MARQUETTE - Shady Grove Farm U.P. LLC, which won a 2012 civil case brought against it by Forsyth Township, is at odds with the township again - this time over the posting of a sign and the building of a chicken coop.
Randy and Libby Buchler, owners of the farm located off South Francis Mine Drive in Gwinn, received a letter from Forsyth Township Zoning Administrator Henry DeGroot dated June 13 that the couple violated a township zoning ordinance by not securing a proper permit before posting the sign.
Randy Buchler said his family received the sign as part of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program, a program that played a significant role in the bench trial presided over by Marquette County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Solka.
Above, chickens take a walk around at Shady Grove Farms U.P. LLC. The farms owners, which won a 2012 civil lawsuit filed against them by Forsyth Township are finding themselves at odds with the township once again over a sign, shown below, and chicken coop on their property. (Journal photos by Adelle Whitefoot)
The program requires farms to adhere to a set of policies to receive certification in any of three systems: livestock, cropping and farmstead.
Shady Grove Farms was certified in all three, which the controversial sign was meant to advertise.
Buchler said the state gave him the sign and told him to post it, adding he thought the township was "harassing" him because it was unable to secure an injunction stopping the farm's activity.
"Here we are, the only verified farm in Marquette County - which they should be proud of - and they're just, I'm not sure what their deal is, they just wont let it go," Buchler said. "I think the problem is they just won't accept defeat on a battle they initiated. It's just to a point of not only (a) local farm in Forsyth Township being verified by the state, it's also being harassed by a local municipality...
"The state purchased that sign. We're the first one to have the new sign. We're the first farm in the state of Michigan to have this sign displayed. They're just harassing us and enough's enough."
Buchler said the sign ordinance did not apply to his farm, since lake residential zones were not mentioned in the ordinance, and that even if it was, his sign would fall under an exemption, which Forsyth Township attorney Kevin Koch agreed to in a letter sent to the Buchler's attorney.
In an interview with The Mining Journal, Koch said the township was not harassing the Buchlers.
"They did not seek to get a permit for that sign and at the same time, they were reminded that they had not completed the process for their chicken coop in getting a permit for that," Koch said. "I told Mr. Buchler that we were trying to enforce our zoning ordinance uniformly and we are not picking on him, period."
Koch said the couple had applied and paid for the chicken coop permit in the weeks leading up to the trial, but were given their money back and told to wait for the trial's outcome.
"Their permit was returned to them as well as a check for their $20 permit fee with some notice from the zoning administrator that we're in the middle of litigation and this is not going to be dealt with now because we don't know what is going to happen with the trial," Koch said.
Following the trial's outcome, Koch said the Buchlers' were free to reapply for a permit.
In a June 17 letter to Forsyth Township Planning and Zoning, Buchler stated he never cashed the check, and thus the township still had his money and should simply issue him the permit for the chicken coop.
Though the township's original letter stated a $45 violation fee would also be levied on the couple in reference to the sign, Koch said Township Supervisor Joseph Minelli said the fee could be waived.
"The supervisor mentioned he thought it would be appropriate to drop the penalty and just pay the fee for the sign," Koch said.
No permits have been issued as of today and the sign and the chicken coop remain on the Buchlers' farm.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.