Readers’ Voice

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Dear Editor,
   The members of the Paw Paw Volunteer Fire Department would like to express a sincere thank you to all the residents that attended the recent Almena and Waverly township meetings. The amount of support shown by the Almena and Waverly township citizens was overwhelming.
   At this point, we have not received any definitive answers about the future of the fire department contract from either board. Thank you again for your continued support and we look forward to serving you in the future.
   Sincerely,
   Members of the Paw Paw Volunteer Fire Department

•••

Dear Editor,
   On March 12, the Paw Paw Township Board voted to deny a special use permit allowing us to hold weddings and other special events on our 31-acre farm on the corner of 42nd St. and CR 374 in Paw Paw Township. This decision was a complete reversal of the unanimous vote by the Planning Commission who passed our plans at their January meeting after being in contact with the township for nearly a year regarding our intentions for the property. 
   Our business plan proposed two separate phases to ease into full use of the 180’ x 40' cattle shelter that is existing on the property. Phase one proposed use of tents in addition to or in lieu of the barn which we had proposed to finish half of, ending up with a maximum capacity of 250 guests, while building codes and applicable code requirements were sorted out and met for the existing structure. These tents would have been used more predominately in the beginning (given the exasperated timeline we faced to receive approval) but would always be offered in addition to the barn, which is a very standard practice with these type of wedding venues.
   We proposed to operate seasonally from April to October (weather dependent) with the majority of events to be held on Saturdays while offering Friday and Sunday dates as well. (We offered to cap to 20 events for 2018 season).
   Our farm is in a very secluded area of Paw Paw Township with our nearest existing neighbors over 1,000 feet away. Of our own free will and before any concerns were raised, we had conducted sound tests. Those tests showed favorable results with manageable decibel levels at the property lines; additionally, we offered to add fast-growing vegetation, acoustic tiles, and other things of that nature, if needed, to further aid in management of noise.
   As part of our site plan, we had parking for 125 cars and a driveway entrance that extended over 500 feet back onto the property, which would allow for a large number of cars to be entering at the same time without ever having concern for traffic backing onto the road. Additionally, as part of our approval process, we would have to obtain a commercial driveway permit from the road commission, who could perform traffic studies at their discretion, if they felt it was necessary. Guests would be directed to parking by a parking attendant. Clients would be able to choose their own vendors for food and beverages, with all liquor to be served by licensed and insured third-party bar services. Events would conclude by midnight with serving of alcohol and music to end at 11 p.m.
   Not until some of the neighbors addressed the township with concerns and a petition against us did we notice a shift in their support. We also had a petition which was signed by 225 people with 89 of those identifying themselves as township residents showing support for the business. The number of Paw Paw Township residents shown in favor on these petitions versus against was 3 to 1.
   At the board meeting, concerns were raised of being able to contain the noise. Please keep in mind the township currently has no noise ordinance to govern this and we have not held a single event to date; so, all noise and other concerns at this point are purely theoretical.
   Also, a great amount of emphasis was placed on tents; but even when enclosing a portion of the barn and containing music there was offered as a solution, the board still denied it.
   We have done everything asked of us every step of the way through this process and have amended our plans to further address concerns. We have shown a willingness to work with the township and the neighbors to find a way forward to no avail.   
   Our family has invested a significant amount of money, time and effort in our pursuit of this business, which we were not only allowed but encouraged to do by the Township. Their denial of our special use permit has and will have significant financial impact to our family. The township itself has taken a lot of money from us for fees for the text amendment and special use request, which they have not refunded!
   These venues are the future of the wedding business. If you look around, I believe you’ll see a number of rental halls currently for sale because they are no longer as profitable as they were in times past. Unfortunately, if you look around, you’ll also see a lot of farms for sale because they too are becoming harder and harder to sustain financially.   
   These type of wedding venues bring in a lot of local business and tourists while protecting and promoting agricultural properties. Wedding venues like the one we purposed are already in existence all around us with minimal to no impact on surrounding properties. So, I think we really need to ask why there would be more of a problem here than in any of these other communities? If the township is for allowing them, which they have indicated they are by adopting a text amendment written by us allowing for special event facilities in the AGR zoning district, then why was our request denied? Do we want to encourage people to spend their money in other communities and not offer and promote an option here?
   While we understand the fear of change, I truly believe if you do the research here, there is more reason to believe things would run smoothly with proper regulations than reason to fear they would not.
   We believe the township board made the wrong decision in this instance and are asking residents who support allowing this local family-operated business, who feel their opinions have not been represented by their elected local officials who denied it, to please contact the Paw Paw Township office and let them know. 
   Sincerely,
   Kristen and Mike Ely
   Paw Paw

•••

Dear Editor,
   Saturday is the “March for Our Lives” event, one month to the day after 17 innocent children and their teachers were gunned down by a military assault rifle. Since this is not the first time - it truly needs to be the last.
   Now, I know I live in rural Van  Buren County, where owning guns seems to be the common mantra. I am fine with hunters to have their guns and I suppose people think hand guns are an absolute necessity to defend themselves, kill coyotes or whatever. But military assault rifles? For the truly paranoid, that is to deter government take-over of our lives. How about people getting educated about public policy and what is causing this paranoia and vote for more sensible people to develop good public policy that makes living the American Dream more attainable than just for the 1% or 2%, and maybe the paranoia would go away.
   Military assault rifles are not for civilian use, period. Sensible gun rules are no more threatening than traffic laws that keep us able to use cars usually in a safe way. If we had no traffic regulations, we would be running over each other and killing each other at an even faster rate than we do now.   
   Gun regulation does not mean those of you who think gun ownership is a God-given right (personally, I think God may have an opposite view) so there should be no regulations on gun ownership. YOU ARE WRONG! As a civilized society, responsible gun legislation makes everyone safer.   
   Regulated and interconnected background checks, reasonable age requirements and no more bump stocks and assault rifles with the capacity to rapidly kill innocent people are reasonable regulations that most regular NRA members agree with. Please remember, the NRA is a lobbyist group for gun manufacturers. They just want to sell guns  -- period. They do not care about anything else. Please be sure you know, come November, who is running for office and taking money from the NRA. Elect people who promote responsible gun ownership.
   There are marches set in Saugatuck, St. Joseph and Kalamazoo for those of us who could not make it to Washington DC. Enough is Enough!!!
   Pat Winston
   Paw Paw

•••

Almena Township Supervisor Bill VanTassel shares the following letter, with the author’s permission.

Bill:
   Just wanted to send you a note to express my disappointment in the Township meeting last night. I think the whole point of the meeting was missed and no one, including myself, conveyed that message adequately. The fire department was successful in turning the meeting into a board vs. them confrontation. They, and their supporters, spent way too much time telling everyone how good a fire department they are, when the issue was Almena not renewing the contract with them at the end of the year (as is Waverly Township). We all appreciate what they do and how well they do it.
   You and the board were not condemning the fire department or the quality of their service, although they made it appear that way. I think people  are assuming that come next year, Almena won’t have a contract in place for fire protection, which I am certain will not be the case. Government, be it local, state or federal, is obligated to provide for the safety and welfare of its citizens. I think it’s just good business to not renew old contracts without determining if they are still in the best interest of all concerned, regardless of how it’s perceived.
   Maybe the township will have to spend more money to support equipment upgrades, maybe some district lines will have to be adjusted, or both. Or, perhaps you’ll find that the provisions of the current contract are still in the best interest of everyone concerned. But I think the township is right in not blindly renewing the contract, but looking at it to see if, within money available, all the fire departments that service Almena Township are being utilized in a way that provides the best possible fire protection for everyone in the township. It’s what you are obligated to do.
   JC Schneider
   Almena Township

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The Courier-Leader & Paw Paw Flashes
32280 E. Red Arrow Hwy. • P.O. Box 129
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-5080

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