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Animal repeal rejected

Marie Havenga • Updated Nov 4, 2015 at 11:25 AM

The voters have spoken, and in the end Ferrysburg residents will get their goats.

In May, Ferrysburg City Council voted 4-3 to adopt an ordinance that would allow small numbers of goats, chickens and rabbits within city limits.

A group called Ferrysburg Residents for Responsible Land Use, headed by former councilman Tim Scarpino, gathered petition signatures in an attempt to repeal the ordinance.

In June, City Council voted to let residents decide the issue.

Tuesday night, they did.

According to City Clerk/Treasurer Debbie Wierenga, 680 of 2,404 registered voters turned out to affirm City Council's decision, which allows two goats, five chickens or four rabbits on properties of 1 acre or larger.

The final tally: 382 said “no” to repealing the ordinance while 293 voted “yes.”

“I'm ecstatic,” said Ferrysburg Mayor Dan Ruiter. “I'm just so happy that people put that much faith in us and support us by that big of a margin. It's just wonderful.”

Ruiter said younger people are interested in sustainability.

“I think young people want to get back to that way of life,” he said.

Councilwoman Kathleen Kennedy, who also supported the ordinance, had a celebratory drink at Old Boys Brewhouse following election results.

“It's what the younger people want,” she said. “It's a movement that's across Michigan and across the United States. Younger people care about the foods they're eating and this was a good opportunity to lead the other communities instead of follow.”

Scarpino said despite the loss, he was excited to have been part of the referendum movement.

“This was something that was never done before in Ferrysburg,” he said. “I feel really good about giving voters the opportunity to weigh in on this. I'll go back to a normal life. There's nothing more to be done. The voters have spoken.”

Scarpino said he sensed that people want to be able to use their property as they see fit.

“I think there is a general mood of people not wanting to be told what to do with their property,” he said. “Given the more conservative side of the state we live in, I think that plays into it.”

Scarpino said he fears what the ordinance could mean for the animals, and residents.

“I question the humanness of locking up large mammals, like goats, in pens,” he said. “I think anybody with a heart has to be concerned with that. The more research I did with regards to backyard chickens, there is a considerable body of evidence that unless things are done right, it can lead to significant health issues (for humans and chickens).”

Councilwoman Regina Sjoberg, an animal ordinance opponent, said she wants to thank everyone who supported the referendum movement.

“It will be interesting to see how this ordinance affects the future of Ferrysburg,” she said. “I would be lying if I said I am not concerned.”

The animal issue came to light in 2014 when Adam and Amanda Montambo asked city leaders that they be able to continue to keep their pet goats on their 1.4-acre lot on VanWagoner Road. The Montambos said Amanda and several of their children are allergic to traditional cow's milk and that they used the goat's milk for health reasons. The Montambos also own chickens.

The former law stated that farm animals are only allowed on parcels of greater than 10 acres. There are no lots that large in Ferrysburg; thus, no farm animals were allowed anywhere in the city.

Councilman Mike DeWitt, who lives next door to the Montambos, was a strong proponent of the animals staying.

But those opposed to the change said they disagreed with the city changing the laws to seemingly benefit one family.

City Manager Craig Bessinger said 141 out of 1,265 total city parcels are 1 acre or larger.

Locally, the only two municipalities that allow goats are Grand Haven Township (minimum 5 acres) and Spring Lake Township (minimum 2 acres).

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