2018-05-16 / Front Page

Attica Twp. campground owners want in on mulch suit

BY ANDREW DIETDERICH
810-452-2609 • adietderich@mihomepaper.com

ATTICA TWP. — Claiming a recently relocated mulching business is jeopardizing “millions” invested in their campground, an Attica Township couple wants in on a lawsuit filed against Attica Township.

Thomas W. Tullio and Mary T. Tullio, owners of Attica Pines Campground, have filed a motion to intervene in a claim of appeal filed in Lapeer County Circuit Court by Owen Tree Service Inc. against Attica Township.

Owen Tree Service’s claim of appeal legally challenges a March 8 ruling by the Attica Township Zoning Board of Appeals. The action taken by the board — prompted by a request from the Tullios — reversed township board approval of Owen Tree Service’s request to relocate to 1585 S. Lake George Road.

In their April 16 motion, the Tullios seek to intervene, claiming their interest in the dispute “is not adequately represented by existing parties.”

“We have millions of dollars and 16 years of our lives invested into our house, property, and campground,” according to a letter penned by the Tullios and filed as an exhibit in court documents. “We have 11 splits for lakefront homes which would generate the township additional money yearly. We have built our lives around this and have built a future for our children, which is now in jeopardy.”

The Tullios did not return a call to The County Press. Nor did their attorney, Jim Porritt.

“Our yard borders the agricultural property that Mr. Owen (owner of Owen Tree Service) purchased. All of our privacy and peace and quiet will not be gone. Our family which includes teenage kids can’t go out on our boat, go fishing or swimming or walk around our property without having strangers be able to watch us. Not a day will go by where we won’t be able to see hear or smell the mulch manufacturing company. Not a minute will go by where we’re not worrying about our teenage daughter and son’s well-being and safety.”

At their January meeting Attica Township trustees voted 4-1, with Trustee Rich Lacey dissenting, to approve a finding of fact that Owen Tree Service is an agricultural operation allowing Owen to move his business from an eight-acre site he’s rented on South Lake George Road for three decades to 20 acres he recently purchased on Belle River Road.

Last month the township’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) sided with the Tullios, ruling that the mulching facility isn’t an agricultural business protected by the Right to Farm Act.

On April 9 Owen’s attorney, Tim Denney, filed the claim of appeal challenging that ruling.

Denney hasn’t filed a brief in support of the one-page claim of appeal.

On Monday, he told The County Press he wasn’t sure how members of the appointed ZBA could overturn a decision made by members of the elected board, among other things.

“The gist of it is we believe it’s an agricultural use and should be treated like that in the agricultural district,” Denney said. “We feel like they’re trying to treat it as some stranger.”

Denney said that previous neighbors of Owen Tree Service “say the same thing.”

“These people are really good neighbors,” Denney said, noting technological advances in the mulching industry, such as equipment that can replace “shrill” back-up beepers with a type that uses “white noise.”

Further, Denney said, sound can be absorbed by putting machinery between mulch piles.

“If you start looking at the distances of where the proposed operation is to the Tullios’ campground, it is a long, long ways away,” Denney said. “I’m confident they’re not going to hear this operation.”

Denney said the situation appears to be that the Tullios “have concerns and they’d rather err on the side of having nothing out there.”

“I always tell people there’s something called a ‘vacant lot syndrome,’” Denney said. “If the neighbor looks out over your lot long enough and you haven’t put anything there then sometimes they feel like they acquired a right to say you can’t.”

“And that’s fine if you want to buy the property and pay the property taxes,” Denney said. “But at some point in time, the property’s out there.”

Denney also noted that the proposed use by Owen Tree Service would “seem a better choice to do what they’re proposing then to have them go out there and log off 20 acres or something.”

“But that doesn’t seem to be a good choice,” he said.

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