e-Journal Summary

e-Journal Number : 68479
Opinion Date : 08/07/2018
e-Journal Date : 08/09/2018
Court : Michigan Court of Appeals
Case Name : Township of Williamstown v. Sandalwood Ranch, LLC
Practice Area(s) : Municipal, Agriculture
Judge(s) : Per Curiam – Shapiro, M.J. Kelly, and O’Brien
Full Text Opinion
Issues:

Action for a zoning ordinance violation; Whether an apartment on the property at issue was protected by the Right to Farm Act (RTFA) (MCL 286.471 et seq.); Northville Twp. v. Coyne; The RTFA as an affirmative defense; Lima Twp. v. Bateson; “Farm” defined; MCL 286.472(a); “Farm operation” defined; MCL 286.472(b); Defining “necessary” as used in the RTFA; Equitable estoppel; Howard Twp. Bd. of Trs. v. Waldo; Laches; Lyons Charter Twp. v. Petty

Summary

[This opinion was previously released as an unpublished opinion on 6/19/18.] The court concluded that MCL 286.472(b) (not MCL 286.472(a)) was implicated here, and held that the use of the apartment as a second dwelling on the ranch property was not necessary in connection with the boarding of horses. Further, equitable estoppel and laches did not apply because defendants failed to factually support these affirmative defenses. Thus, the court affirmed summary disposition for plaintiff-township in this action seeking injunctive relief for an ordinance violation. The defendants-Kolenda are the principal owners of defendant-Sandalwood Ranch. “The property contains a house in which the Kolendas reside, and a building that contains a barn with 26 stalls and a riding arena.” The apartment was on a second floor of that building. Defendants argued that it was part of the arena building and that any use of the building fell within the definition of farm in MCL 286.472(a). The court disagreed. While the building itself was protected under this provision, that did not “mean that every activity within the building is necessarily shielded from local regulation.” The correct inquiry was whether the use of the apartment in connection with the horse-boarding business was a protected “farm operation” under MCL 286.472(b). The court noted the absence of any published case interpreting “the word ‘necessary’ as used in the RTFA.” It found that the evidentiary hearing testimony showed that “the use of the apartment as a second dwelling by a tenant, who can perform the 10 p.m. check on the horses, is not necessary to defendants’ horse-boarding business.” While it did not accept “plaintiff’s contention that ‘necessary’ should be read to mean ‘absolutely necessary,’” it was clear here that “the rental of the apartment was intended to induce a third party to perform work that defendants had performed in the past and for which they could hire workers without providing a rental apartment. The fact that having a person other than themselves perform the night check was of assistance in providing the Kolendas with a desirable degree of flexibility and time off does not mean that such a tenant is ‘necessary’ for farm operations under the RTFA.”

Full Text Opinion