TRAVERSE CITY — Ray Reamer could keep 0.22 chickens per acre on his 18-acre property in East Bay Township, zoning rules state — no roosters.
Could he keep horses or other animals? According to township ordinance, neigh.
It’s not that Reamer’s animal-owning ambitions are being thwarted. He likes them enough and used to have a barn-full but at 83, he’s not interested, he said.
Yet Reamer also realizes that, at his age, he won’t be living there forever, he said. He has taken up the issue with East Bay Township.
“I’m 83 years old, and what I told the board is, I really don’t want no animals, but when I sell my property, which at 83 it’s going to go up for sale some time in the near future when I pass, and it seems like with 18 acres it would be a lot better selling point to somebody who would want a horse or two,” he said.
Reamer even inadvertently violated zoning rules before, when he kept his granddaughter’s pigs for a few years. He’s not aware of anyone complaining, and thinks it’s because other people were just as unaware of the problem as he was.
At root is the township’s decision to rezone Reamer’s land nearly 20 years ago from agricultural to low-density residential, he said. The township announced proposed changes in an August 2002 newsletter.
“How many people even read the newsletter? Back then, I didn’t, and if I did, I didn’t understand it,” he said.
Reamer, who grows and sells produce, didn’t know about the change until a neighbor told him about it a few years ago. Now, he wants the township to rezone his property to rural residential.
Ordinances show keeping animals, horses and as many chickens as generally accepted agricultural management practices allow — roosters included — is OK on rural residential-zoned land.
Claire Karner, the township’s planning and zoning director, said there’s more to it than that. The Right to Farm Act in several cases supersedes local zoning, and it’s possible someone might be able to keep animals on Reamer’s property after all.
“It’s pretty complex, so as a township we plan to look into that more,” she said.
Reamer’s land was rezoned because it falls within what the township defines as its urban growth boundary, Karner said. That’s where future planning calls for more development and services like municipal water and sewer.
Karner, who started with the township in January, said it’s not typical for the township to rezone land when it’s not at the landowner’s request. State law requires not only the property owner subject to a rezoning to be notified, but their neighbors as well.
Township Supervisor Beth Friend said the rezoning predates her time with the township (she was elected in 2004) but was confident the township followed the law.
Reamer could apply to the township for a rezoning, Karner said. It’s a more complicated procedure and the township would want to avoid spot zoning if the land around it is also zoned low-density residential — it is, but she wouldn’t say if she thought rezoning Reamer’s land would be spot zoning.
“I really can’t comment on that until I take a closer look at his property and the surrounding properties and the way they’re being used,” she said.
Reamer said he’s spoken to the township planning board about the matter a few times and is waiting for them to take the next step. He believes his complaints are mostly falling on deaf ears, and is irked by the fact that owners of smaller, agricultural-zoned lots nearby can have all the chickens they want.
“To me, the common sense has just been thrown out of the window in this township, and that’s one of them,” he said.
It’s not the first time Reamer took issue with the township. He made the news in 1991 when he put a sign protesting his property taxes in his front yard — he won his fight to have his assessment lowered.
Friend said she’s spoken with Reamer on the zoning issue a few times. She believes he has a reasonable request and wants Karner to have a chance to look into it. Karner might find ways that animals would be allowed on Reamer’s land under current ordinances, Friend said.
“However, if we find that it’s not, then we can take a look at how to amend zoning ordinances to allow that,” she said.