Keeler Township discusses enforcement of anti-funneling violations

Published 3:29 pm Thursday, October 7, 2021

KEELER TOWNSHIP — In 1998, the Keeler Township Board of Trustees passed an anti-funneling ordinance that, in part, was designed to stop waterfront lot owners and tenants from renting out dock space to other people’s boats for extended periods of time.

However, this has not stopped residents from doing exactly that, as township officials discussed Tuesday evening.

Enforcement of dock renting took center stage at this week’s Keeler Township Board of Trustees meeting. Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Ray Hochsprung was on hand to provide input.

Section 4.14.1, article D of the ordinance states, “No lake access, boat ramp, shore station, dock, boat launch, or shoreline abutting a lake, river, or stream shall be utilized for commercial, business, commercial outdoor recreation … unless the property is properly zoned (or re-zoned) for such uses or such use is granted a Special Exception Permit.”

Township officials agreed that renting out dock space for an extended period qualifies as commercial use as stated in the ordinance, and was, therefore, a violation.

“From my perspective, if you don’t own, rent, lease or are currently staying in the property, you shouldn’t be allowed to put a boat on the pier of that property,” township trustee Jerry Morin said. “People should not be allowed to rent their piers or let others dock their boats on their piers permanently – permanently being all summer long. That to me is the simple objective [of the ordinance].”

Despite township trustee input, Hochsrung said violations are effectively unenforceable and would cause him to commit a Law Enforcement Information Network violation, which is a felony.

“I’ve actually talked to my supervisors at county about that,” Hochsprung said. “They don’t want me doing that.”

Township Supervisor Don Blackmond asked Hochsprung if there was any other way to run registrations that is not illegal. Hochsprung said there was not.

Trustee Ken Rahn asked Hochsprung if he could ask for papers or question someone when he sees them dock a boat.

“Why would I?” asked Hochsprung. “You see where it gets to be where I become the Gestapo, and I don’t want that to happen.”

Blackmond said the ordinance was originally designed to prevent someone from buying a parcel of land and then funneling a subdivision through it to the water, and that it was not designed to enforce individual boat violations.

“I was told by our previous township council that our ordinance is more effective or as effective as any for doing that,” he said. “But when you get into trying to leverage it against a single boat on a pier … in that situation, it becomes very complicated.”

Morin agreed there was nothing wrong with the way the ordinance was written.

“We just can’t enforce it, he said. “It’s frustrating because people will tell you ‘I rent my pier to so-and-so.’ … They are just flaunting our ordinance.”

At a previous township meeting, the board asked for proposals to make the ordinance more effective in this regard, but Blackmond said proving violations remains a sticking point.

“It comes down to, ‘how can we prove it?’” Blackmond said. “There has to be some way, but I don’t know what it is.”

Ultimately, the board decided to table the discussion until after members reach out to Chester Township in Ottawa County, which has a similar ordinance on lake regulation.


Van Buren County update

Mike Chappell from the Van Buren County Board of Commissioners office reported the board accepted a grant from the state for $86,462 for veterans services operations. Commissioners also approved a veterans treatment contract to provide dental health and public health clinical services to veterans who are residents of Van Buren county.

The county also approved a contract with Pawsitively K9 for $14,097 of the veterans services grant for providing veterans with dogs with the ability to help veterans lead happier and healthier lives.

Also, Veterans Services Director David Krzycki hired Dennis Urquhart to be Veterans Services officer.

“He is fully accredited and will be a big asset to this department,” Chappell said. “Now our Veterans Service Department is completely up and rolling, and these guys are doing an amazing job. It’s kind of exciting to be able to take care of our Van Buren Bounty veterans a little better.”

In other business:

  • The board agreed to accept a dangerous building ordinance as proposed.
  • The board tabled discussion on marijuana microbusiness and adult-use businesses, and a motion was approved to move the discussion into the 2022 master plan discussion.
  • Keeler Township Fire and Rescue Department updated the board on AED battery replacements.