After nearly three years of political wrangling, lawsuits and controversy, Livingston Christian Schools finally has a home in Genoa Township.
The Genoa Township Board voted unanimously Monday night to approve a special use permit for Livingston Christian, which will allow the school to move into its new home at the Brighton Church of the Nazarene, located at 7669 Brighton Road, across from Brighton High School.
The board’s vote ended one of the most contentious political and legal battles in recent Livingston County history.
Livingston Christian Schools first applied for a special use permit back in 2015, and despite a favorable recommendation from its own Planning Commission, the Township Board voted 4-3 to deny Livingston Christian’s plans to move into the Naz.
Supervisor Gary McCririe opposed Livingston Christian, joined by trustees Linda Rowell, Todd Smith and Jean Ledford. They claimed that traffic problems and past issues with non-compliance were their reasons for opposing the school, but many observers believed it was political.
The board’s decision to keep Livingston Christian out of the Naz also affected Light of the World Academy, a charter school in Pinckney that was looking to move into Livingston Christian’s old school in downtown Pinckney. If Livingston Christian didn’t move out of that building, Light of the World Academy couldn’t move in.
Parents, teachers and administrators from both schools packed a board meeting in August of 2015, pleading with the board to allow Livingston Christian to move into the Naz. After hearing nearly an hour of emotional pleas, the four board members who opposed the school were unmoved, and decided to continue their opposition to the Christian school.
Trustee Todd Smith especially took heat for his conduct at the meeting, as he played on his iPad the entire time, never once making eye contact with the parents, students and teachers who were pleading for their schools.
Livingston Christian soon found a temporary home in the Whitmore Lake School District, where the school has been located for the past three school years. That allowed Light of the World Academy to move into its new home in Pinckney.
But the fight wasn’t over.
Livingston Christian filed a federal lawsuit, alleging its rights were violated under a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). A federal judge in Detroit sided with Genoa Township, as did the Court of Appeals, but Genoa’s motion to have its legal bills paid by Livingston Christian was denied. Fighting the lawsuit has cost the township well in excess of $100,000.
Voters in Genoa Township, meanwhile, were outraged over the board’s actions, and responded in the 2016 Republican primary by booting off both Todd Smith and Linda Rowell (who ran for supervisor). McCririe elected not to face the voters in 2016, deciding instead to retire.
With a new board in place, once the lawsuit had run its course, Livingston Christian submitted an amended proposal to Genoa Township, and it was approved by both the Planning Commission and the Township Board. Trustee Jean Ledford – the only current member of the board who opposed the school back in 2015 – flipped her vote and supported it this time around.