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Special Use Permit Process at Standstill

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Concerns Raised: Special Use Permit Process at Standstill
Commissioner Laskowsky: Request Presentation Not Adequate

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

HARRISON – The Hayes Township Planning Commission met Tuesday, March 5 to continue its consideration of the special use permit requested by Scott Carter of Big Bore Lodge, LLC. This follow-up meeting did not go as many may have anticipated, however.

Despite the fact that the Commission had already heard public comment on the issue at the Feb. 26 hearing, a public comment session was added to the evening’s agenda.

As Commission chairman Stan Lewis was opening the floor to comments concerning the consideration of the special use permit, Hayes Township Board liaison Bob Buckley interrupted and sought to rescind the Commission’s action of the previous week which had approved recommending the rezoning of Carter’s property at 700 N. Harrison Ave. from Residential 1 to Agricultural Rural. Buckley said that he believed rezoning the parcel, which is near a large number of smaller R-1 properties would interfere with the integrity of that area’s zoning. He had mentioned his concern to Rod Williams, zoning administrator, that the rezoning could be considered spot zoning, which would not be legal.

“You might have to back up,” Williams said. “Because, in essence, you’re going to end up making a spot zone there and you cannot legally do that.”

While waiting for Williams to further research in the statute, Commissioner and acting secretary Karen Laskowsky expressed her own issue with the proposed land use, as well as the Commission’s tackling of the process.

“As a Planning Commissioner, I believe that we are premature in looking at a special use permit right now – until the Board makes its decision one way or the other,” Laskowsky said. “Because that site plan is not a properly prepared site plan. We could not ask for a site plan on a re-zone, but we must ask for a site plan on a special use.”

She also noted it would be an outlay of money for Carter to procure a properly prepared site plan and said she would not be inclined to “fork over that money” unless she knew she had the zoning changed.

“We should not have even been looking at both of these issues at the same meeting,” Laskowsky said. “I think we were premature to look at the special use at the re-zone meeting.”

She said the procedure included sending the rezoning recommendation to the township board, which would make its decision, which would then be followed by submission of the request for special use along with a properly prepared site plan that the Commission could then review.

Laskowsky said she would like to see the site plan include proposed hunting blind locations, fields and fans of fire, as well as the maximum range of weapons to be used on the site to ensure for safety purposes that they not exceed the property line boundaries.

“I don’t think I can make a decision one way or the other without seeing what’s being proposed,” she said. “And looking at the topography of the land as well.

Laskowsky said she was not prepared to make a decision on the matter that evening, and that if it was taken to a vote, she would abstain.

Commissioner Kim Kennicott pointed out that the drawing provided that evening was what the Commission had requested of Carter at the previous meeting.

“And, from my perspective, you’re talking about having a site plan with all the firing lanes on it,” Kennicott said. “If we approve it, with conditions, some of those conditions are going to be where those firing lanes and blinds in that area are going to be. And until we tell him what we feel about that, there’s no way he can put it on a site plan that will satisfy what we want.”

He went on to explain that virtually all weapons are going to exceed the range to the boundary lines.

Lewis added that the range of rifles was beyond his expertise, and that if someone wanted to go out there and hunt with an AR-15, it’s their business.

Kennicott said that in his opinion the shooting lanes should be set up so that bullets are not sent in certain directions. He also noted the varying topography/elevation of the property from north to south, and that the heavy woods also could mitigate bullet travel.

“There’s no way a bullet’s going to get up from the south end to the north end,” Kennicott said. “There’s an 80-foot drop.”

Lewis suggested the discussion could be for naught, and the Commission might be putting the proverbial cart before the horse.

Joanie Schaefer, whose driveway at 901 Harrison Ave. is nearest to Carter’s, offered comments regarding her concerns for safety. She spoke of wanting to be able to safely walk on and along her property without worry of getting shot. She also asked whether the Zoning Board had met its obligation to inspect/walk the property. Kennicott said he had taken aerial views of the property and called to secure permission, but with 10 inches of snow, he had not walked it.

It was agreed among the commissioners that the weather had been prohibitive to a walk-through of the property, which should be done to ensure a complete understanding of what is being proposed.

Schaeffer then asked the Zoning Board members if they knew how far it was from the back of Carter’s property to the school. Receiving no response, she informed that it was .6 mile.

“So, you’re telling me it’s OK for them to be shooting these high-powered rifles,” she said. “I’ve researched it … these bullets can travel up to 4 miles.”

Lewis reiterated that the process may have gotten ahead of itself and that everything that had been accomplished the prior week might have to be redone.

“It isn’t necessarily that we believe it’s OK,” Lewis said. “But, according to the laws of the township, county and state of Michigan, there’s not a whole lot we can do to stop this. Whether we gave him permission or not, he can go on that property and hunt wherever he wants to.”

Addressing the sense of safety issue, Lewis said the Commission doesn’t want anyone to feel unsafe based on a decision it makes as a board.

At that point, Valerie Kusiak said the Commission has the power to make residents feel unsafe. Lewis said the board didn’t have that power, and Kusiak said it does.

“You’re not following the ordinances,” she said. “That says you are supposed to protect us and promote health and welfare. I don’t consider walking and being shot at while I’m walking to be promoting my health. It says that right in the ordinances.”

At that point, with her copy of the ordinances in hand, Kusiak approached the panel and pointed out and read the cited text.

“Promote public health, safety and general welfare,” she said. “Section 100, first page of the ordinances.”

After Lewis acknowledged Kusiak’s contribution to the discussion, he asked if Williams had reached a conclusion.

Lewis reiterated that if it was a spot zoning, the process would have to stop, to which Williams said, “It is.”

“The only other thing I can do is talk to Mr. Fayhey [township attorney],” Williams said.

Robert Eikey, Carter’s partner in the lodge endeavor, then requested a definition for spot zoning and what language in the statue makes the current rezoning such, considering the surrounding zoning is significant.

Williams said that once the master plan is set, and a small portion of an area is rezoned, it becomes spot zoning. He then left the room again to contact the attorney. While he was out of the room, commissioners reviewed the Michigan Townships Association’s description of spot zoning. Lewis read it aloud, beginning with: “Spot Zoning is a commonly misused and misunderstood term. Spot Zoning is neither a negative nor a positive term; it may be an entirely appropriate action...” The MTA definition required the action to meet all the three listed criteria. The result was that some in the room thought it spoke to the issue at hand, while others, including Lewis, did not.

Carter said he was not interested in being reviled or vilified, and that he really was trying to do something good.

“My intention is to bring dollars to the community,” he said. “I think my buying that property and the frequent time I spend up here already brought dollars to the community. If I were to do such a thing, it would be an extraordinary investment of money. I already had a pole barn done by a company based in Clare, so that’s money within the county. It would be the same thing; I’d look for somebody to do at least a portion of the work who was locally sourced.

He took it a step further, saying that if he is reviled and hated by the community, he’s not really interested in investing in something that “might be sabotaged, mistreated, looked at as a thing to be scorned.”

“That would be a major detraction,” he said. “I really am trying to do something good here.”

Schaeffer posed one last question for the commissioners, asking if any one of them who had property within 300 feet of the deer fence whether they would feel comfortable walking around in their yard, or their grandkids, with shooting going on 365 days a year.

When Williams returned, unable to have reached the attorney, he too looked over the MTA definition of spot zoning and said the property re-zoning would not meet that MTA definition.

Ultimately, the Commission moved to seek opinion from the Township’s legal counsel before it makes a zoning change recommendation to the Township Board, and to refrain from any more discussion/consideration of a special use permit until and if that zoning is changed.

The Hayes Township Board will likely have received an attorney opinion on the spot zoning and be prepared to take up the issue at its 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 19 meeting.



Special Use Permit Process at Standstill

questions

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

Copyright Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – The Hayes Township Planning Commission met Tuesday, March 5 to continue its consideration of the special use permit requested by Scott Carter of Big Bore Lodge, LLC. This follow-up meeting did not go as many may have anticipated, however.

Early in the meeting, Bob Buckley, Hayes Township board liaison, sought to rescind the Commission’s previous action of the previous week which had approved rezoning Carter’s property from Residential 1 to Agricultural Rural. Buckley said the concern had been raised by Rod Williams, zoning administrator, that the rezoning could be considered spot zoning, which would not be legal.

The Commission moved to seek opinion from the Township’s legal counsel before it makes a zoning change recommendation to the Township Board, and to refrain from any more discussion/consideration of a special use permit until and if that zoning is changed.

 

Hayes Planning Commission’s Task Not Popular with Neighbors

 

By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer

Copyright Clare County Cleaver

HARRISON – The Hayes Township Planning Commission held a public hearing Tuesday, Feb. 26 to address two issues. The first was a request from Scott Carter of Big Bore Lodge, LLC for rezoning of a parcel along Harrison Avenue from its current Residential 1 designation to Agricultural Rural. The second issue was a request for a special use permit allowing the operation of a hunting lodge on the property.

Commission Chairman Stan Lewis first read the portion of the township’s land use master plan which addressed land use, and specifically the acceptable uses in Agricultural Rural.

Both parts of the meeting had time available for public hearing, and it became apparent quickly that this situation had a chicken/egg quality. People wanted to know the particulars of how the property would be used before they could voice their approval or disapproval of the zoning change. Yet, there would be no need for the special use permit unless the property was rezoned. Thus, residents asked a lot of questions about the land use prior to the rezoning vote.

When attendees began asking questions, Lewis sought to clarify the rezoning request by reading aloud the statement which had been provided by Carter, stating the intended use for the property. It follows:

“Proposed land is that of a wildlife hunting preserve which will provide severely disabled and combat-wounded veterans the opportunity to harvest whitetail deer in a high-fenced, ranch setting and to participate in other outdoor excursions in the surrounding area.

Hunts will be offered to the general public in order to help provide the capital necessary to support the philanthropic activities of the ranch. The business of the ranch will be administered by Enhance Inc. a 501( c )(3) not-for-profit currently headquartered 30999 W. Ten-Mile Road, Farmington Hills, Michigan. Enhance Inc. has been in business for nearly 40 years providing services to developmentally disabled individuals and has opened a veterans services division to provide a host of services, primarily oriented to reduce the epidemic of suicide among our veteran population.

It is my intention, should this application be approved, to fence the perimeter of the property with a 10-foot fence which meets the requirements of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, consultation via the suggestion of the Michigan DNR with the United Deer Farmers of Michigan recommends a herd size between 160 and 180 head of deer based on approximately 160 acres of land. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development regulates the testing of the herd for health (IAW Act 466 of 1988). Said fence would be constructed within the boundaries of the north, east and southern forested portions of the property. The fence would be set back approximately 50 feet from the easement along Harrison Avenue to keep the fence mostly hidden from the view of the public.

It is my intention to keep the property in a condition similar to that as it currently exists which is largely wooded, save the possible future construction of an additional lodge, the fence and minor infrastructures to support the ranch activities.”

Commissioners reviewed the property data provided them by the property owner who believed his intended use met the criteria set forth by Hayes Township for an Agricultural Rural designation.

Carter also explained why he desired the rezoning, saying that he has a long history working with in the area of philanthropy, and that for many years he had been working toward his goal of establishing a venue which could facilitate disabled veterans getting out in nature for a renewing retreat at no expense to themselves.

He also was forthcoming about the financial load required to maintain such a lodge and explained that the foundation could only bear the cost for a specific amount of time, and that it would be necessary to allow some public, paying customer hunting on the property.

It was explained that no hunters would be allowed to use the property on their own and would have to be accompanied by either himself or his partner Robert Eikey, both of whom are certified guides.

Zoning Administrator Rod Williams also noted for the audience that such a deer ranch/hunting preserve is regulated by both the Michigan Department of Agriculture and the M-DNR.

“All the animals they bring in have to be tested, and it has to be documented,” Williams said. “The deer that would be inside the confines of that 10-foot fence, which the state also requires and our zoning ordinance, if this is approved that that be met. The state has their fingers all the way to their wrist in any of those operations. Those animals are probably better looked after than what the state owns on their property.”

Eikey added that the state of Michigan has requirements for inspection of the fence to ensure it maintains its integrity, and that the Department of Agriculture maintains a database and has testing requirements for the herd.

A major concern raised by neighbors was safety, in terms of more frequent gunfire/errant bullets and higher numbers of non-resident hunters on the property. It was made clear by commissioners that in its current state, hunting already could be done on the property without the owner having to ask permission of anyone.

A second concern was the unsightliness of the required 10-foot fencing which would surround the property. Carter said the fence would not be readily visible from Harrison Avenue, but that the clear area required for daily monitoring of the fence meant the fence would be conspicuous from the adjoining properties.

The third serious concern raised by attendees was Chronic Wasting Disease and Bovine Tuberculosis. Carter said that state law prohibits the fencing in of wild deer, so after the property fencing is nearly complete, the native deer would have to be flushed out. Otherwise, the DNR would charge $250 per deer to harvest them from the property.

The concern insistently voiced was that those deer could bring in CWD (which currently cannot be detected until after an animal dies) and infect indigenous deer through the fence. It was said that by the time CWD was discovered, such infection of local deer could already have occurred. Eikey said the DNR regulates the deer and that new animals would come in clean and only leave deceased.

When the property rezoning vote was called, all Commission members present voted in the affirmative. Norma Swafford was absent and Nola Hopkins, while Skyped in from Florida, was not physically present and therefore not allowed to cast a vote. This all means the Planning Commission will recommend to the Hayes Township Board that it approve the request for rezoning.

When it came to the Special Use Permit portion of the meeting, attendees became quite vocal in their concerns and the back and forth of questions to the Commission, then the Commission seeking answers from Carter became quite cumbersome. It was allowed that Carter should stand and take questions directly from the audience.

Essentially all the questions which were raised during the rezoning portion of the meeting were re-voiced in multiple forms. The clock was headed toward 10 p.m. when the meeting was recessed with the intent to reconvene Tuesday, March 5. Lewis advised the commissioners to return with a list of conditions they might want to see attached to the special use permit, if it was to be approved.

When an audience member said it seemed the commissioners had already made up their minds, and expressed his displeasure with the situation, Williams spoke up. Williams reminded attendees that if the Planning Commission decided to issue a special use permit, it would not be “giving permission” for that special use but that, by law, if all the conditions are met by the property owner, then the law states a permit shall be issued.

“Not may,” he said. “Shall.”

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