Brady Township Debates Residential and Farmland Zoning

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Mike Henderson explains the zoning changes he is recommending to a standing room only crowd at the Brady Township Hall. Attorney Craig Rolfe is on the left.

By Sue Moore

The Brady Township Planning Commission has found itself in the crosshairs of some township residents in its attempt to clarify what is permissible in township zoning ordinance provisions addressing agriculture uses.

Since 1997, the zoning ordinance has called for a buffer zone, rural residential, between residential (R-1, R-2 etc.) and agriculture (AG) uses. The buffer zone, called rural residential, prohibits commercial livestock production although it permits crop farming.

But state rules from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development say the zoning provisions cannot permit one but prohibit the other.

Planning commissioners in three meetings in May looked for changes which would satisfy state requirements, farmers concerned about any move to reduce agricultural acreage and the perceived need for a buffer between residential and agricultural uses.

Two thirds of the township’s total area remains zoned for agriculture where commercial livestock production is an approved use.

A public hearing, held in early attracted a crowd of 50. A second discussion in mid-May attracted fewer.

Most who spoke up were either questioned the need for change or were dead set against the proposal. A smaller number applauded the stand that the planning commission deemed necessary. The issue remained tabled as commission members attempted to soften potential conflicts by addressing roadside farm markets and other small changes proposed for the rural buffer zone.

The issued was brought up again on May 16, at the regular meeting of the commission. A much smaller number showed up to object. Planners, still attempting to soften a negative impact, again did not decide on wording changes. A special meeting was set for May 29, at which point they could decide to schedule a second public hearing or let the matter drop.

The planners sought an appropriate zoning text that allows the RR buffer zone concept to be re-established without being in conflict with the state’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) affecting livestock production.

While crop farming is permitted in the RR district and commercial livestock farming is not, residents are permitted to keep livestock for home use or pleasure in the buffer district—the practice which has been called illegal.

One fear of residents in the RR buffer zone is that they might lose their right to crop farm in the future if the proposed township ordinances are enacted.

The planning commission through chairman Mike Henderson set forth some language changes at the public hearing and later at the second meeting that membered hoped addressed most of the residents’ concerns. But opposition remained from the agriculture community with the concern that their livelihood could be taken away. This point of view is represented on the planning commission by members Scott Oswalt and Julie Skrzypek.

By making agriculture a legally nonconforming use, farmers fear that total elimination of farming in Brady Township could be the next step. They feel they are losing their options for future development in the township if RR becomes a completely residential district.

Henderson pointed out that there are roughly 30 parcels in the buffer zone that would meet GAAMPS siting criteria for commercial livestock operations. He indicated that if the proposed text changes were enacted these parcels would no longer meet the criteria. He also pointed out that existing crop farming in the RR district could continue indefinitely and could even expand if the expansion was adjacent to existing crop farming or was on land previously farmed.

The township has been through this before. In 1986, Toby Strong built a hog operation close to Indian Lake. It took years of litigation and hard feelings to settle this disagreement, and the hope is to not have it occur again. The GAAMPS were written in large part by representatives of agriculture at the state level, according to Henderson. It isn’t just Brady Township that is trying to find the right compromise, other rural townships find themselves in the same dilemma, he told the audience. Thus Craig Rolfe, the township attorney, was asked to research language that would re-establish the buffer zone concept while minimizing any negative impact to existing crop farming activities.

“We really want to live together without all of the disagreement,” Henderson said. “Farmers have a great deal of say in controlling residential growth in the township. Agricultural land is converted to residential use only if a farmer sells that land to someone who does not wish to have it farmed. My hope is that we can all get what we need [out of this discussion], so we can continue be a cohesive community. In a diverse community like Brady Township, meeting everyone’s needs often requires compromise. It may not be possible to achieve everything everyone wants, but our goal is to achieve what they need.”

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