously denied all three requests, while also reminding residents it did not have the authority to reverse the Planning Commission’s earlier decision granting approvals. Two of the variances requested to keep storage areas and driveways gravel as opposed to needing to be paved, while the third was for the allowance of an industrial shredder to be kept outdoors, and not in an enclosed building.

The initial project created vocal opposition from the community and concerns were raised about air and noise pollution, as well as groundwater contamination. Padnos later filed a lawsuit against the City of Howell based on the BZA denial.

The Planning Commission met virtually Wednesday night and voted to grant Padnos a site plan and special land use extension. Chair Maryann Vukonich stated she thought it was in the City’s best interest to grant the one-year extension, so long as the litigation is open. Other commissioners agreed, saying everything is in limbo anyway and granting the extension gives it more time to play out. The approval was recommended by staff.

Robert Spaulding was the only commissioner opposed to the motion. He said on previous extensions, there has never been something as significant as this and he doesn’t see this as being the same approval they granted a year ago. Spaulding said there isn’t just an extension of time anymore and there’s a significant portion of what was approved that no longer exists. Spaulding said he would support them coming back with some other changes and starting all over again.

Jamie Stewart spoke during the meeting and requested denial of the extension, saying the conditions set by the BZA warrants the denial. She added the BZA is not obligated to extend the permit just because a lawsuit was filed by the applicant.

Livingston County Catholic Charities Executive Director Mark Robinson commented he thought the BZA made their position clear back in February – adding everyone impacted by the project are living in limbo and granting an extension just holds them hostage. Despite COVID-19, Robinson said people need to move forward with their organizational lives and Pandos needs to put together a new site plan and come back. Robinson told WHMI it was very difficult for him to understand that this permit was extended for a second year because Padnos failed to meet the planning commission's condition of obtaining zoning variances, which were rejected in a unanimous decision by the ZBA. He further questioned why the BZA decision was being ignored.

Howell Attorney Don Parker is affiliated with Protect Livingston that opposes the project. He commented that the earlier approval was conditioned upon getting variances from the BZA, noting COVID wasn’t an issue when the variances were denied. Parker alleged there have been numerous fires and explosions at some of the other Padnos facilities and read aloud parts of a news article about a June incident at the Holland facility. He encouraged the board to deny the
extension and have Padnos resubmit a new site plan in compliance with ordinance.

Attorney Chris Meyer represents Padnos and told the Commission that the current site is an appropriate place for a shredder based on the zoning, setbacks and surrounding uses – noting it meets all of the City’s ordinance requirements. Meyer stated the property is zoned industrial and nothing has changed in the conditions supporting the approval so there was no reason not to grant the extension. He noted the property is adjacent to a closed landfill, the property is zoned industrial and in the immediate vicinity of other recycling faculties. Meyer added that the needed air permit from state has been delayed by COVID and a hearing is set next month. A decision on that is expected to be issued in December. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy or EGLE is currently accepting comments on the air permit request. In addition to submitting comments, the public can attend a virtual meeting and public hearing on November 10th at 6pm.

City Attorney Dennis Perkins noted the variance issue is on appeal in Livingston County Court and there are a number of things the court could still do as far as the BZA is concerned. He said it could go back to the BZA, it just depends on what the court rules. Perkins said the court could make a finding that there weren’t sufficient facts to warrant a denial, it could confirm the denial or send it back for further factual clarity or proceedings.

Information about the state permit hearing is available in the provided web link.