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Twp. looks to eliminate, not expand, hunting bans

by CJ Carnacchio

April 06, 2011

It started out as a public hearing last week to gather input regarding a proposed ban on hunting and the discharge of firearms in dense residential zoning districts in Oxford Twp.

It ended with a decision by the township board to look into getting rid of all its local ordinances banning firearm discharge and hunting in certain areas, leaving them to be solely regulated by state law.

"The less ordinances that we have on the books, the more we can stay out of people's lives, the better off everyone is," said Supervisor Bill Dunn.

By a 6-1 vote, the board directed Clerk Curtis Wright to work with the township attorney to "eliminate" Section 30-241 of the code of ordinances, which currently prohibits, in certain defined areas, the hunting of wild migratory waterfowl or firearm hunting/discharge of any kind. The local ordinance language would be replaced with state law, according to the motion.

The issue is expected to return to the township board for further discussion and potential action at its Wednesday, May 11 meeting.

Right now, everywhere in the township not covered by ordinance is governed by state law. State law places a "safety zone" around all occupied dwellings and buildings, meaning it is illegal to hunt or discharge a firearm, bow or crossbow within 150 yards (450 feet)

of such structures without written permission from the owner or occupant.

Treasurer Joe Ferrari pointed out that it's inconsistent to have some areas of the township regulated by local ordinance and other areas regulated by state law alone.

"If we're going to be consistent, we should be consistent township-wide," he said. "Neighbors shouldn't have different rules."

Ferrari suggested the entire township be governed by either local ordinance or state law when it comes to the discharging of firearms and hunting. "It should be one way or the other," he said.

The board agreed, which led to a motion that was the exact opposite of the reason for the public hearing, which was held to gather input regarding a potential ban on firearm discharge and hunting in the R-1, R-2 and RM zoning districts.

R-1 and R-2 are both for single family dwellings, the only difference is the former requires minimum lot sizes of 12,000 square feet, while the latter has a 25,000-square-foot minimum. RM stands for multiple family and covers properties that have or allow for apartment buildings, condominiums and townhouses.

A total of 11 people spoke at the hearing three in favor of the ban, eight opposed to it.

Resident Jack Curtis opposed the proposed ban because he believes the issue's already adequately covered by state law and law enforcement agencies ranging from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to the Oakland County Sheriff's Department.

"It would be like writing an ordinance stating you cannot drink and drive," he said.

Curtis also doesn't want to see the township spend additional monies to enforce ordinances and prosecute violators for something already covered by state law.

"Do we have the money for attorney letters and prosecution costs or should we rely on the state and county for these expenses?" he said.

Resident Elton Hicks disagreed and supported the proposed ban.

"You ever tried calling the DNR or the police during hunting season because you've got somebody trespassing on your land?" he said. "I have for the last 40 years. I've got to a point where I don't even bother calling the police anymore or the DNR because I never get a response in a timely manner. When you have a problem with a hunter, he's gone within five minutes."

Hicks indicated he knows firsthand how dangerous irresponsible hunters can be.

"You ever been shot? I've been shot by a shotgun twice standing in my own front yard," he said. "This idea that all your hunters are these good citizens is far from being a true statement."

Resident Helen Barwig also agreed with expanding the ban. "If you've ever seen bullets whizzing through your house or around your house or even hearing them, you wouldn't want that either," he said.

The reason the township was considering the ban on firearm discharge and hunting in the R-1, R-2 and RM zoning districts was due to a complaint by Dave Yezbick, owner of Parkhurst Estates, a manufactured housing community containing more than 300 dwellings, located south of Drahner Rd. and west of M-24.

Yezbick was concerned about the hunting happening on a 64-acre parcel of vacant land bordering Parkhurst Estates to the west. It's currently zoned R-2 and surrounded by other R-2 properties along with R-1 and RM lands.

"I'm concerned about the safety of our residents within our community. This property is not fenced," said Yezbick, who was concerned about Parkhurst residents, particularly children, wandering onto this adjacent property.

Even though the land is posted to let people know hunting goes on there, Yezbick said, "A small child's not going to be aware of that."

Yezbick presented the township board with a petition signed by 45 Parkhurst residents, all supporting the proposed ban.

Resident James Woodward, who opposed the ban, noted that Yezbick approached Parkhurst residents about signing the petition; they didn't approach him.

Resident Ron Meyer, who opposed the ban, pointed out that Yezbick could erect a fence between Parkhurst Estates and the 64-acre hunting area.

"Nothing is keeping him from putting up such a fence," he said. "It's not the other property owner's responsibility. He is the one that is publicly calling it a hazard."

"The prudent thing for the township to do this evening is to tell Mr. Yezbick if he wants fencing or (a) wall, he can pay for it himself," Meyer noted.

It was noted that anyone who sets foot on this 64-acre hunting land, without permission from the owner, is guilty of trespassing, which is a crime.

Meyer was opposed to the idea of taking away property owners' rights in order to protect lawbreakers.

"Because some lazy parent hasn't taught their children respect for other people's property, there's consideration of passing a law that would punish many innocent people . . . by depriving them of use of their land," he said.

The idea of banning hunting on such a large parcel of vacant land simply because it's zoned for dense residential use in the future didn't set well with some residents.

"If you're going to tell a guy with (64) acres that he can't hunt, how many acres are you going to have to have when you can hunt?" said resident Ardell Fremstad, who owns 10 acres of land and moved here years ago because of the rural setting.

"I don't think anybody ought to take anybody's property rights away, especially (on) that big a piece of property," said resident Tom Claycomb, who's been hunting for more than 65 years.

Woodward noted that even with the state safety zone law, there's probably still 55 acres of huntable land on the property in question.

Resident Jim Cavellier, who opposed the ban, noted that "living next to someone that's shooting a gun is a lot better than living on a golf course."

"I have lived on a golf course and I've had golf balls (go through) my back window," he said. "I've never had a gunshot in the back window."