VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. — Supporters of the Hunter family farm are planning on attending a board meeting Tuesday in Antwerp Township in order to urge township officials to reconsider a zoning decision that would force the family to get rid of almost half of their animals.
The family said the township blindsided them after they first sent them a letter, saying they were in compliance with the ordinances in late May. In late July, the township leaders seemed to change their mind and sent another letter demanding the family get rid of some of their animals.
Kelly Hunter-Vander Kley discussed the issue at a planning commission meeting last week.
“After all this work and time, it was a huge blow when a letter showed up with no warning requiring us to remove more than half our animals,” said Kelly.
Meanwhile, some township officials and residents have pointed fingers to two neighbors who they say were leading the charge in asking the township to force the family to get rid of some of their animals.
After the township and LSL Planning first told the Hunters that they were in compliance, complaints apparently came in from one of those neighbors that may have prompted the township to change its mind.
FOX 17 obtained a complaint letter from the township through the Freedom of Information Act.
It comes from neighbor Sandra Schaser, dated July, 12.
It appears Schaser did research in order to urge the township to count the family’s donkeys as horses. That classification would suggest they were not in compliance with the ordinance.
Schaser writes in the letter, “During my previous phone calls I have been told by you, Shawn and Dan Ruzick that you were waiting for the Department of Agriculture to determine how many animals the Hunters could have and the how to classify the donkeys. I have spoken with Mr. Wayne Whitman at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development who stated a donkey is a horse, “…
“The number of animals had a variety of counts, but I know they exceed the number of animals allowed by the Antwerp Township Zoning Ordinance Adopted on 2/8/2011, and am requesting you immediately require the Hunter’s to comply.”
“As we spoke on the phone, the odors, noise levels (from the roosters and donkeys) as well as the congregation of bees on my property from the Hunter’s is no longer allowing me to enjoy going outside of my home.”
“I look forward to your action and following through with our township’s rules and getting the Hunter’s to comply,” said Schaser.
About ten days after Schaser sent that letter, on July, 22, LSL Planning sent its letter to the Hunters saying they were not in compliance with the ordinance.
“Hearing more and more complaints come in from two individuals, I asked more questions and was told, that they had identified a flaw in the way our animals were counted,” said Kelly.
The chair of the zoning board of appeals, Gary Stock, pointed out that Schaser was noticeably absent at last week’s planning meeting.
“The neighbor who made the complaint is not in this room,” said Gary Stock, Chair off the Zoning Board of Appeals. “That’s the issue. That’s the issue. They chose the township as their mechanism.”
As for LSL Planning, the contracted company who is responsible for enforcing the zoning rules, we discovered how much money the township is paying them.
Invoices obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that from August of 2012 to August of 2013, the township paid LSL Planning more than $40,600 for planning services.
The Hunters are asking LSL for a retraction in relation to the letters that stated they were not in compliance. The family says they were working with the township every step of the way and had sent LSL Planning an email, well before May 23, with an accurate count of all their animals.
“To demand us to do something based on a flawed ordinance does not seem to be in the best interest of the community,” said Kelly. “Since LSL did not hold an official meeting to send us the letter, I believe a meeting is not necessarily needed to retract it.”
Tuesday’s board meeting in Antwerp Township begins at 7 p.m.