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Farmington Schools Lawsuit Dismissed

Judge Rae Lee Chabot rules that district residents have no legal standing to file.

A lawsuit filed by two residents to stop the sale of Eagle Elementary to the Islamic Cultural Association of Franklin (ICA) has been dismissed in Oakland County Circuit Court.

Michael Weaver of Bloomfield Hills-based Plunkett Cooney, on behalf of the school district, had filed a request for summary disposition, meaning the case would be decided without a trial. And that's what happened this morning.

Circuit Court Judge Rae Lee Chabot ruled that Eugene Greenstein and Melvin Sternfeld did not demonstrate that they would be harmed by sale of the closed building.

"Obviously, we're pleased," Farmington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent David Ruhland said Wednesday afternoon. "We believe the sale of the property is in the best interests of the students, the district and the community."

He added the benefit to the district goes beyond the $1.1 million sale price; officials also save the costs related to demolishing the building.

Ruhland said the district believed the plaintiffs had no legal standing to sue, and disputed their claim that officials did not follow proper procedures in the sale. Legal standing would require the plaintiffs to demonstrate they would be harmed by the action.

The plaintiffs claimed they would be negatively impacted because they live near the property, and that Sternfeld, a real estate broker, had an interest because stopping the sale would allow him and his clients to bid on the project.

"The court totally stuck with the issue of standing," Ruhland said. "If the plaintiffs lack standing, everything else becomes a moot point."

The suit alleged the retired FPS director of operational services Cheryl Cannon misled Sternberg when she said that Eagle was not for sale and represented the building as scheduled for demolition, even after the ICA offer.

Ruhland said as soon as the public learned the district planned to close school buildings, real estate brokers called asking to list the properties. Calls came in before and after the four closed schools were identified.

Officials believed the school sites in residential neighborhoods – William Grace, Wooddale and Flanders – would be prime properties for residential development, while Eagle, at the busy 14 Mile and Middlebelt intersection, would be more attractive to commercial development. But they also knew the properties were undervalued in the current real estate market.

"We did not believe, if we were to sell the property, we would be able to sell it for what it was worth," Ruhland said. "Our goal was to take the buildings down and then hang onto the property unitl the market came back up."

The point that gets lost, he added, is that other than the ICA offer, there have been no other purchase offers from anyone, including Sternfeld.

"It's a remarkably different situation when somebody says 'Are you selling your home?', and 'I want to buy your house and here's what I'm willing to pay for it'," Ruhland said.

The Eagle sale is still pending. ICA had 120 days from the acceptance of their offer to determine whether the purchase is still in their best interests, Ruhland said. That period of time ends in early October. If ICA decides to move forward, the closing has to be done within the next 30 days.

Farmington-Farmington Hills Patch left messages with the plaintiffs' attorney; comments will be added when they are received.

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