Backing Off Threats to Arrest Man Over Driveway, City Attorney Now Recommends Settling Lawsuit

Friday, January 17, 2020, 3:58 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: City Attorney Tom Yeadon at this week’s Council meeting (photos by Raymond Holt)

In a case that is now well-known to many local residents, East Lansing City Attorney Tom Yeadon is asking City Council to settle a lawsuit against Dr. Michael Zydeck, the man City staff threatened to arrest over a driveway they say is too big.

Yeadon apparently brought the suit on behalf of the people of East Lansing without formal approval of a majority of City Council.

He is now recommending the City pay Zydeck $3,000 “for the concrete he wasted . . . due to errors and miscommunications on the City’s part.”

If Council approves the settlement agreement at next Tuesday’s meeting, the City will be “allowed to enter [Zydeck’s] property to get the pavement into compliance with the City code.

If all goes as the draft settlement agreement imagines, the City will handle the construction revision with the approval of the Zydecks, and the driveway will be in between the original and current widths. It will become roughly two feet narrower than it is now.

The driveway will probably hold only two cars again, not the four that Zydeck was aiming to accommodate when he set out to widen the driveway at the property he bought in the Bailey neighborhood to house his daughter and her friends while they attend MSU.

The Bailey neighbors who have steadily complained about the driveway should then be happier, because the driveway will be smaller and apparently in compliance with the City’s hard-to-decipher Code.

As we’ve previously reported, the neighbors’ objections came in the context of long-time homeowners being frustrated by behaviors associated with houses purchased by parents that effectively function as ill-kept student rentals – sometimes in violation of East Lansing’s laws.

A long road to a narrower driveway:

As those following the saga will recall, in 2018, City Attorney Tom Yeadon told City staff to threaten Dr. Michael Zydeck with arrest if he wouldn’t make his new Division Street driveway a few square feet smaller.

Shortly thereafter, perhaps recognizing that the new driveway had been constructed too large because of screw-ups on the part of City staff, Yeadon told City staff to offer Zydeck cash or arrest. Zydeck could either take the taxpayers’ money and make the driveway smaller, or he would face arrest.

In 2019, with Zydeck having chosen neither the pay-off nor the offer of arrest – and with Zydeck’s lawyer Mark Grebner joking that he was eager to find out how much a jury would award his client if his client was found guilty – Yeadon decided to sue Zydeck on behalf of the people of East Lansing.

And now, as we begin 2020, with a new City Council in place, Yeadon is advising City Council to settle the case – to pay Zydeck $3,000 for all the trouble, to pay to have the City shrink the driveway to what the City says meets Code, and, of course, to pay Yeadon for handling the whole thing.

Taxpayers will foot the whole bill.

A new Council and a new approach to the case:

The draft settlement comes shortly after I asked City Council at its January 7 meeting to consider whether this all made sense – to have the City potentially spending more on paying Yeadon than it would cost to fix the driveway and just settle the whole dispute. (Zydeck had previously indicated through Grebner that he would be willing to let the City fix his property.)

Yeadon’s memo to Council on the draft settlement notes, “The City would have to spend much more than the $3,000.00 litigating the case, so while we have good defenses to the counter-claims, this is still a reasonable settlement from my perspective and I am recommending approval of it.”

Says Grebner, the attorney for Zydeck, this whole scene is representative of “East Lansing’s bureaucracy.”

“Nothing I could hope to accomplish would have put the Zydeck family back where they were before they became involved with East Lansing city government,” says Grebner. “Recovering three thousand dollars sounds fine, but the problem of needing their driveway to be two feet wider would have cost two hundred dollars anywhere else on earth. In East Lansing, even after the refund, the total probably runs into five figures.”

Those wishing to weigh in on the settlement before the likely vote can do so by speaking at the “communications from the audience” segment of Council’s agenda or by writing to council@cityofeastlansing.com.

 

Note: After publication, this article was amended to clarify that the driveway will end up about two feet narrower than it is now.

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