June 9, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Detroit stands firm on barring goats after talking to farm owner

The city ordered the goats cleared out a day after they arrived in the Brightmoor neighborhood. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Detroit — The city is standing firm on its decision to shut an illegal goat farm, started by the founder of a $6 billion hedge fund, one day after 18 goats began to graze on an empty city-owned block.

“You cannot pick and choose which law to enforce,” said Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, the city of Detroit’s Corporation Counsel. Hollowell also disputed a claim made earlier Monday that no one from the Office of Mayor Mike Duggan had attempted to reach representatives from the goat farm.

The 18 goats were removed Saturday from a block full of tall weeds and vegetation they were expected to eat. The small animals arrived Thursday afternoon from Idyll Farms, in Northport, which is owned by Mark Spitznagel, president of Miami-based Universa Investments.

By Friday afternoon, officials from Detroit’s animal control showed up and ordered the animals removed. The project never received city permission. City ordinance 6-1-3 bans farm and wild animals.

“The goats are being kept in an interim location until they are taken to market,” said Leonard Pollara, a consultant to the project. Proceeds from their sale will go to nonprofits in the Brightmoor neighborhood where the goat farm project was launched.

“We have received an overwhelming wave of support from the neighborhood,” Pollara said.

A steady stream of residents of the northwest Detroit community stopped by Friday and expressed support for the goat farm. The block where the goats were being kept is on a street where many of the weeds were taller than the sole abandoned house.

“This is the kind of great idea this neighborhood needs,” said resident Alexis Hendricks on Friday.

“Look around here; this is more like farmland than city,” she said, referring to the many empty blocks. “There’s too many places full of weeds and junk. Let’s turn it into something positive.”

Efforts will continue to bring the project back to Brightmoor, Pollara said. He pointed that plans outlined by Detroit Future City, a long-term effort to revive the city, recommend zoning for such things as small farms in blighted areas.

Last year, City Councilman James Tate, who represents Brightmoor, introduced a proposal for allowing sheep and goats to trim grass on vacant lots, but it has not become law.

Hollowell said that after several attempts on Friday, he was able reach Spitznagel on the telephone Monday afternoon.

“A discussion has begun,” Hollowell said. He added city officials are aware the idea of urban farms is something that appeals to many citizens and the issue is being explored.

“But we are not going to break the law and allow the goat farm,” he said.

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