Fitz appeals to Circuit Court for judicial relief

EAGLE RIVER — In a three-page letter dated June 18, 2024, Mike LaMotte, owner of Fitzgerald’s Hotel and Restaurant, popularly known as “The Fitz,” stated the business filed an appeal with the Circuit Court for judicial relief, on June 3, in response to actions of the Keweenaw County Board of Appeals.

The action stems from a May 13, 2024, public hearing held by the ZBA on a zoning variance related to recent construction of an attached smoker enclosure at the Fitz, located on Front Street, in Eagle River. The Keweenaw County Road Commission (KCRC) issued a Stop Work Order on the project in August, 2022, at a point which the construction was more than 85% complete. The reason for the order was a claim that the new structure is encroaching on the right-of-way (ROW) of Front Street.

On Sept. 18, LaMotte delivered the petition to abandon the right of way to the KCRC.

In December, 2023, the Fitz reached an amicable solution with the Keweenaw County Road Commission, which consisted of the conditional abandonment of a portion of the Front Street

ROW. The resolution approved in January, 2024, consisted of five conditions the Fitz was required to satisfy to give effect to the abandonment of a portion of the ROW:

1. Complete improvements to Front Street at the Fitz’s Expense Per a Clear Zone Evaluation performed by GEI Consultants;

2. Amend the Plat of Eagle River pursuant to Michigan law;

3. Obtain a Zoning Variance to address setback requirements;

4. Obtain Houghton Township resolution disclaiming its Interest in the abandoned portion of the right-of-way;

5. Pay the Road Commission’s costs and attorney’s fees related to the abandonment and legal actions required to comply with the conditions.

The letter states that the Fitz has obtained the Clear Zone Evaluation from GEI Consultants and is ready, willing, and prepared to make the improvements required by the Clear Zone Evaluation, all at the Fitz’s expense, but the fourth requirement was denied by the Zoning Board of Appeals at the May 13 public hearing by a 3-2 vote.

A week before the scheduled meeting, LaMotte learned that a former customer, previously banned from the business property in writing, had been appointed to the Zoning Board of Appeals. The person, who was not named, also had additional negative interactions with LaMotte, which, the letter states, are documented in writing.

Prior to the May meeting, the Fitz reached out through counsel, to inform the Zoning Board of Appeals of this conflict of interest and asked for the newly appointed Zoning Board of Appeals member to disqualify themselves from the proceeding because of “close ties” to the applicant.

“Ironically,” the letter states, “the very same Zoning Board of Appeals Member alleged to have a conflict of interest was the person to make a motion for the variance request to be denied.”

In addition to the Circuit Court appeal, the Fitz also submitted a letter to the Keweenaw County Board of Commissioners requesting the removal of a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals the Fitz believes has a conflict of interest and should have recused himself from proceedings and voting.

“This is a small community,” LaMotte said in the letter, “and obviously it’s hard to not know each other, but this was beyond the pale, especially when the member in question said in his closing comments that he’s interested in pursuing other issues related to our business that likely do not fall under the Zoning Board of Appeals’s jurisdiction.”

As it relates to the condition of Houghton Township disclaiming its interest in the abandoned portion of the ROW the letter says, the request has been made to the (Houghton) township at the May 13 public hearing, and the matter has been tabled indefinitely.


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