Waverly Animal Hospital rezoning request a slippery slope, say neighbors

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By Jordan Jennings and Liv Larsen

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Former animal clinic employee Mark Wickham and his rat terrier, Casey (13 years old, blind, diabetic and arthritic) stroll the Waverly Animal Hospital parking lot. Photo by Jordan Jennings.

LANSING TOWNSHIP — The Charter Township of Lansing unanimously denied Waverly Animal Hospital’s rezoning request at the Planning Commission meeting on Sept. 17.

Jessica Salvador attended the meeting and has lived across from the clinic for a year and a half. Her concern with the potential land zone changes centers on “what could possibly go there,” she said. She and other locals worry that if the clinic were to later move, another business could replace it and expand into the residential area.

The hospital, which also serves as a dog kennel, is part of the trust of the clinic’s deceased founder Dr. Charles Thrush. The clinic’s 92-foot backyard dog run area does not comply with township setback requirements, which state that a rear yard must be 25 feet from the building. In order to comply, Ivan Johnson of PNC Bank requested that the board allow Waverly Animal Clinic’s doctor,  Jessica Stuhler, to purchase from the trust two additional lots behind the clinic.

Taking his rat terrier, Casey, for a walk, Mark Wickham said he was hired by Dr. Thrush to do odd jobs at the clinic over 40 years ago. He doesn’t consider the clinic’s proposed expansion to be a problem. “It’s been here since… early ’60s, you know, and if it [expansion] was a problem, it would’ve been a problem… a long time ago.”

Many neighbors disagree. If the clinic were to buy the additional lots, it would require a zoning change. Rather than being an A (residential) Zone, the clinic would become a G (General Business) Zone. This new zoning code could open the door to later legal problems or other disruptive businesses moving in, according to neighbors.

When asked about the risks of potential rezoning, Wickham says that although the clinic is doing well, “…in this section of Waverly a lot of businesses don’t make it…” Were the clinic to later relocate and be replaced, you never really know what new business would be more successful, he said.

If doctors purchase the land from Dr. Thrush’s trust, the clinic means only to comply with the ordinance, and not to expand,  Johnson said at the meeting. “So nothing really changes in the surrounding businesses or residential neighborhood,” he said.

Steve Hayward, planning director for Lansing Township, called this “a really unique request.” He proposed instead that PNC Bank request a special land use with restrictions. This would allow for Waverly Animal Clinic to continue functioning successfully outside of ordinance. Restrictions would also prevent any zone changes.

Salvador said she is “all for” the special land use with restrictions. “As long as it’s specific to their business I think that would be perfectly fine,” she said. “They’re not hurting anyone by being there now. The fact that its gone on this long and no one’s noticed says a lot.”

Also present at the meeting was neighbor Vicki Simmons, who strongly supports the special land use permit. “I think it’s a shame if she [Dr. Stuhler] is forced that she can’t buy,” Simmons said, “because then she will go somewhere else then we have another empty building sitting there with a large tax space that’s lost. I frankly don’t want to pick up the difference.”

Referring to Lansing Township, Simmons added, “The first meeting that we went to they said that they would do whatever they could to make everybody happy, and I think the way to make everybody happy is to grant Dr. Stuhler of Waverly Animal Clinic the special land use with restrictions.”

 

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The clinic has been undergoing series of expansions since its original establishment in this Waverly street home. Photo by Jordan Jennings.

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Although the rezoning request was denied, the PNC Bank may consider looking into special land use with restrictions. Photo by Jordan Jennings.

 

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