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Township: Couple built stand illegally

| Thursday, Jan. 9, 2003

A couple hoping to open a harness racing center in Canton built a judge's stand on the site without gaining proper permission, township officials ruled this week.

The township Zoning Hearing Board decided unanimously Tuesday that Elizabeth Eelkema and Daniel Vorum must apply for building and zoning permits for the stand, which was built on top of their barn last summer.

The ruling was another obstacle to the couple's effort to convert their private riding track and stables off Armstrong Drive into a commercial harness racing center with a 300- to 350-seat grandstand, a parking lot and a restaurant accommodating 50 customers.

Vorum and Eelkema are requesting an amendment to Canton's municipal planning code.The township has argued that a racetrack is permitted in an agricultural area , but not in one zoned for residential use, as is Vorum's land.

At a public hearing scheduled for tonight at the township fire hall, Franklin Bialon, the couple's attorney, plans to present experts to testify that the township doesn't have a provision for a racetrack within its planning code.

The judge's stand was initially built for a one-time fund raiser but has now become a permanent structure on the property.

Planning Consultant Roberta Sarraf, who is expected to testify on behalf of the couple tonight, argued that the stand did not need the permits. She compared it to a belfry, a church steeple or a flag pole.

Township Zoning Officer Pete Stefansky said the erection of any structure requires a permit. Stan Warco, vice chairman of the Zoning Hearing Board, said nothing related to the project was submitted to the township.

Township Manager Sam Stockton said the application would cost about $75 for the $13,200 stand. Stockton said the couple are expected to pay the fee and apply for a permit for the viewing stand.

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