Commission denies mining operation request as hundreds turn out to “Prevent the Pit”

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ROCKFORD, Mich -- Hundreds packed in to a Courtland Township planning commission meeting Thursday night to "prevent the pit" with commissioners ultimately voting to recommend to deny the special use permit request submitted by Sable Developing Inc.

The meeting was moved to East Rockford Middle School to accommodate the larger crowd. More than two dozen people over a two hour time-frame spoke out against the proposed mining operation plan.

No one spoke in favor of the plan. An online petition against the operation has already received more than 1,500 signatures.

“You’re going to tell me I’m going to have a 50-100 foot pit next to my house," questioned one speaker. "I will not be able to let my children outside, my foundation is going to track. This is too much, he cannot do this to these families and this community."

Neighbors living near the area told FOX 17 earlier this month they wouldn't have bought their homes built by Sable Developing if they'd known this was going to happen because they don't want a work zone in their backyards.

John Bitely, president of Sable, addressed the township's planning and zoning commission to discuss a newly revised 'scaled back' plan that was submitted at the 11th hour. Bitely apologized for angering the residents, adding the operation would cause a "short window of inconvenience" but it would be for the "good of the community."

“Nobody wants development or extractions in their backyard," he told FOX 17 following the meeting. "But when you’re developing property and providing for the community and bringing resources to the neighborhood, it’s often an unpopular job."

The scaled back proposal included just four acres of land, requiring just four months of mining as opposed to the several years made in the initial proposal.

Sable Developing began mining sand in the neighborhood near 11 Mile Road and Shaner months ago before the township found out and issued a stop-work order because Bitely didn't have the required permits.

The development company told FOX 17 earlier this month it had discovered a certain type of sand in the area that was not previously known to be readily available in the area. Sable said the sand could be used for other properties or even for treating roads in the winter.

Bitely told commissioners he didn't realize he would operating outside of the required ordinances, which received audible sarcastic laughter from the audience.

“He does this to people he sold homes to and you’re considering letting him continue to do business in our township," questioned one woman who spoke during Thursday's meeting.

Christopher Bergeron, with "Prevent the Pit" said he's prepared for a continued fight from Sable Developing. The group hired Grand Rapids-based law firm Kuiper Orlebeke and has set up a legal defense fund that is now taking donations.

“These developers will go back, will dust themselves off and try to figure out another way to come at it," Bergeron told FOX 17 following the meeting. "There’s a lot of money out there just in that one field.”

The planning and zoning commission's recommendation now goes to the township board for a vote.

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