Horse, or hunt, country is typically a pretty quiet area, but it was probably even more quiet Thursday evening as a number of its residents left their farms, fields and stables to make their voices heard at the Oxford Township Planning Commission meeting.
They filled the meeting room to lobby officials for changes to the zoning ordinance that they believe would help protect their rural atmosphere and way of life from uses they view as incompatible and undesirable.
“There’s really not an equestrian community like this anywhere else in Michigan,” said Diane Kangas, who lives on Hempstead Rd. “It’s the largest equestrian community in the State of Michigan. This is a gem that we need to preserve.”
“I think we need to be very, very sensitive about the development of this area and trying to preserve what we have here and what has been in existence for over 90 years,” said Margaret Culver, a resident who owns 40 acres on Delano Rd.
“This is horse country. We need to keep it horse country,” said Kathy Warfield, who lives on E. Davison Lake Rd. and owns 23 acres.
One by one, folks went up to the podium to speak during the public hearing regarding some proposed zoning ordinance changes to the permitted and special uses allowed in the agriculture and suburban farms zoning districts.
According to township planner Lauren Carlson, of the Ann Arbor-based Carlisle/Wortman Associates, the proposed changes were meant to “streamline” things, eliminate uses that are “incompatible with the intent of the master plan” and “simplify” some areas where the township has additional regulations that state law does not require.
Some of the special uses proposed for elimination include oil or gas extraction; recreational vehicle storage; temporary housing for seasonal labor; cider mills, fertilizer, feed or seed sales facility; farm implement sales or repair; and livestock auction yard.
“We clearly tried to strike certain things out of the special land use (section),” said Commissioner Tom Berger. “Maybe we didn’t hit all of the concerns that people may have. We may have missed a couple areas. We’re open (to) discussion this evening.”
The horse country residents who attended the meeting didn’t believe the proposed changes went far enough.
They wanted to see other special uses eliminated, including churches; campgrounds; country clubs, golf courses and driving ranges; private airports; schools, colleges and universities; and yard waste composting facilities.
“Commercialization in the hunt country (agriculture) area will greatly tarnish Oxford Township’s image and will lead to landowners pursuing lower taxes. I don’t think anybody wants that,” said Jim Unis, who lives on Gardner Rd.
Larry Roesner, who lives on Cobblestone Lane and is the father of Planning Commissioner Kallie Roesner-Meyers, made it clear he doesn’t believe campgrounds should be allowed in hunt country due to their high density and potential negative impact on things such as the water table in the area.
Roesner told commissioners “if you want to put a campground in” the gravel mining properties close to M-24 “would be much more suitable.”
Some of those who spoke made it clear they didn’t want to see any large-scale “institutions” that provide foster care for children and/or adults allowed in horse country.
Culver fears such institutions would increase the horse country’s population to the point where “the people who live and ride here (would) become the minority.”
“If you start moving in institutions that are not compatible with the setup of the agricultural horse industry in this area, then you are upsetting the balance of what we have going here,” she said.
Warfield argued these type of institutions “will not make a positive contribution to hunt country” as they would lead to things such as increased calls for police and fire services, a diminished tax base because such facilities are tax-exempt and increased traffic on gravel roads that “are not designed to handle” it.
“This is not a place for high density,” she said.
Warfield told commissioners that institutions for adults and children are “more suitable” in areas with commercial zoning.
She warned if horse country ever loses its natural beauty and rural atmosphere, “we can’t go back.”
“It’s gone forever,” Warfield said.
Her husband, Paul Warfield, was of the same mind. “All you have to do is look south of this community and you’ll see what will happen here if this continues this way,” he said.
Kangas warned commissioners that Oxford could go the way of nearby Oakland Township if steps are not taken to safeguard horse country. She lived on a 30-acre horse farm there for 31 years until, she said, the increased volume of speeding traffic on the gravel roads made it too dangerous to continue driving horse-drawn carriages.
“That’s what you can expect for this area unless you really take action to preserve what we have,” she said.
Following the public hearing, Commissioner Roesner-Meyers, who lives in horse country on Delano Rd., submitted a list of proposed permitted and special uses that are acceptable to the landowners in that area (see below). The 22 people who signed the list indicated they wanted it to replace the current zoning ordinance language regarding uses.
The list is designed to “eliminate everything” that’s “not a residential use or an agribusiness or (a) hunt country-type use,” she explained.
With regard to campgrounds, Roesner-Meyers agreed with her father that the use “needs to be removed.” She cited the 131-acre Detroit Sportsmen’s Congress campground at 1050 E. Oakwood Rd. as an example of something that doesn’t promote agriculture or the hunt country.
“They live there 24-7, 365 (days a year),” she said. “It’s a trailer park. It’s very dense. There’s a lot of traffic.”
The only type of campground that would be acceptable to Roesner-Meyers and her fellow hunt country residents is one specifically meant for short-term use by equestrians and their horses.
Roesner-Meyers told her fellow commissioners they have the ability under state zoning law to classify Oxford’s hunt country area as for residential and agricultural use only.
“We can uphold that,” she said.
Commissioner Ed Hunwick expressed his willingness to go back, review the list of proposed uses and public comments, and return with modifications.
“We’re here to listen to the public, to the landowners. I certainly understand where they’re coming from,” he said.
Commission Chairman Mike Young was also willing to re-examine the allowed uses.
“I think there are things to change on the list as it stands right now,” he said. “I think we do need to go in and strike a few more items because there are some (uses) on here that still don’t make sense. I can’t see an airport being out there.”
Roesner-Meyers proposed accepting the changes submitted by the landowners as is that night. “Everything that’s in there is legal,” she said. “It’s been well-researched and it’s a solid plan.”
Given there’s a significant amount of acreage for sale in horse country and the township has a zoning ordinance containing uses that are “contrary” to the master plan, Roesner-Meyers told her fellow commissioners it’s “critical” to approve the changes immediately.
“There’s things that are allowed right now that would destroy big sections of this area,” she said.
But the rest of the commissioners were not comfortable acting so quickly and began discussing how to proceed.
A woman shouting from the audience declared it’s “exhausting” the way the commissioners go “on and on.” She then pleaded with them to take action. “Please help us here,” she said. “We are looking out for our land.”
The list submitted by the landowners and the comments from the public hearing will be discussed by the planning commission’s ordinance review committee at its Sept. 20 meeting. The proposed use changes will then be brought back to the full commission at its next available meeting.
“I want to make sure this is addressed by each and every planning commissioner,” Young said.
Here is a list of the proposed land uses for the agriculture district that horse country residents find acceptable. Twenty-two of them signed and presented it to the Oxford Twp. Planning Commission.
- Agricultural uses in compliance with the Right to Farm Act.
- Roadside stand for the sale of agricultural products raised or grown on the premises.
- Public or private conservation area, forest preserve, game refuge, wildlife preserve or park.
- Detached single-family dwelling.
- Keeping of farm animals.
- State-licensed residential facility for six or fewer persons.
- Family child care home.
- Home occupations. Essential services.
- Accessory buildings, structures or uses that are customarily incidental to those uses listed above.
- Agribusiness subject to the Right to Farm Act and in compliance with the Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices.
- Bed and breakfast establishment.
- Equestrian campground for short-term camping.
- Private or commercial kennel.
- Communication, receiving or broadcasting towers excluding wireless/cellular towers.
- Horse riding stable.
- Veterinary clinic, large or small animal, owned by veterinarian who lives on premises.
- Wireless communications facilities.
- Group child care home – a private home where more than six, but not more than 12 minor children – unrelated to an adult member of the household – are given care and supervision for periods of less than 24 hours a day.