Farm Family Clashes With Township Over Zoning Ordinance

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VAN BUREN COUNTY, Mich. – Eight-year-old Jackson Hunter is proud of his friendly donkey’s Ruthie and Nellie and his prize-winning 4-H chickens, especially the one he named “Cotton”.

The family, Kelly Vander Kley-Hunter and David Hunter, and their two young sons, moved to their home in rural Antwerp Township near Mattawan about three years ago. They say they put a lot of love and effort into the property, fixing up the old farmhouse that was nearly foreclosed on and had been vacant for three or four years.

The Hunters say the house was built by “pit farmers” who grew peaches and other fruit in the late ’30s.

Kelly said it was her dream to teach her children about hard work and the positive aspects of farm life.  Jackson just finished his first year in the local 4-H program.

Neighbors were pleased someone had purchased the property that had become neglected and overgrown with brush before the family moved in.

“They really cleaned up the house since they purchased it, yard is great,” said Judy Kozminske, the Hunters’ neighbor.

A private firm located in the city of Grand Rapids, LSL Planning, contracts out with Antwerp Township to handle zoning issues.  A representative came out to inspect the farm in May and sent the family a letter, essentially saying everything was fine.  They did request the family put up an additional fence, which they did

Then, a letter blindsided the Hunters from LSL Planning in late July, telling them they had 90 days to get rid of some of their animals. Kelly said she was devastated and in tears.

At first, the township offices would not answer our questions directly about why the zoning decision had suddenly changed.

They told us we needed to talk to LSL Planning, in Grand Rapids, specifically Paul LeBlanc.

However, Paul LeBlanc did not want to comment in detail about the case.

“I really don’t want it to become an issue.  I talked to the property owner a couple of times this week,” he said.  “Things are moving fine and I just don’t want to make it an issue if it doesn’t exist.”

He added, “There seemed to be a misunderstanding about the animals that they were keeping and the ordinance permit.”

He referred us back to Township Supervisor Dan Ruzick, who refused a request to have a sit-down conversation for said he may do so at a later date.  He did issue a written statement.

When asked why he, an elected official, didn’t want to address the issues on zoning face-to-face, he said, “There is a process that we’re going to address. It’s at planning commission on a Wednesday, that we’re going to look at these amendments and the zoning so we’re addressing those things.  So, to sensationalize the story is something we don’t need to do.”

FOX 17 argued that it wasn’t sensationalizing to ask zoning questions of elected officials, and pointed out that other residents may have concerns that the township officials might blindside them with sudden changes in their zoning decisions as well.

“I think I was very clear to you that there had been some changes, on the Hunter farm, when the first initial inspection, and the second. There also was some mistakes made by the zoning administrator who is now not with the firm,” said Ruzick.

We were told that the zoning administrator who told the Hunter family that they were in compliance was now working in St. Louis.  Ruzick said that he was not fired.

As for those changes Ruzick spoke of that the family allegedly made between the first letter and the last, the family said the only thing they changed was that they put a new fence up as was requested by LSL.

The Hunter family says that LSL Planning and the township have been working with them in a friendly manner and they appreciate it.  However, they say the situation is simply confusing.  They say it’s also difficult trying to get questions answered, when working with both a private contractor and the township and that they are often bounced around between the two without getting answers.

Kelly says all the family wants to do is move forward. Meanwhile, supporters are rushing to the side of the family to pay for any legal issues associated with the zoning decisions.

They have a fundraising effort online called “Save The Hunter Family Farm.”

If you have experienced problems that you would like us to investigate, please email us at

Read the full release


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  • Tweet

    LSL is dedicated to advancing the science and art of sustainable community planning. Our experts on land use, code writing, downtowns, and complete streets transportation provide the guidance to make great places. Our clients confirm that our advocacy and focus on implementation produces results."

    There you have it-
    And the politicians who are being greased

    • banthebanners

      I haven't researched LSL planning, but I'll bet there is a tie to UN Agenda 21. One of the tricks used is to restrict land use either through financial incentive or outright coercion. Either way, the land value drops. In some cases a crony gets the land for pennies on the dollar and the zoning is changed favorably for the new owner to develop the land as he wants or it can be seized by eminent domain and turned back to "greenspace". Any time you hear the word "sustainable" beware. These people are wolves in sheep's clothing and sugar coat their endgame. They hold Marxist worldviews, especially on private property rights. Here is a link to a video, as there is not enough room here to explain.

  • Anita

    I am disabled and went thru same type deal in Constantine. They had told me IF I went down to 10 (2 lb rabbits) that they would allow me to keep them after I had provided a doctors note. They were interviewed by a local paper (Mark villiage manager) said we were all working things out. Several months letter we received a letter stating we had 30 days to remove animals or face fines and possible jail time! I called in HUD from Chicago, Ill. One of the staff came down and told the villiage manager that I had a right to the animals as a disabled person and IF they pushed this I could press charges and I would win due to discrimination. (We found others with rabbits that the villiage did nothing about even after we had made them aware. Meaning they singled me out-dont know why)

    I believe, as the person above stated, that there is a farming law in effect that can protect them from having to remove the animals. Please research this and help this family! This type of thing seems to be running rampant in Michigan communities.

  • Anita

    (Please note that the the villiage officers visited my home several times and found the rabbits clean, well taken care of and not causing odor in neighborhood.)

  • Joe

    Jennifer Dowling is my new hero! Kelly was my wedding photographer and is one of the nicest and most genuine people around. It breaks my heart that they're going through this, and I really appreciated seeing Jennifer really pursue the officials for an answer (which she sadly didn't get).

  • dann

    i'm sure that there is something stated somewhere how much property is needed to support a animal. I know for a fact that there are laws that state how many square foot of property per animal is required. I am a beef farmer and I follow the rules set in place in the county/township my farm is in. These people are not farmers so stop saying the right to farm act applies to them.

  • Scherzerfan

    Oh bologna, I'd rather live in a cleaned up neighborhood with live animals than have an old spook house with heaven only knows whatever living or growing in it. Okay, so they are not farmers, got it. Unless the animals get to be a noise, smell, or pollutant of some sort, what's the big deal? Of course, this is the opinion of an animal lover.

  • Susan

    It is truly astonishing that the township supervisor doesn't want to be on camera. Shady? Shy? Fearful? Of what? What the heck? Is is wrong for the township( or their contractor) to give the farm an all-is-okay, then come back and say ooops, we effed it up and because we did, you the landowner must suffer the consequences of our f-up. Ridiculous. If they give the Hunter Farm a variance, fine, but what they should do, in my opinion, is say, okay, we screwed up, we'll grandfather you in, but from this point forward you must …….blah blah blah. I suggest the township residents pressure a resolution to this issue before their township officials end up spending the tax payer money on a lawsuit.

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