2018-01-04 / Front Page

Sugar Loaf back on top of list

It’s been four years since Sugar Loaf has risen to the top of the Leelanau Enterprise “top ten” list of stories, although we would rather not draw comparisons between present owner Jeff Katofsky and flash-in-the-pan arrival Eneliko “Liko” Sean Smith.

But Sugar Loaf, the resort with so much potential to make Leelanau a better place, emerged as the choice of most important stories covered by the Enterprise in 2017.

Two less positive stories made their first appearances on the list with arrival of a controversial proposal to build a marijuana processing plant and the county’s first heroin overdose causing death.

Other stories making the “Top Ten” list were covered last week. Following are updates on Nos. 1-3.

1. Upbeat Sugar Loaf

The long, difficult and ongoing saga of Sugar Loaf Resort has climbed back to number one on the list of news stories in the Leelanau Enterprise for 2017 after occupying the top slot many times in the previous decade.

SUGAR LOAF OWNER Jeff Katofsky addressed an enthusiastic gathering at the County Building when discussing his vision for the future of the resort. SUGAR LOAF OWNER Jeff Katofsky addressed an enthusiastic gathering at the County Building when discussing his vision for the future of the resort. It was off the top 10 list entirely for several years before coming back as the number two story 2016. Before then there was nothing new – and nothing good – to report about Sugar Loaf Resort. The place had been deteriorating since the last skier graced its slopes in March 2000.

Then, something happened that seemed to be good – or at least new. After 16 years, a California real estate attorney and developer name Jeff Katofsky purchased the resort from a corporate entity controlled by a longtime owner of the resort, Remo Polselli.

A convicted felon with a history of making promises he never seemed to keep, Polselli gave Katofsky an option to purchase the resort and two other Michigan properties as the result of a legal settlement in 2016.

Since then, Katofsky has made it clear he’d just as soon never hear the name of the previous owner again. Under Katofsky’s ownership in 2017, substantial progress was made to bring the resort property into compliance with the state Construction Code. The buildings were finally boarded up and much of the area was fenced off as required in the code.

In addition, Katofsky saw to it that the process of dismantling and removing old ski lifts got underway. One result was a cottage industry involving locals buying up old chairlift seats, refinishing them, and selling them off as souvenirs.

What propelled Sugar Loaf into the position of the number one news story in 2017, however, was Katofsky’s appearance in Leelanau County in October at the invitation of County Commissioner Patricia Soutas-Little and other county officials.

During his highly-publicized visit on Oct. 20, Katofsky spoke to an overflow crowd of hundreds of Leelanau County residents in the community meeting room of the county Government Center. He brought with him officials from downstate St. Clair County, including the chairman of the county board, who reinforced the notion that Katofsky is “the real deal” – a guy who can make something good happen at Sugar Loaf.

Katofsky recently completed a project to refurbish and reopen what is now the Radisson Hotel Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, and is currently hip deep in a project to refurbish and reopen the historic St. Clair Inn. Katofsky said that when the St. Clair project is completed he will focus more attention on Sugar Loaf.

During his visit in October, Katofsky said he hopes to bring as many as 250 permanent year-round jobs back to Leelanau County after Sugar Loaf Resort reopens sometime in the 2021- 2022 timeframe.

“Most of the progress for Sugar Loaf in 2018 will not be seen by the public,” Katofsky told the Enterprise last week. “We will continue to clean up debris and remove antiquated equipment. We will begin clearing certain areas for preparation to plant vine for wine.

“We intend to complete our consulting team in order to create and conceptualize Sugar Loaf Resort,” Katofsky continued, “and begin the layouts of the various buildings and uses.”

In the meantime, Katofsky and his people are “steaming ahead with construction, on schedule, at the St. Clair Inn, and expect to be completed and open as a ‘Tribute by Marriott’ around March 2019,” he said.

Katofsky said in October that plans for Sugar Loaf will also likely involve “branding” Sugar Loaf Resort under the name of a major hotel chain such as Marriott or Radisson.

Very preliminary plans for Sugar Loaf call for an upscale, four-seasons resort that may – or may not – include skiing.

— by Eric Carlson

2. Medical Marijuana

Anytime you get a crowd of 100 or more in Cedar and there’s not polka involved it’s news.

And there was plenty of news judging from attendance at Solon Township Board meetings last year.

More than 150 people turned out in July for a public hearing on a “conditional zoning” amendment that could allow medical marijuana growing facilities in Solon Township.

Township native Sam Rosinski approached the Township Board last spring seeking to establish a state-licensed commercial medical cannabis production facility at 6100 E. Lincoln Road.

Late in 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a trio of bills that addressed issues that hampered implementation of the voter-approved medical marijuana law. The law dictates that growers may only operate in an area that is zoned for agricultural or industrial areas. However, to become certified, growers need the support of townships in which they intend to operate.

In other words, local governmental units have to expressly allow commercial medical marijuana operations in their zoning for such as business to locate there.

Solon’s Township Board took no such action. Neither did it take action to disallow them either.

Instead the board forwarded the issue to the Planning Commission which beginning in April worked with Rosinski and legal counsel to craft a zoning amendment that would allow conditional uses including medical marijuana processing in all zoning districts.

An estimated 150 people turned out on a hot July night for a public hearing, scheduled to consider the amendment.

Cars were parked up and down Cedar’s main drag, with some meeting-goers comparing the event to a Saturday night wedding reception.

The crowd was equally rambunctious. The majority of those who spoke were opposed to Rosinski’s plans to grow and process medical marijuana to be sold only to state-approved dispensaries. A substantial number of opponents were nearby property owners who questioned whether the proposed use would be compatible with their quiet, residential community.

Adding to the drama was a gag order issued by township zoning administrator Tim Cypher which told Planning Commission members to not speak directly to residents about the proposal.

Cypher went so far as to warn County Sheriff Mike Borkovich that his phone calls to members of the Planning Commission may violate the state Open Meetings Act.

This appeared to galvanized opponents’ interest as the township Planning Commission forward the amendment to the county for review.

And again at the Township Board’s Aug. 10 meeting where they continued to express opposition to the state-licensed commercial cannabis proposal.

The board never took action on the amendment. Instead, they adopted a resolution to ban commercial growing and processing of medical marijuana within its boundaries.

“I think we vetted it thoroughly. Nobody could say we didn’t try to get input,” township supervisor Jim Lautner said. “We’re the only township that knows for sure what people think.”

So often, the supervisor said, the number of seats in the audiences are empty at Township Board and Planning Commission meetings.

However, seats have been filled with an average of 10 guests at each monthly board meeting since.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Lautner said. “That way everyone understands what’s going on.”

Kim Smith is president of the Solon Township Improvement Committee (STIC), a group that formed in the wake of the medical marijuana controversy.

In addition the Township Board last month appointed two STIC members to the township Planning Commission. Edie Glynn was appointed to a 2-year term ending Dec. 31, 2019. Steve Morgan’s appointment is through Dec. 31, 2018.

— by Amy Hubbell

3. Heroin comes knocking

Leelanau’s first heroin death profoundly changed the perception of drug use in the county.

Prior to the overdose death of Kevin D. Yannett of Suttons Bay on Nov. 22, the perception was that heroin never had much of a foothold in Leelanau County. It was more of a drug used by transients, downstate workers up here on a job site, or visitors “from the city.”

Not so, said county Sheriff Borkovich.

“We’re starting to figure out that we are not in ‘la-la land’,” Borkovich said. “I have been bringing this up to the Board of Commissioners for four years, that we were getting a drug problem. When this happened, everything seemed to fall into place for people to realize we have a major drug problem here.”

Borkovich is scheduled to provide an annual review of the Sheriff’s office work in 2017, and No. 1 on his list will be ongoing efforts to deal with the county drug problem.

He’ll find receptive ears, as the County Board of Commissioners made reducing opioid addiction one of its 2017 goals and just last month entered into a nationwide lawsuit against drug companies that manufacture and promote opioid painkillers.

While unchecked use of opioids in pill form — prescription drugs — has become a nationwide epidemic, the emergence of a street drug like heroin as the “drug of choice” among younger people seems foreign to the perception of a quaint and respectful Leelanau County.

Borkovich said opioid use leads to heroin, but he considers the acceptance and growth of marijuana as a more important factor in the rise in heroin addition.

In a two-part series published in the Enterprise about heroin use in the county based on a long interview with a former addict, heroin was described as easy to buy and often mixed with Fentanyl and Carfentanil. The drugs enhance the “high” felt by heroin users, but are extremely dangerous.

She warned others about the ease with which heroin enters into the lives of its victims.

“If you are hanging out with people doing that, you’ll do that. Your peers, they drag you in. People should go for hope. If they see or feel somethings not right, they should ask for help.

“Don’t be scared to ask for help,” the source said.

In the week prior to Yannett’s death, two men who had overdosed on heroin and were near death were brought back to life by a county Sheriff’s deputy who administered the NARCAN in nasal form.

Benzie County residents Erin S. Grant, 20, and Preston Weaver, 21, were arraigned in 86th District Court from the Leelanau County Jail on charges of delivery of a controlled substance causing death. The charges carry sentences of up to life in prison. Both are being held on bonds of $100,000.

— by Alan Campbell

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