Business expansion

Josh Willard, owner of Josh's Frogs, poses for a picture in 2013, shortly after moving into a 20,000-square-foot building in Owosso. The "frog factory" is seeking a rezoning from the city of Owosso in order to expand the business into the newly vacant church at 715 S. Washington St.

OWOSSO — Josh’s Frogs began as a hobby in an apartment, later moved to an office building on Corunna Avenue and in 2013 moved again into a 37,000-square foot, five-story building behind McDonald’s.

Now, the pet frog business’s hop-away success has prompted owner Josh Willard to expand once more. He is seeking a rezoning of the property at 715 S. Washington St. — the recently vacated West Michigan District Weslyan Church — in order to enlarge his operation.

At a regular Owosso City Council meeting set for 7:30 p.m. Monday at city hall, council members are expected to vote on a consent agenda item setting a public hearing on the proposed rezoning for the Aug. 3 council meeting.

Willard is requesting a rezoning from R-2, two-family residential, to B-1, local business district for an “animal breeding facility.” The Owosso Planning Commission on June 22 approved recommending the rezoning to the city council, which must give final approval for the plan to proceed.

In his application for the rezoning, Willard stated the proposed operation at 715 S. Washington would not involve retail customers, so the only traffic would be about 20 workers and “the occasional tour group.” Josh’s Frogs would replace current signage, with no new signage planned.

The extra space is needed because the online-only business, currently employing about 50 people, just keeps growing. The Josh’s Frogs Facebook page has nearly 140,000 “likes.”

“We’re now the largest online retailer of reptile and amphibian products as well as the largest breeder of captive bred dart frogs in the United States, and probably the world,” Willard said on the Josh’s Frog Facebook page.

The current facility features temperature-controlled rooms lined with terrariums filled with thousands of frogs: tadpoles, froglets, and full-grown and breeding frogs. Species include pacman frogs, tree frogs, poison dart frogs, Solomon Isle leaf frogs and toads. The poison dart frogs are the most popular pets because they are brightly colored and diurnal (awake during daylight hours).

The company’s employees — many of them zoologists — breed fruit flies and crickets for frog food. A stockroom holds dry goods such as cages, lights and heaters. Packers work near conveyer belts, shipping orders that come in from online marketplaces. On the second floor, a full range of terrarium plants are cultivated.

As a child, Willard previously told The Argus-Press, he spent many hours exploring the swamp near his parent’s house in Jackson, which inspired his interest in amphibians. To this day, the former pastor describes himself as a dart frog hobbyist and vivarium enthusiast.

The Owosso Planning Commission, in recommending the rezoning request, stated that the rezoning wouldn’t conflict with the city’s master plan or zoning ordinance; the site is compatible with B-1 zoning uses; the applicant is not rezoning solely to increase the return on investment in the property; the infrastructure for the site is sufficient; and the request was not previously submitted.

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