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Township officials grapple with community image

by Susan Bromley

January 25, 2012

Brandon Twp.- What does a rural community look like?

Here in the township, there are two versions of rural, says Bill Dinnan— the Norman Rockwell version and the Sanford & Son version.

Dinnan presented several pictures to township board members during a joint meeting with the planning commission on Jan. 23. One set of images showed a stream, a barn, and a pasture— meant to depict the "Rockwell" version, with peaceful scenes that could be found in the famed artist's paintings. The second set of photos, taken by Dinnan himself at various locations in the township, show a trailer parked in a front yard, logs for sale by the road, two tarp-covered boats stored in a front yard, and miscellaneous items piled in yet another front yard. He compares these not-so-tranquil scenes to the junkyard setting of the old television show "Sanford & Son."

"You go to the country so you can do what you want, but there will still be times when your neighbor doesn't want you to do whatever you want," said Dinnan. "I'm not against RV's—I have one of my own— but I also don't park it in the front yard."

The parking of recreational vehicles, which besides motor homes includes boats, jetskis, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, was a hot topic of discussion at the meeting. The township board and planning commission decided to have the joint meeting after the planning commission made recommendations for several new or revised ordinances that were questioned by several township board members.

Ultimately, no action was taken by the township board on the planning commission's twice-recommended revisions to the parking ordinance. The ordinance revisions stipulated that recreational vehicles or enclosed trailers were only to be parked in side or rear yards, but allowed that if the side or rear yard was inaceessible, an exception could be made to allow parking or storage in the front yard as long as the vehicle was parked on a driveway. Still, the ordinance was not passed due to objections from the township board.

A sign ordinance amendment that addressed LED signs also failed due to a tie vote. The ordinance would have regulated the frequency of scrolling messages on sign screens to change no more often than once every five minutes.

"It is a community intrusion situation in that these LEDs are brighter lights to the vision of the eye and to change them is very distracting," said Dinnan, who said numerous surveys have shown that such signs are a danger to drivers if they must take their eyes off the road for more than two or three seconds to read the message.

The township has no jurisdiction over the LED sign owned by the school district, but there are three other LED signs on M-15 in the township, two of which are currently operated by businesses, and the planning commission feels there will be more coming and thus, more regulation is necessary. For now, Dinnan said he will start enforcement of no moving light signs at all.

The township board did ultimately approve the first readings of several other ordinances, including one that limits the size of attached accessory buildings (garages) to 1,000 sq. ft; an ordinance on the parking of non-operational vehicles that was expanded to include vehicles that have valid license plates, but are dismantled, partially dismantled or incapable of highway travel; and a new ordinance section requiring that vehicles for sale can only be sold from property owned by the vehicle owner, only one vehicle at a time may be placed for sale, and the property owner can sell no more than four vehicles per year from their property (excluding dealerships).

Township boardmembers also approved the first reading of architectural design requirements allowing the planning commission to review site plan applications for commercial properties and set guidelines for visual impact to the community and provide a consistent and equitable set of design standards.