What started out as a zoning ordinance violation has grown into a very costly attorney bill for Webber Township residents.

Here are the facts of the case, some of which are contradictory to previous articles in the paper.

Webber resident Bruce Austin claims that he did not know about certain zoning regulations when he moved his farm from 24th Street to M-37. Both properties are in Webber Township which is a zoned community. The 24th Street property is zoned agricultural and the M-37 property is zoned commercial. As the move was being made, he was made aware on three separate occasions by the township supervisor, the zoning administrator and a member of the planning commission that the zoning ordinance would not allow for horses on a commercial property. With commercial property, there are procedures that must be followed before any business can be established on that property. Mr. Austin was invited to sit down and talk with planning and zoning several times about those processes, but did not.

Once the violation progressed to a court date, Mr. Austin was claiming he could keep his business there because of the Right to Farm Act. That’s when the costs to the township residents started incurring.

The judge ordered the horses to be removed (because of the zoning ordinance) while the hearing and depositions were heard.

The judge sided with Mr. Austin because of the Right to Farm Act, and the horses were returned to the property on M-37. At that time, the judge had found no proof of a financial loss to Mr. Austin. He was awarded his attorney fees which would be paid by the township (which is customary in cases involving a municipality). Mr. Austin had the opportunity to appeal, but did not.

The township appealed the case because it did not feel that he complied with GAAMPS (which is the organization which regulates the requirements for animals, such as shelter, space and safety of the animals), especially considering their proximity to the highway and residents’ homes, the size of the property and the number of horses.

Webber Township has no problems with a Horse Rescue being in the township. In fact, we welcomed a new rescue on the old 24th Street property with new owners as it is on agricultural property.

At the time of the trial, the court found Mr. Austin did comply with GAAMPS and the Right to Farm Act. Since then, the Right to Farm Act laws have been changed, so he would not be compliant were the case were held today.

On May 18, Webber Township settled with Mr. Austin and agreed to let him have his horses on the property and not to consider any nuisance charges regarding the farm. Webber also paid the full bill for his attorney of approximately $36,000. According to his attorney, Austin had not paid anything at that point.

Bruce Austin won the case. His fees are paid and he has his horses. He should be very pleased with the outcome. He has always claimed that he was fighting for the right to farm. He has that right, so this case should be closed.

So now Austin wants to charge the taxpayers more money for the loss of his business? He has the business, and has had it all along, except for a few months in the beginning of the case. If he did not make revenue, that is not the burden of the tax payer. He says he lost a dumpster business. Webber did not include that business in this case. If he lost his business, could it be the result of poor business practices? Is that the burden of the taxpayers?

It’s a shame those who choose to abide by the zoning rules in the township, must pay for one man and his ego to blatantly disregard the rules.