By Sue Moore
“You will hear from our attorney,” claimed Curtis Allen at the Schoolcraft Township Board meeting in November as they debated the land use options for a motocross track at 11607 S. 23rd Street outside of Vicksburg. “We will not go easily. We got the proper permits, spent $18,000 on preparing the land for a motocross track, and now the township is telling us to fill it all back in.”
Nearly 100 citizens showed up to either protest the building of the track, defend the right of property owners to control what happens on their acreage, or support the township’s action.
Craig Rolfe, the township’s attorney, reviewed his conclusion that nothing in the ordinances allows this type of activity in a residential zoning, such as the 14.2 acres the Allen’s recently purchased for their home. He also felt the track did not fit an accessory use that is permitted by the township, thus an October 23 letter was sent to Curtis Allen notifying him of this finding. The letter did not set a deadline for returning the property to its original condition, instead granting an agreeable grace period to restore the land that had been scraped and shaped into a motocross practice facility. The next step will likely be a hard deadline or [if the owner persists] a third party would need to get involved, meaning the court system, Rolfe indicated.
Allen answered that he felt harassed and singled out when he believed that he went through the proper channels, obtaining permits from the DEQ and DNR, plus talking to Don Ulsh the township supervisor earlier to tell him of his plans. Ulsh said later that this conversation as characterized by Allen was not at all what Allen portrayed at the meeting.
“I tried to talk to the neighbors,” Allen said. “It’s a motor sport, only on bikes in this case. I’m asking the township to look at the spirit of the law. This board has the potential to decide the spirit of the law, rather than the letter of the law. I don’t want to tick off the neighbors so I promise there will be no more than three bikes running at any one time, not before 10 a.m. or after dark. I’ve built this for my son Trevor who is 11 who wants to train and win races on the weekends. This is his practice field. We are hoping for a little latitude. Put yourself in his place. This isn’t about the money; it’s the principle of property rights.”
Rolfe told the audience that the township’s concern was prompted by complaints from the residents in the neighborhood, most of whom live on a busy TU Avenue between 23rd Street and Sprinkle Road. Two people in the audience stood up to talk about their noise concern. Pam Ruddick said she had lived on TU Avenue for 25 years. They bought their property because it was peaceful and quiet. But Vicki Allen, of Centreville, Curtis Allen’s mother, said he got the proper permits before they even purchased the home. If Ulsh had given him any reason [not to build the course] Allen wouldn’t have bought the property, she said.
Mark Elliott, another TU Avenue resident, said he spoke on behalf of the neighbors to ask the township board to stick by them. He suggested the board look at an aerial photo of the property in question to confirm that it is not an appropriate use according to the zoning regulations. Virginia Mongrieg, township clerk, said that Allen only got the permits that made sure he didn’t get into the wetlands surrounding the track. She wondered why Allen would expect the township to change its mind about an issue that was given so much time and attention before voting on the ordinances as part of their responsibilities as government officials.