By Riley James
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
When Mike McCurdy received the notice from the Meridian Township staff that he had to get rid of his five pygmy goats or pay $820 to send a request to rezone his property, he had no idea what to do.
“It started with us getting a 30-day notice saying that we had to get rid of our goats in 30 days or we would be fined and face ongoing fines,” said McCurdy.
McCurdy fought the law and McCurdy won, gaining a zoning change allowing him to keep his goats. But that end result came after a fight that cost time and money, and that McCurdy believes was swayed by public sentiment in his favor.
“I think it was pretty clear to people that the animals weren’t a problem. The community really loves that we keep them out front in their little pen, and people love walking by and seeing them. Kids are always coming by and feeding the goats. They’re really a community asset, and people saw that,” said McCurdy.
John Veenstra, a trustee of Meridian Township, said: “I just thought it took it lot more time than it should’ve … but it finally all came out the way it should’ve.
“I think it would have turned out badly if we hadn’t rezoned it, so I’m glad we did.”
McCurdy and his family purchased the goats during fall of 2014 so his three children could be exposed to farm-type animals. The family received the notice about the zoning issue in the summer of 2015.
“Our neighbors directly to the north were zoned to have animals, and we were not. Even though historically this property always had animals. We were friends with the people we bought this property from, and they had animals while they lived here. They had a horse here, and they had goats for a while here themselves,” said McCurdy.
One of the ways McCurdy raised awareness for the problem was posting a video on Facebook of his daughter asking people in the township to save his goats. The video ended up getting over 2,000 views. Because of the video, people started contacting the township and a letter writing campaign started.
“The issue came to my attention when the board first got half a dozen letters in support of the goats, then 20 letters in support, and then I think we got up to 40. And if you count the names on the petition, then we had over 100 people express support for the goats,” said Veenstra. “Well I tend to listen to the people, so I thought, why are we bothering these goats? … So I started supporting it.”
Veenstra asked Frank Walsh, the Meridian Township manager, if the township could waive the rezoning fee, but Walsh rejected the request because Veenstra was the only board member that had asked to waive the fee.
After being rejected by Walsh, Veenstra tried to initiate the rezoning himself.
“Since I’m on the board, I thought that the board should initiate the rezoning … And when I brought it up, I thought the board would see the light and initiate the rezoning. Turned out I was all alone in trying to get the board to initiate the rezoning,” said Veenstra.
McCurdy ended up having to pay $820 to send in a request to get his property rezoned.
“When you ask for the rezoning, the next step is the planning commission considers the rezoning request. The planning commission on our zoning matter recommends [their thoughts] to our township board,” said Veenstra. “The [planning commission] vote was seven to one against the zoning, and I was astonished because to me it was a no brainer. With all the community support, let [McCurdy] have these little, pygmy goats.”
According to Veenstra, there was illogical reasoning behind why people on the planning commission were against the rezoning including wanting to change the ordinance and thoughts that the township would not bother them.
In the end, the township board voted to rezone the property, due to all the strong community support, according to Veenstra.
According to McCurdy, the entire process took about six months, and public pressure had a lot to do with the outcome.
McCurdy plans on getting a few more animals in the future because the area is now zoned properly, and is even thinking of breeding his pygmy goats.