Some communities are struggling to find the right balance between new development and preserving the farms and natural areas surrounding them. Some towns feel as though rapid development is out of control. Local residents sometimes feel as though they’re fighting big business to preserve their community’s way of life. Every once in a while, a champion for their fight emerges from the least likely of places. The GLRC’s Adam Allington reports:
Some communities are struggling with finding the right balance of new
development and preserving the farms and natural areas surrounding
them. Some towns feel as though rapid development is out of control.
Local residents sometimes feel as though they’re fighting big business to
preserve their community’s way of life. Every once in a while, a
champion for their fight emerges from the least likely of places. The
GLRC’s Adam Allington reports:
Matt Lehner is a mechanic and a small scale farmer. He lives on his
family’s homestead built by his great great grandfather in the late 1800’s.
These days the only animals on the farm a few chickens and geese that
Matt raises as a hobby.
“I’ve got bard rocks, I’ve got Rhode Island reds, I’ve got mini chickens
In a strange twist of fate Matt’s rooster has a become a local icon of sorts
by simply doing what roosters do best.
(Sound of crows)
Located just in northern Michigan near the Village of Suttons Bay, Matt’s
farm sits smack between two big condominium projects sitting on the
Bay, a scenic area off of Lake Michigan. Developers have tried to buy
the farm for years, but the family is not selling.
The new residents of the condos didn’t appreciate the early morning
crowing of Matt’s rooster… or their crowing any other part of the day for
that matter. Rather than an audible reminder of the rural character of the
area, the rooster crowing was a perceived as a problem by the
management of the Bay View Development. So they tried to get a no-
farm-animal ordinance passed by the village council.
“They tried to go to the village meeting to get an ordinance against
chickens without even notifying me they were doing this and the village
told them that this farm is 150 years old and it precedes their jurisdiction
by at least 50 years.”
In other words, Matt’s farm was not only there before the condos… it
was there before the village, and that wasn’t the end of the story. When a
small article about the dispute was published in the local newspaper, the
Leelanau Enterprise, locals rallied around the roosters with
surprising tenacity. Letters poured into the Enterprise. Most of which
were critical of the condominium’s attempt to get a crowing ban. It was
almost like the chicken scratched the surface of a tension that had been
simmering for years. Some residents of the county have the feeling that
their home is gradually becoming swallowed up by developers with no
connection to the land or its communities.
Ashlea Walter is a business owner from the nearby town of Empire. She
says that the rooster issue represents a kind of irony that she sees
happening every day.
“Yeah, I think the sentiment is that there is a lot of development all over
the county that we see and I’m not anti-development at all, but what I’m
seeing is the irony of the development. The great thing about this area is
its agricultural history, it’s picturesque towns and its natural beauty but
then what is so wonderful about the area is what the developers want to
get rid of.”
The developers didn’t think it was that big of a deal. They weren’t trying
to change the community. They just didn’t want the rooster waking up
Todd Demock is the construction superintendent for the Bay View
Development. He says that as far as the chickens are concerned he never
thought it would go this far.
“Apparently the roosters that were next door were making a bunch of
noise. It didn’t bother me I wasn’t paying much attention to it. One day
I came in and seen an officer here and Karen told me that she had to file
a complaint against it. So we kind of laughed it off and didn’t think it
would become a big deal.”
But it did become a big deal. As word traveled around the county, the
Suttons Bay rooster has become the hot topic at every local coffee hour,
beauty salon and town meeting. Most people just shake their head and
laugh, others are more animated.
And the chickens, well their life hasn’t got any easier. With their right to
crow already at risk, a fire recently claimed one of Matt Lehner’s coops.
Police Officer Burt Mead was assigned to investigate.
“My initial reaction was, due to the history and the problems that we had
investigated there before that there could be some kind of criminal
Turns out, no one had in fact put a hit out on the chickens.
“The principle reason it burned was that he had put a heat lamp in there.
Some of the chickens were in there nesting and he thought they would be
more comfortable, because it had been cold the previous two nights. So
he put the lamp in there and it was a temporary fixture. We think that it
probably fell over, the fire started precisely where he had placed the
lamp and the damages spread from there.”
As far as the dust up between the Lehner Farm and the Condo
development, the two parties have smoothed things over a bit. Matt will
keep his chickens but has agreed to slaughter some of the noisiest
roosters…and the developers they’ve offered to replace his coop with a
custom built “chicken condo”.
But the roosters won’t be forgotten. They’ve become a symbol for what
some people see as their threatened way of life… and a bumper sticker
battle cry for keeping the developers’ influence on the community
For the GLRC, I’m Adam Allington.