HART, Mich (Michigan News Source) – Dan and Dawn Williams first crossed paths in Japan while they were both serving in the Air Force at Yokota Air Base during Desert Storm. Dan worked as an air traffic controller, while Dawn, a photojournalist, documented various aspects of military operations.

More than 100 years of service.

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Dan and Dawn got married upon returning to the United States; Dawn received an honorable discharge in 1993 and Dan retired the following year. Their combined service, along with other family members, spans multiple generations and amounts to more than 100 years in various wars and conflicts dating back to WWII.

Post-military life saw Dan managing Lowe’s Home Improvement and retiring from Michigan Automotive Compressor. Dawn, a medical esthetician, collaborated with her husband in renovating houses.

A retirement home in paradise.

With one of their four children living in White Hall, the couple decided to invest in a property in Pentwater in January 2021 that was zoned a low density residential district with very little people in the area. They aimed to build a retirement home on their 15-acre parcel out in the country, a beautiful and quiet piece of land that includes a river down a ravine.

They initially traveled the country in their 1995 34’ Safari Magnum motor coach in the year following the purchase of their Pentwater property. However, the couple faced financial challenges due to fuel costs and RV repairs as well as having to deal with financial issues caused by their earlier home renovation projects.

Eventually settling on their southwest Michigan property, they set up their RV with essential utilities while planning the construction of their permanent residence.

Township zoning ordinance won’t allow couple to live in RV while building home on their property.

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However, their peaceful transition to retirement hit a snag when Weare Township attorney Brian Monton with Prince & Monton, PLC sent them a letter in April 2023. The letter said the couple violated Section 3.18 of the Weare Township zoning ordinance which “prohibits the outdoor storage or parking of recreational vehicles in all Residential Districts except for enumerated exceptions.”

The conditions that must be met included things like “no more than one such vehicle may be permitted on any lot” and “such vehicles must be provided with proper and approved safety and sanitary facilities” as well as limited dates for the vehicle to be on the property.

The letter from the township’s attorney went on to say that their use of the property did not meet any of the exceptions. The letter threatened potential fines, which could amount to more than $1200 a week and possible legal action against them.

Dawn said to Michigan News Source, “My question to the township is ‘Why’? Mandating us to leave surely does not benefit us nor does it benefit you either. So why? It doesn’t matter if we are veterans or not. We are Americans and as such should never be forced off our OWN property period.”

Thankfully, the Williams have been able to live in their RV on their property after talking with Zoning Administrator, Andrew Clark, who consulted with the Township’s legal team. He gave them an extension and time to apply for a temporary permit which allowed them to stay on the property through December of last year.

Last month, they received an ordinance violation from the township. On January 1, 2024, they received their second one.

Despite current efforts to negotiate with the township, the Williams face a dilemma with the township giving them until February 1st to comply with their demands.

The specific ordinance violation cited is Section 318c which is under “Outdoor Storage in Residential Districts” and says that  “travel trailers, tents, camper trailers and other similar vehicles or equipment intended or adaptable for sleeping purposes shall require a temporary use permit issued by the Zoning Administrator.”

The ordinance also says that the permits are only issued from May 1st through December 1st. After that, the ordinance says that “vehicles granted a permit must be removed at the end of the permit period.”

Injury complicates ability to leave.

Complicating matters, Dawn’s recent severe wrist fracture requires her to stay in town for medical reasons, making relocation impractical. They also contend that no open RV parks exist in winter in the area or in Michigan, and financial constraints limit their options. They had hoped to purchase something close by to live in but haven’t been able to secure the funding.

The Williams and their attorney dispute the alleged township ordinance violations and say that the RV is not being used for “storage” nor is it “parked” on the property as prohibited by the township. Their attorney, Steven E. Martin of Powers Chapman, P.C., also asserts that another ordinance, 3.10, allows the temporary use of an RV during home construction.

Looking towards a solution to stay on the property through the summer.

The Williamses hope for a resolution without fines or legal action and are seeking the support of the Pentwater community, family, friends and others, including veterans, to reach out to the township on their behalf. They emphasize the importance of standing up for the rights of Americans, considering the sacrifices they and their family has made to protect those very rights.

Dawn told Michigan News Source, “We assert that the ordinance used against us does not pertain to our situation. We are not storing our coach. It’s our temporary home. Yes, we are veterans, but overreach such as this should not happen to anybody…The misuse of an ordinance that does not pertain to us, and in and of itself violates the constitution we vowed to protect, is what makes this whole situation so gut-wrenching.”

Michigan News Source reached out to the zoning administrator to see if the township intends to start collecting fees from the Williams’ or pursue legal action against them. Clark did not respond to our request for comment.