By Sue Moore
The Brady Township Board met in a special session at the end of October to decide how the Planning Commission should move forward on its controversial recommendation to make sweeping changes to rural residential and agriculture zoning regulations.
Randy Smith, Brady Township supervisor, gave three reasons not to proceed with what he described as the “warm fuzzies” of what had euphemistically been called Option 2 by the Planning Commission.
The problem was prevention of large livestock farming in the rural residential land area. Adoption of Option 2 could leave the board vulnerable, requiring constant monitoring.
It could keep filling the meeting room every year with angry people, subjecting the township to lawsuits it may not be able to win.
The cost of one-time legal fees for publishing notices of public hearings would be prohibitive.
Although Option 2 offered a unique approach to solving the problem, Smith urged the planning commission to go back to what they were calling Option 1. He said this would give the township a “dose of reality” because the wording comes closer to following the “Right to Farm” act, commonly interpreted by the Michigan Department of Rural Agriculture’s GAAMPS, generally accepted agriculture and management practices. “Now is the time to put a stop to Option 2,” he said. The board voted to follow Smith’s recommendation, with Trustee Michelle Crawford absent.
Option 1 will have a public hearing at the township hall at 7 p.m., Wednesday, December 9. It contains only minor text changes to clarify decisions from the planning commission’s July meeting. The wording changes account for allowing non-conforming use for land that lies fallow for any length of time. It also defines non-commercial rules for non-commercial animals in rural residential and is generally accepted verbiage throughout the state’s townships.
“Our solution is home-grown,” Henderson told the commission’s audience when it was discussing Option 2. “Our goal is to minimize the impact of large livestock practices through the keeping of a buffer zone that is the rural residential zoning district which Brady Township put in place in 1997.
These modifications in Option 2 would allow large livestock production inside Brady’s rural residential zone. “We want to create a solution that meets the needs of Brady Township, instead of a super blanket or band aid approach that other townships have been using. It’s important to note that that the changes being discussed are only in the RR zone and not in the other zoning districts.”
A working group of Henderson, Scott Oswalt and Gary Miller, has communicated with the agriculture department to fully understand the GAAMPS and to offer suggestions. The working group had come up with the Option 2 proposal which it presented to the planning commission in October. It was approved by a vote of 6 to 1 to proceed to a public hearing, with commissioner Julie Skrzypek opposed. This option would create a rural residential small parcel category (RR-SP) within the existing rural residential district (RR) that would keep large livestock farming at least 1,500 feet from any RR-SP properties. The new RR-SP zoning classification is for parcels within the existing RR zone that are smaller than 5 acres or parcels near the village of Vicksburg.
Scott Oswalt, representing the three percent of the farmers in the township along with Julie Skrzypek, reacted to Attorney Craig Rolfe’s concern about odors that might emanate from large livestock pens near the village if this isn’t passed. “Your comments rub me the wrong way. If it’s an agriculture zone near the village, residents know they live in a rural area. They should say thank you to farmers for growing our food.” Henderson pointed out that he feels it’s very important that people understand that the rural residential district is one that has agricultural activities within its boundaries. It’s not an agriculture district that has residential uses within its boundaries, it is the Ag district (which is roughly 2/3 of the township).
Henderson further agreed, saying, “The vast majority accept this, but there is a small percent who think they should never smell, see or live near it, but still want to eat. There is a small percent on the other end that don’t want any regulation, causing ugly rhetoric on both sides.” During the public comment part of the session, that became clear, as nearly everyone in the audience was stoutly against any kind of change in the zoning, telling the Planning Commission to leave things as they are. “Why should someone 10 miles away tell me what to do?” asked one person. Another said “I have three kids and we are having fun with our modest amount of animals. I’m looking down the road and don’t want to have their rights stripped away. They should have freedom to do something [with their land].” Henderson replied that the changes being discussed do not impact the right to keep farm animals for personal use within the RR district. This has been a permitted use since 1997 and would remain that way.
Another person asked, “Where are the people who are offended by farming? I’m offended by the attorney’s remarks on smell. We try hard not to offend our neighbors [with our farming operation]. Henderson thanked the few that attended and said that, “We do have a responsibility to represent everybody in the township. That’s why we have worked on finding a solution for over a year. We believe this is the best possible compromise.”
The December 9 public hearing will only consider the amendments to option 1.