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Judge orders farm operator to leave Commerce Twp horse farm after months-long dispute

horse farm
Posted at 6:15 PM, Mar 16, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-16 18:15:04-04

COMMERCE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) — Wednesday an Oakland County Judge ordered a Commerce Township horse farm operator to vacate the property within 90 days.

RELATED: Commerce horse farm at risk of closing over dispute with township

The Windmill Riding Academy Farm has been in the community for nearly two decades. The farm offers lessons and hosts equestrian teams.

The farmland is owned by Commerce Township but the 30+ horses on the property are owned by farm operator Carrie Hancock. For the past several months, the two have been in a dispute regarding the future of the riding academy and a concession agreement that was allowing Hancock to operate on the property.

The township says the farm has not lived up to the terms of the agreement providing adequate programming for Commerce Township residents. Hancock and her supporters deny that claim.

After months of delays in court, Wednesday Judge Robert Bondy entered a judgment that said the township could apply for an order to evict Hancock if she does not move out on or before June 19.

"We had so many lessons last year. This place was full. The horses were worn out because we had lessons all day," said Amy Willis who is the Equestrian coach for Walled Lake Central High School.

Willis says she has been teaching local school teams at the farm for the last 10 years. She says she originally chose the windmill farm as the destination to teach because of her quick bond with the trainers on staff and the affordability.

"The horses are gentle. They’re suitable for kids to ride on and it’s affordable. A lot of places are more expensive," said Willis. "We have kids riding in college now, that started here. It’s just a great place and it’s disappointing that the township has decided to close this."

Willis says the farm has been an affordable option for dozens of girls throughout the years including her own daughter, Lauren.

"Horses are just so majestic," said Lauren Willis." I came here when I was about seven and I had my first riding lesson and I just fell in love  with it."

Willis, who is a high school senior, has been riding competitively for years. She says the farm not only gave her the opportunity to play in a very sport that is usually expensive, it also inspired her to become a veterinarian that specializes in equine in the future. She says she hopes this opportunity is available for other girls in the future.

"I’m middle class. I don’t have that much money and this place has given me the opportunity to learn and grow with horses," said Willis. "We need to keep these girls riding no matter what, whether it’s here or somewhere else. I’d love it to be here but worst case I want to make sure young women and girls are riding."

Barry Rabotnick says his three daughters rode at the Windmill Farm after trying several other farms that were not fits or were too far away.

"It has become family. We’ve been here for many, many years now," said Rabotnick.

Rabotnick has attended several township meetings over the last few months advocating that the township allow Hancock to continue operating the farm.

"I continue to think that there’s a chance that (the farm) can be saved," said Rabotnick. "This has taken a lot of township time, a lot of township resources to go through this process and it seems like they’re actively fighting against something that could be an asset."

Township Supervisor Larry Gray was unavailable for interview Thursday but sent the following statement:

The decision to terminate the Concession agreement with Windmill Farm was not easy. Commerce Township is relieved that the pending legal action with Windmill Farm has been resolved. With the court entering an order granting the Township exclusive possession on June 19, 2023.

We understand that the Township’s decision to seek an alternative operator for the horse farm has been difficult and disappointing to some residents. We want to assure you that the Township’s goal has always been, and remains, to ensure that this Township owned property is used for the benefit of Commerce residents.

With the timeline now decided, the Township is eager to engage with potential new concessionaires to utilize this beautiful property with more expansive horse-related programming, accessible to, and for the benefit of, all residents.

Hancock and her supporters say they plan to continue fighting for authorized use of the property but they're not sure what legal options they have from here. They will be planning their next step in the coming days.

"Please reconsider. Let this place stay. This is a beautiful magic place and it’s so important to the kids," said Amy Willis. "It’s just heartbreaking to lose this and I wish they’d reconsider."