After hearing comments about the proposed Blight & Nuisance Ordinance No. 54 at a public hearing Tuesday night, the Peninsula Township Board voted unanimously to scrap the 10-page ordinance and start over with a citizen’s committee helping to draft a new ordinance.
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In her presentation outlining the need for a new ordinance, Peninsula Township Director of Zoning Christina Deeren noted that the language of the current Junk Ordinance No. 41 is vague, and enforcement guidelines don’t offer clear directions on how to proceed.
“Our goal is not to be out trying to police everybody’s property,” she said. “But obviously, there are some issues in the township and issues we get complaints on, and we have to be able to deal with them.”
Township Supervisor Rob Manigold added that a number of people come in every year and ask why something isn’t being done about the blight issues on the Old Mission Peninsula. “The last thing we want to do is to go to court with anybody,” he said. “That would be the last case scenario.”
During the public hearing, Peninsula Township residents offered a range of comments, including blight-related declining property values, the subjectivity of whether items (farm equipment, boats, cars, etc.) fall into the junk, blight and/or nuisance category, the three-day limit on vehicles for sale by the side of the road, Right to Farm issues and more.
But one of the main issues that residents brought up is how the new ordinance would affect farmers on the Old Mission Peninsula.
“Overall, this seems like a much too broad and overreaching ordinance,” said Township resident Chuck Goodman. “I think it seems especially hard on farmers. When you look at all of the things that farmers have to have and lack of a place to put a lot of them, and taking care of equipment that can’t always be done inside … there are a lot of things that have to be stored and available and ready for use. And the mechanism for determining whether that is blight or not seems extremely subjective.”
Fourth generation Old Mission Peninsula farmer Dave Edmondson brought up the example of “the infamous Weedzilla,” a piece of farming equipment put together by him and other township farmers Josh Wunsch and Mark Kelly.
“It was an old junk pickup of mine that we cut up and made functional,” said Edmondson. “Didn’t cost us a dime, but it saved us a ton of money. We were creative, and we did something that really worked for us, and that happens at my place all the time.”
He added, “We’ve got some goodies at our place, as I call them, and they’re very valuable to us and we’ve done a ton of things with that resource that is clearly a pile of junk to somebody else.”
He cited a $250,000 cherry shaker “that most people would say is junk because we don’t use it, but that’s what it cost.”
He said that the Purchase of Development Rights (PDR) program was established to help support the Old Mission Peninsula farming community, and “keep us viable, because there have been highs and lows. We don’t need a chain and ball around our ankles.”
Township resident Lou Santucci agreed that the proposed ordinance would not support the farming community, calling it “unnecessary, vague, overbroad,” and possibly illegal under Michigan zoning laws.
“In addition, it does not comply with the real world, and flies in the face of the agricultural community we have here on the Peninsula,” said Santucci. “This is an agricultural community first. A working farm is not a nice, neat, tidy, white picket fence homestead. It has buildings that may not fit within your imagined Kinkade-eque picture. Machinery comes and goes at all hours of the day and night. Machinery breaks down. Machinery is stored or worked on outside, farming materials are stored outside and on and on. The question you have to ask is, is this going to be a farming community still, with a few developments, or is it going to be developments all neat and tidy and no farms. Farmers are already feeling pressure from the loss of their cherry business. They don’t need useless and silly regulations that further inhibit their ability to keep their farms going.”
Tim Boursaw noted that it boils down to perspective. His passion is restoring and saving old vintage sports cars, and as such, he may have two or three same-model cars in the yard to have enough parts to make one pristine.
“They may sit there for six months or two years until the restoration is done,” he said. “Then I sell them to somebody else who can use what’s left. But somebody driving by not knowing that may say, ‘There’s a bunch of junk cars sitting there,’ even though they’re worth more than the car sitting in your driveway that you drive to work in every day.”
Boursaw added, “If you’re a boat person and drive around the Peninsula right now, you won’t see anything out of the ordinary. If you’re not a boat person, you’ll think the shoreline around the Peninsula looks like the aftermath of the Normandy invasion. You’ve got twisted steel, steel frames, wood platforms, planks, boat hoists, watercraft of every kind dragged up and abandoned on the beach for eight months every year. If you want to exercise your right as a resident of Michigan and walk the shoreline, it’s dangerous out there. You’re crawling through, under, around and in the water sometimes just to enjoy the shoreline you’re paying taxes for. It’s all in your perspective.”
He noted, “We live on the Old Mission Peninsula because this place has character. I hope that as you work on this ordinance that you consider different perspectives and allow for some flexibility in certain situations. If we all wanted to join the lawn competition, we’d move to Farmington Hills.”
After hearing comments, Manigold suggested the idea of forming a committee of Peninsula residents to help draft an ordinance. This could possibly be a subcommittee of the new steering commitee that’s working on the Master Plan.
“We all know that we have a farming community and a residential community, and both have different needs,” said Manigold. “It’s so subjective … and I think it has to be spelled out more. It’s hard for us to sit here and tell you that, but it would be good if you guys would pick the ball up and join us and try to work towards something that makes sense.”
At the end of the public heraing, the board unanimously approved a motion to table the proposed Blight and Nuisance Ordinance No. 54 indefinitely and move forward with a committee of residents to help draft a new ordinance.
If you would like to be involved in drafting a new ordinance concerning blight, junk and nuisance in Peninsula Township, email Director of Zoning Christina Dereen, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at (231) 223-7318.