PINE TOWNSHIP — Rudy Yoder feels he is being persecuted for being Amish by Montcalm County’s Building Department director.
But Scott Minard contends Yoder is “thumbing his nose at the law” by constructing an addition without the proper permits and in violation of the state’s building code.
Yoder and his wife, Mary, have operated Mary’s Bakery with their daughters for a decade out of a basement. Yoder demolished that building this summer and constructed a two-story addition to his home to house the bakery.
Mary and the daughters make and sell breads, rolls, pies and doughnuts while Rudy shoes horses.
‘Thumbing his nose at the law’
According to Minard, Rudy Yoder came to the Building Department to get a permit for a building to replace the bakery at 5444 N. Vining Road, just south of Lakeview. Minard said he explained to Yoder that the addition would be considered a commercial building under the state construction code, meaning Yoder must obtain sealed drawings by an architect or engineer.
“He didn’t like that and came back the next day and told us he was just putting an addition on his house,” Minard said.
Minard explained that if the building is used as a store, Yoder would need to obtain the proper permits or Minard would shut down the business.
“He clearly stated to me that it was going to be a storage addition to the house only,” Minard said of Yoder. “I made every effort to cooperate with him and explain the law.”
Minard said Yoder did not contact him to conduct a final inspection.
Minard conducted an inspection at the site on Sept. 2. He observed a sign advertising the business by the road, an “open” sign on the building, customers inside the building and a kitchen and shelves fully stocked with baked goods.
Minard sent Yoder a notice of violation letter on Sept. 6, stating Yoder was in violation of four sections of Michigan Construction Code.
“The construction of this building was performed illegally,” the letter stated. “The use and occupancy of the building is an illegal use and occupancy. Therefore, this building is considered a dangerous and unsafe building and shall not be used or occupied without approval from this department.”
Minard warned Yoder he could be punished by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine for each of the violations. Yoder continued to do business as usual at the bakery.
“He stated that he would not comply with my order and would continue to use it as he wishes,” Minard said. “Basically he is just thumbing his nose at the law. He feels that there is no reason that he should have to comply with the laws of the State of Michigan like everyone else has to.”
‘I think this is very wrong’
Yoder contends Mary’s Bakery is a home occupation, not a commercial business. He hopes the upstairs of the addition someday can serve as a home to his two daughters if they get married so they can continue working in the bakery.
“I think this is very wrong,” Yoder said. “I think this is very sad. I can’t make myself believe that he (Minard) isn’t a little bit begrudged against Amish. He made me feel like a liar. He made me feel like a thief.
“Why do we have people in office who think they can pick on a Plain person?” Yoder asked.
Minard said he does not dispute that the bakery is a home occupation. But the building code still describes the building use as “mercantile,” which is commercial use and requires sealed drawings.
“He knows when he came in and got his building permit that he lied to me,” Minard said. “On his application he specifically stated it was for residential use.”
Yoder’s daughters, Verna, 22, and Katieann, 17, are saddened by the situation.
“It’s hard because that’s the only job I’ve got,” Verna said. “I choose to work for mom and dad and the business.”
“I would miss it,” Katieann added.
Pine Township Zoning Administrator Steven Buchholz said the dispute is not a township zoning issue but something that must be sorted out between Yoder and the Montcalm County Building Department.
“I fully understand Scott’s stance on it, but I understand Rudy’s too,” Buchholz said. “They (the Yoders) want to stay small and stay as a community service. But on the other hand, other businesses are held to a certain standard and that’s where Scott is coming from.”
Buchholz said Yoder meets all township requirements for a home occupation.
“That’s what we are considering it as, a home occupation,” Buchholz said. “Obviously the Building Department is looking at it as they’re doing a business there and it should have been constructed to building specifications.”
Minard placed a “no occupancy” order on the bakery building Wednesday.
He said Yoder has the option to obtain construction drawings for a commercial building and submit a new application to the Building Department for a store. Yoder also has the option to close the store and use it for a dwelling.
“If he continually refuses to do either then he will get a ticket and have to go to court,” Minard said.
In the meantime, Yoder has called State Sen. Judy Emmons and Gov. Rick Snyder to ask for help. Minard is not surprised by that.
“The Amish have done this before, pretty much every time they don’t want to comply with the code they start calling politicians to put the heat on me for trying to do my job,” Minard said.
He said his job requires him to enforce the state construction code in the county, which he does objectively.
“I do not have the authority or the right to pick and choose who I will enforce it on,” Minard said. “I try to treat everyone fairly and be consistent throughout the county for each and every citizen.”
Yoder said the bakery is important to Pine Township, where he lives and pays property taxes.
“We might better try to get along,” Yoder said.