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West MI Business Owner Says Township Leaders Preventing Him From Growing Company

Posted at 10:54 PM, May 06, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-07 06:14:02-04

GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (May 6, 2014) – A West Michigan business owner contacted the ‘FOX 17 Problem Solvers’ after he said township leaders are preventing him from growing his company.

Ken Court has been selling fruits and groceries in West Michigan for more than two decades.  Two years ago, he had an eye on a strip mall on Plainfield Avenue in Grand Rapids Township.

“Plainfield has a lot of traffic there really isn’t a lot of competition up here,” said Court, the owner of Ken’s Fruit Market.  “I just thought it was a great spot and it needed a fruit market.”

He crudely mapped out what the location would look like.

“We just drew a line from here to there and said so we could use this space here,” he said.  “I even hoped that down the road we got big enough that I could take it out even further.  It included 7,000 square feet of outside sales area for plants, trees and shrubs.”

He took his drawing to the Grand Rapids Township board.

“The Township Planner said he looked it over and didn’t see any issues,” Court said.  “So I felt that I was good to go at that time.”

What he didn’t get was anything in writing.  The plans he thought were approved were actually against a township ordinance prohibiting outdoor sales.

FOX 17 asked, “Had you known that you couldn’t have had that outside space would you have ever located here?”

“No,” he said.

According to Township Supervisor Mike DeVries, Grand Rapids Township hasn’t allowed outdoor retail space since 1850 as a way of keeping pop-up vendors from setting up shop.

When the store opened two years ago, the township made an exception and honored Court’s verbal agreement for outdoor space.

Court said that was good for business, “The outside stuff is kind of like Christmas to us.”

Then he said the township told him to scale back, “They told me they didn’t like the fact that I left my greenhouse up all winter and they gave me an inch and I took a mile.”

DeVries, the Township Supervisor, refused an on-camera interview but told me by phone that the township actually created an outdoor sales ordinance for Ken’s Fruit Market.  That ordinance limited the outdoor space to just 3000 feet.  Court said that’s been cutting into his bottom line.

“We actually had it all ordered and I had guys hired to do that work everything,” said DeVries.  “I had to cut all my orders off because we didn’t have any place to put them.  I had to get rid of people that I hired.”

Court said the problem can be solved if the township would be willing to work with him and help utilize space that would otherwise remain empty.

“It’s just hard to have a discussion with somebody that doesn’t seem to want you here,” he said.  “I know the customers want us here because the sales prove it.”

DeVries said the city ordinance speaks for itself and the township won’t make laws to suit a specific business.

As for Ken Court, his lease at the Plainfield location is good for several more years but he isn’t sure if he’ll stay for the long-term.